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BERLINALE 2021 Forum

Review: Ancient Soul

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- BERLINALE 2021: Álvaro Gurrea’s feature debut might be an enigmatic, free-spirited and suggestive plunge into Indonesian spirituality, but it ends up being weighed down by its slow pace

Review: Ancient Soul
Yono Aris Munandar in Ancient Soul

The only 100% Spanish film taking part in the 71st Berlinale – the other two, The Luminous View [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
and Miguel’s War [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, being co-productions with other countries – is called Ancient Soul [+see also:
trailer
interview: Álvaro Gurrea
film profile
]
. Directed by first-timer Álvaro Gurrea, it is screening in the Forum section. Shot entirely on the island of Java, it features dialogue in the local language of Osing and was edited by Manuel Muñoz Rivas, who cut his teeth as a director with The Sea Stares at Us From Afar [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Manuel Muñoz Rivas
film profile
]
.

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Gurrea, who has hardly any previous experience in film, grabbed his camera one day and started to film the natural landscape and the people of Indonesia, an archipelago where he has been living for the last five years. Fascinated by the place, its beliefs and its rituals, he filmed for years until, after doing a Masters in Creative Documentary at the Pompeu Fabra University in his home town of Barcelona, he moulded a screenplay into shape. Then, joined by a professional crew, he used the script to make what would end up being the symbiosis of socio-anthropological documentary and spiritual ethnofiction that is Ancient Soul.

Performed by non-professional actors, the film follows the story of Yono (Yono Aris Munandar), a man whose wife leaves him one day out of the blue, for no apparent reason and with no explanation. Intrigued, he approaches different people in search of answers, each one of them harbouring a different belief; he thus journeys through the doctrines of Hindu animism and Islam, and arrives at capitalism, which envelops everything. The disorientated Yono has one of the hardest and most hazardous occupations in the world: extracting sulphur from the crater of the Kawah Ijen volcano (a famous tourist attraction), which will have a constant presence in the film and in the life of the protagonist, who, no matter how many times nor how thoroughly he scrubs himself down, will not succeed in cleansing his body (or indeed his soul) of the mineral’s smell or of the doubt constantly gnawing away at him.

Boasting a storyline steeped in determinism and a magical atmosphere, built up mainly using fixed shots that serve to frame entire scenes, with a clear and uninhibited gaze that does not confine itself to cinematic codes or preconceived notions, Gurrea has constructed a film with moments of great aesthetic beauty (the smoke rising from the volcano, the waterfalls and rivers…), but with an excess of symbolism, stillness and abstract elements. All of this slows down the pace – and demands too much effort of the viewer, who is forced to interpret the scenes using their own beliefs – of a feature that follows in the footsteps of the works of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
) and in which the standout moment is an eye-opening and surprising final scene.

Ancient Soul, which took part in ParisDOC Works-in-Progress and WIP Europa at the San Sebastián Film Festival at the project stage, is an independent production by My Deer Films.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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