Wednesday, 9 December 2015

the movies of my life [alberto fuguet]

The 50 films of your life. Which 50 movies would you use in order to tell the story of your life? They’d have to fulfil differing roles. On the one hand, there are movies whose narratives had a particular resonance. On the other there are films which you happened to see at key moments, or with key people. Or there are movies which just seemed emblematic of a time and place in your life. In other words, the list isn’t curated on aesthetic grounds alone. There’s something slightly random about it. It could well be that one of your worst cinema experiences was one of the most significant. Sitting through a film with someone who didn’t want to be with you, or on a day when you’d rather have been doing something else, but that something else wasn’t there to be done. Cinema going is a curious pastime; you shut yourself up inside and place yourself in a completely passive mode for a couple of hours or so, staring at a screen, and yet this passivity has a strangely active dimension. When we go to the movies, we feel as though we’re doing something; although in reality we’re doing very little.

This is the quirky premise that Fuguet adopts to narrate if not the life of his protagonist, Beltran Soler, then the early years. As such it’s a Prousitan mission which reaps Proustian rewards. Beltran’s movies start when he’s 2, (Born Free) and end when he’s 16 (An Unmarried Woman). This is a coming of age story, told against the backdrop of Pinochet’s Chile. The first 8 years of Beltran’s life are spent in California, where his family have moved to; thereafter they return to Chile. A slight twist to the tale is that Soler’s family, whilst fundamentally apolitical, is more pro-Pinochet than anti; this is not the classic resistance narrative we have come to expect from dictatorship Latin America. Instead, it’s a gentle tale of growing up, with all the difficulties which go with it, no matter the political conditions. Discovering the opposite sex; trying to find out who your friends are; what you want from life; and, above all, coping with the family which destiny or genetics has donated.

Young Beltran’s childhood is refracted through the mostly Hollywood films of the 70’s and early 80’s he watches at the cinema. Titles like The Towering Inferno or The Deep figure, reflecting the tentacular reach of Hollywood as it infiltrates every child’s life. Beltran’s taste is MOR; there’s nothing arty about it, but at the same time, it also reveals how art, of any kind, can exert a grip. Above all in those films about family which Beltran watches which help him to understand that his dysfunctional family is not the only one out there. The narrator’s observation on watching Spielberg’s Close Encounters is that it “had me believing in UFO’s but not in families. 

In a recent visit to Chile, I had a few conversations about their contemporary literature. Bolano looms large, like an absentee father. The writer who left and became the most famous Chilean writer of modern times. Fuguet’s book has none of Bolano’s prose fireworks and little of his strangeness. Yet it does retain, in both its more detached prologue and its structure something reminiscent of the exiled Chilean. There’s something about the idea of an anthology, or that Borgesian library, that is intrinsic to the book’s structural ambitions. The story and the structure interlock with a seismic neatness. A celebration of youth and cinema at the same time. 

What are the fifty films of your life?

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