En la Ciudad de Sylvia / Dans la ville de Sylvia / In the City of Sylvia
d. José Luis Guerín / 2007 / Spain-France / 85 mins
Viewed at: Screen 2 @ Plaza Community Cinema (Waterloo, UK)
Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It has been three weeks since my last confession.
Okay, now I’m really behind here, but this week I’ll endeavor to write about all of the films I’ve seen in the last month or so, starting with José Luis Guerín’s In the City of Sylvia, yet another film with which I have developed a love/hate relationship.
I remember being quite intrigued by the concept of this film when it was first released here in the UK about five months ago, but I missed it’s brief run at FACT, usually the only cinema in Liverpool likely to screen films of this ilk. Fortuitously, and rather unexpectedly, it popped up in the ever-wonderful Plaza Community Cinema’s ‘artscreen’ slot, the final one before all three screens are overrun by Harry Potter, GI Joe and all their Summer blockbuster comrades.
In the City of Sylvia is a schizophrenic film in many respects. Or atleast my reaction to it was. I found myself in a fairly peculiar position, unable to decide whether it bordered on some kind of cinematic genius or was simply a short slice of unadulterated ‘arthouse’ tripe. Unlike a film such as, say, Donnie Darko (replacing ‘arthouse’ with ‘cult’ of course, it was a film which I utterly despised when I saw it at the cinema, spending weeks thinking about it before completely changing my tune), I just can’t work In the City of Sylvia out.
Where to start? It’s a Spanish/French co-production, about a Spanish man in Strasbourg, a French city on the German border where he met (or thought he met) a girl on a previous sojourn. On the surface, it’s all very Last Year at Marienbad. And yet, unlike Resnais’ masterpiece, this film simply ambles along with our central character, who is fixated on a memory, but unable to affix himself within his present circumstances. The cinematography is pretty darn good, with the camera lingering in a verite-esque manner (reminiscent, in fact, of Gideon Koppel’s Sleep Furiously) and the encounter with the girl that he believes to be Sylvia is set up well and executed perfectly. And yet, taken as a whole, the film leaves a lingering sense that there is something intrinsic missing, not only for its protagonist but, more importantly, for the audience.