by Gonzalo de Pedro
Ciné Dore/ Filmoteca Español Programmer and Professor of the University of Carlos III
The extensive experimental and North American film tradition, which is interwoven with the history of documentary filmmaking and deeply rooted in political struggles, is full of names to be (re)discovered, in most cases women who continue the formal, poetic and political explorations of the avant-garde film, but broadening the space of what can be filmed and rewriting, in their own way, the old school feminist moto: “the personal is political”. Lynne Sachs’ case, filmmaker, professor at Princeton University, friend and collaborator of the French filmmaker Chris Marker (she worked with him in Three Cheers for the Whale), is symptomatic of a certain kind of cinema that has been for years focusing on intimate spaces as places in which social issues can resonate. These social concerns intertwine with what is most intimate and personal, along with the physical portrayal of bodies in dialogue with spaces, memories, desires, dreams and voices.
This March session of ‘Free Radicals’, titled “ Peculiar Intimacy” and with the presence of the filmmaker, is centered around a selection of Sachs’ pieces that were created throughout more than thirty years of work. This selection is organized around several portrayals of intimate spaces, mainly feminine, in which Sachs’ camera, without abandoning formal experimentation, tries to find the precise distance to portray those spaces. In addition to what is visible, physical and audible, the director also tries to capture what people imagine, dream, or desire. As she says: “That is the key of the documentary for me. When you can work with people in your film and their imagination breaks free […]. I think that one of the keys to work with reality and people is to allow the extraordinary to seem familiar, instead of exotic.”
Sachs’ work with the protagonists of her films, in some cases they are relatives (her daughters, her parents…) or even herself, always establishes a singular dialogue that subverts the traditional categories of actor and director: “Since I started to make films, I have always resisted the production hierarchy of the traditional pyramid, of the director and her team, or the director and her obedient cast of actors. In both sides I wanted to develop a more porous relationship, in which everybody listens and learns from each other.” That relationship, based on work that is in dialogue with what’s intimate, is also the way of integrating those other spaces of the real that remain invisible to the camera: what is dreamt of, what is desired, what is imagined.
The five pieces presented in this session, are tied together by an awareness of the passing of time and a concern for the way this can be contained in the cinematographic matter. They are also a way of traveling the diverse formal and aesthetic paths of Sachs’ work: from the portrait of her filmmaker sisters, with whom Sachs establishes a legacy and homage rapport, to the spaces that her parents inhabit; to the portrait of one of her daughters which is produced in two very distant moments in time, and finishing with a medium-length film, which is created following the steps of Julio Cortázar and his short story book End of the Game, which captures the lives, real or imagined, of a group of teenagers from Buenos Aires. Cortázar wrote in A yellow flower, “It seems like a joke, but we are immortal”. We probably are, in the suspended intimacy and peculiarity of Lynne Sachs’ films.
Declarations by Lynne Sachs were extracted from the interview with Karen Rester, published in The Brooklyn Rail in 2013.
Translated by Marichi Scharron.
Written by Pablo Castellano Garcia
Translation by Ana Almeyda-Cohen and Maria Scharron
Inspired by Julio Cortázar’s short stories House Taken Over (Casa tomado, 1951) and End of the Game (Fin del juego, 1956), Lynne Sachs has created Wind in Our Hair (Con el viento en el pelo, 2010), a film that explores the everyday lives of four girls. Girls being girls, they carry themselves with the spontaneity that only joy can bring, and which probably will never come back. This easiness seems to derive from the sensation or belief that playing will never end. It is as if they are able to bug and annoy everybody around them without any major repercussion but a light smack. By revealing flashing images of contemporary Buenos Aires, Lynne Sachs presents four girls who reminded me of Gummo’s Bunny Boy (Harmony Korine, USA, 1997), but instead of cars they have trains, and instead of pure decadence these girls project pure life. All four girls dress up in order to see life pass them by. It is in this kind of irrational search for the contrast between stillness — as much physical in its statue-like pose as psychic — and the interruption of life the play entails. The adult world is suggested by the brute images and sounds of the passing trains. From the train, a boy who want to meet them observes the young girls and transforms their world.
Lynne Sachs then establishes three voyeuristic relationships given by different observers who are at different levels. The first relationship, which takes place within the narration, relates to the correspondence established between the statues—the girls understood as characters in the game that they are playing, and not as much as girls understood in the terms established by adults—and the boy who observes them daily. This relationship is mediated by idealization, love and a feeling of belonging to the same group / world. The second relationship, as I have already stated, operates on a different level, one that concerns the bond generated between the characters and the film director. This relationship, points to a common artistic end, and is also a confrontation, since there is always a camera following the girls, and one adult that interferes with what is supposed to be a private game.
In contrast, (we also saw) Same Stream Twice (USA, 2012), another piece by Lynne Sachs in which the game that the girl is playing, (the girl is Maya Street-Sachs the artist’s daughter and also protagonist of the film being reviewed), is designed in advance to show a protagonist who is not afraid to hide her true condition or artifice, that of “performing for the camera”. Therefore there is complicity and an implied pact. It is quite different in Con viento en el pelo in which the camera movement, whose flow it seems is going to crack at any moment, becomes perverse.
Third, and much more crazy and perverse is the relationship between the characters and the viewers. At this level, where there is neither desire nor inclination to produce a whole artistic piece, the union is reduced to the abandonment of the adult who, in having the possibility of feeling bored, in the case of some, or the need to desperately seek knowledge or aesthetic feeling, in the case of others, takes the option of putting their life in parenthesis to observe without being observed. In the three types of relationships mentioned, we are the only observers that the girls cannot see—unfolding ourselves in the world through the play of these girls who ignore us and whose privacy is violated without even being able to defend themselves. In the three levels of relationship described, the audience is the only subject that observes but is not observed back by the girls. We are able to watch these girls — who ignore who we are and whose intimacy is transgressed — playing and not being able to defend themselves from being observed. At this crossroad of simple elements, Lynne Sachs manages to combine the intimacy of the movie theater with that of a children’s game in the same space, and at the same time, as the only way of making a sincere reconciliation with an already disappearing childhood.
Tomando como apoyo Casa tomada (1951) y Final del juego (1956), ambos cuentos de Julio Cortázar, Lynne Sachs construye con Con viento en el pelo una obra que explora el día a día de cuatro niñas que, como niñas que son, se encuentran en ese período en el que se pueden permitir tanto desenvolverse en el mundo con la naturalidad que produce el sentimiento —que luego ya no vuelve— de felicidad que deriva de la sensación de tomar el momento del juego como eternidad, como el tocar las pelotas a todo cristo sin tener repercusión alguna más allá de la hostia light. Es así como, revelando de manera intermitente imágenes del Buenos Aires contemporáneo, Lynne Sachs nos presenta a este grupo de niñas que, como el niño-conejo de Gummo (Harmony Korine, EEUU, 1997), pero cambiando los coches por trenes e invirtiendo la decadencia de este por la aceptación pura de la vida, se disfrazan para ver la vida pasar. Es en esta especie de búsqueda irracional del contraste entre la quietud, tanto física en su pose de estatua como psíquica en esa interrupción de la vida que supone el juego, y la velocidad bruta del mundo adulto que les ofrecen la imagen y el sonido del tren que pasa, en la que las crías serán observadas por un chico que querrá entrar en su mundo, aunque sea para transformarlo.
Lynne Sachs establece entonces tres relaciones de carácter voyeurístico dadas por diferentes observadores que se encuentran en diferentes niveles y que fijan su retina en las niñas como único elemento observado. La primera de ellas, que tiene lugar dentro de la propia narración, se correspondería con la correspondencia que se establece entre las estatuas —las niñas entendidas como personajes del juego en el que participan, y no tanto como niñas en plan término medida establecido por el adulto— y el chico que las observa diariamente, quedando mediada la relación por la idealización, el amor y el sentimiento de pertenencia a un mismo grupo o mundo. La segunda relación, que como decía arriba afecta a otro nivel, atañe al vínculo que se genera entre las intérpretes y la directora. Esta relación, que tiene su base en el interés de señalar a un mismo fin artístico, supone un choque en el sentido de que ya tenemos a una cámara que las sigue en todo momento, a un adulto que se entromete en ese juego que se entiende como algo privado. A diferencia de otra obra de Lynne Sachs, Same Stream Twice (EEUU, 2012), en la que el juego de la niña —Maya Street-Sachs, hija de la artista y protagonista también de la película que aquí se reseña— está diseñado de antemano para mostrar su carrera alrededor de la cámara como producto que no quiere ocultar su condición de “ser para la cámara” y de artificio, y en el que por lo tanto hay complicidad y se presupone el pacto, el seguimiento de la cámara de Con viento en el pelo, que parece que en cualquier momento va a resquebrajar el flujo que registra, resulta perverso. En tercer lugar, y mucho más perversa y loca que la anterior, surge la relación que une a personajes y espectador. En este nivel, donde no hay ni deseo ni inclinación de producir como un todo una pieza artística, la unión queda reducida al abandono del adulto que, en su tener la posibilidad de sentir el aburrimiento, en el caso de algunos, o la necesidad de buscar a la desesperada el conocimiento o el sentimiento estético, en el caso de otros, toma la opción de poner entre paréntesis su vida para observar sin ser observado —en los tres tipos de relación enunciados, somos el único sujeto observador al que las niñas no ven— el desplegarse en el mundo mediante el juego de esas niñas que nos ignoran y cuya intimidad es vulnerada sin ni siquiera poder defenderse. Y es así como, con este cruzarse tantas cosas a partir de elementos tan sencillos, Lynne Sachs consigue juntar la intimidad de la sala de cine con la del juego infantil en un mismo espacio y en un mismo tiempo como única vía de reconciliación sincera con la infancia ya pasada.
I have found several of Lynne Sachs’s films unusually disarming. Wind in Our Hair starts by just hanging out with four barely adolescent girls and seems to drift with them to no evident purpose; one is tempted to say that the attention and impressionistic, closely shot fascination comes from a mother’s affection that a general audience has little reason to feel. By the time a narrative event starts to shape the film, we sort of know these girls, or we start to feel that we are among them by way of the film’s stylistic drifting. A non-incisive drift transforms itself into a thickening bundle of barely perceptible but compelling discourses through which one finds oneself caring about the characters, not as individualized, biographical characters, but as female beings drifting toward a world that is itself drifting toward sexual and political fission, a fission that might be disastrous or revolutionary. The energy that would feed that fission is felt in the experimental music of Juana Molina that accompanies the transcendent avant-garde film poem of the end-credits—the drifting girls have suddenly exploded into articulate girl-power and woman music, just as the drifting Lynne Sachs-made film explodes into incisive experimental film. The stirring success of the music and of the film’s coda suggest a positive future for these drifting girls, while the discourses woven finely into their lives during the entire film remain frighteningly daunting.
There is an analogously disarming feel in Drift and Bough, though it is a totally different kind of film with no character development at all. There I was disarmed by the unassuming succession of art-photo shots of snowy Central Park, shots that seemed pretty ordinary, but that again gently drifted toward a richer collection of elements, such as the graphic lines that did things like scale shifting. The lines of duck trails through the ice-pack—lines that “drew” a kind of benign insinuation into a cold world—seemed to help effect an insinuation into my affect. By the time that film ends, I have been drawn, partially consciously, into a meditative state that I wanted to resist at its beginning. The ending—with people moving about and with bicycle taxi and camera both drifting to the right—was a break in that mood, but it still maintains some of the meditative mood through the realization that a barely perceptible superimposition of nothing very distinguishable has occurred mysteriously for the first and only time in the film.
The disarming feeling in Sachs’s films is especially strong in Your Day is My Night. Again the film starts by hanging out with some ordinary people, in this case Chinese immigrants in a confined space doing ordinary things. We gradually meet these people by name and hear them interact and tell stories. I won’t try to develop how that works, but will just say that somehow this ordinariness changes into—not just the liking and caring about the characters that one can see in numerous effective documentary films such as Salesman and Fallen Champ and The Square and American Pictures, or in the ur-documentary Nanook, and even the surreal Act of Killing—the ordinariness in Sachs’s film changes into something more than those films’ liking of or sympathizing with characters, something more like loving those characters, though that seems a bit strong.
My main point is the experience across several films of this imperceptible transformation from a disarming ordinariness to something strongly opposite. The kicker for me with Your Day is My Night was that I first experienced the film as a documentary, not as a scripted film with actors performing characters via learned lines; thus, my feeling of being disarmed extended to the ontology of the represented reality. That reversal of expectation, from something like Direct Cinema to a set of carefully researched and scripted performances—including the insertion of a “fake” character, Lourdes—comes at different points in the film for different viewers, but that doesn’t really change the reception structure of the film, or the films discussed above—they have little or no character or story arc but have a reception arc that moves one from being disarmed, even being uninterested and dubious, to something stronger than caring and understanding.
Sachs’s refusal to romanticize the glimpses of hopefulness, and her ending of the film with a quotation that re-affirms the power of the world’s alienation, are important contributions to the depth that the reception-arc achieves. Though the film finally leads into territory beyond the opening close-shots of packed human flesh, beyond the later medium-shots of crowded beds within crowded rooms, and the still later long-shots within crowded apartments within a crowded neighborhood of one of the world’s most crowded cities…though the film leads us beyond this over-determined within-ness to other, less impacted parts of the city, indeed leads us to a bridge that Lourdes—the outsider—introduces to Haung, one of the Chinatown shift-bedders—though the film takes us out there to that suggestively transitional bridge, nevertheless the viewer remembers what Haung has said earlier in the film that he has no benign means to get out of this life buried deep within the world situation. He will not ever be able to go home to see his children and he will have to kill himself when he reaches retirement age, perhaps by jumping off a bridge, he says. We remember that line when we see him on the bridge with Lourdes, but we also see that Lourdes has benignly infected his alienation, and has infected the entire over-determined within-ness of the characters’ lives and of the film’s structure. The deep within-ness of the characters’ situations has been broached by the character Lourdes, and by Sachs with her bizarre idea to make a film of these unknown Chinese and the more bizarre idea to introduce a Puerto Rican immigrant deep into this pervading within-ness; Lynne Sachs herself has infected the characters’ alienation, for real, by making this strange film, and thus Sachs opens the documentary people, who play themselves, to Sachs’s world and to the film’s audience. And she opens the viewer to a well-hidden within-ness, through documentary explorations that go deeper than Direct Cinema. All this in a way that is so disarming.
The ongoing film series American Originals Now offers an opportunity for discussion with internationally recognized American filmmakers and a chance to share in their artistic practice through special screenings and conversations about their works in progress. Since the mid-1980s, Lynne Sachs has developed an impressive catalogue of essay films that draw on her interests in sound design, collage, and personal recollection. She investigates war-torn regions such as Israel, Bosnia, and Vietnam, always striving to work in the space between a community’s collective memory and her own subjective perceptions. Sachs teaches experimental film and video at New York University and her films have screened at the Museum of Modern Art and the Buenos Aires, New York, and Sundance Film Festivals. Her work was recently the subject of a major retrospective at the San Francisco Cinemathèque.
Three short films exemplify Sachs’ unique approach to nonfiction filmmaking and to the empathetic process of imagining other people’s motivations. Photograph of Wind (2001, 16 mm, 4 minutes) is a portrait of the artist’s daughter as witnessed by the eye of the storm; The Last Happy Day (2009, 37 minutes) uses personal letters, abstracted images of war, home movies, and a performance by children to understand the complex story of Sachs’ distant cousin, Sandor Lenard, a Hungarian medical doctor who fled the Nazis and reconstructed the bones of American dead; and Wind in Our Hair (2010, 42 minutes) is a bilingual narrative inspired by the stories of Argentine writer Julio Cortázar. (Total running time approximately 83 minutes)
The Task of the Translator (2010, video, 10 minutes) and Sound of a Shadow (2011, Beta SP, 10 minutes), two recently completed shorts, precede a screening of Sachs’ current work in progress, Your Day Is My Night: “…a collective of Chinese and Puerto Rican performers living in New York explores the history and meaning of ‘shiftbeds’ through verité conversations, character-driven fictions, and integrated movement pieces. A shiftbed is shared by people who are neither in the same family nor in a relationship. Looking at issues of privacy, intimacy, privilege, and ownership in relationship to this familiar item of furniture…I have conducted numerous performance workshops centered around the bed—experienced, remembered, and imagined from profoundly different viewpoints.”—Lynne Sachs. (Total running time approximately 60 minutes)
The National Gallery of Art and its Sculpture Garden are at all times free to the public. They are located on the National Mall between 3rd and 9th Streets at Constitution Avenue NW.
Inspirada en los cuentos cortos de Julio Cortázar, aunque combinada con las realidades contemporáneas de Argentina, Con viento en el pelo (Wind in Our Hair) es una narrativa experimental sobre cuatro niñas que se descubren a través de una fascinación con los trenes que pasan por su casa. Filmado en formatos de 16mm, Súper 8mm, 8mm Regular y video, el cortometraje sigue a las niñas por las vías del tren, en la cocina, por las aceras, entre disfraces y dentro de patios en el corazón de Buenos Aires, además de a las afueras de la ciudad. Es una historia de expectativa y decepción preadolescente, y Final del Juego está circunscrito por un periodo de profunda inestabilidad sociopolítica en Argentina. Sachs y sus colaboradores Argentinos se mueven por Buenos Aires con sus cámaras atestiguando los juegos de las cuatro niñas mientras ellas recorren una ciudad presa de un debate sobre el rol del comercio agrícola, los recursos alimenticios y los impuestos. Con una ambientación sonora bilingüe y complejamente construida, Sachs y su co-editora, la cineasta Puertorriqueña Sofía Gallisá, articulan esta atmósfera agitada de caos urbano que rodea las vidas de las jóvenes protagonistas. Con viento en el pelo además incluye la música atrevida y etérea de la cantante Argentina Juana Molina.
“Inspired by the short stories of Julio Cortázar, Lynne Sachs creates an experimental narrative about a group of girls on the verge of adolescence. While their lives are blissful and full of play, the political and social unrest of contemporary Argentina begins to invade their idyllic existence. Sachs’ brilliant mixture of film formats complements the shifts in mood from innocent amusement to protest. ” – Dean Otto, Film and Video Curator, Walker Art Center
“Inspired by the writings of Julio Cortázar, whose work not only influenced a generation of Latin American writers but film directors such as Antonioni and Godard, Lynne Sachs’ Wind in Our Hair/Con viento en el pelo is an experimental narrative that explores the interior and exterior worlds of four early-teens, and how through play they come to discover themselves and their world. “Freedom takes us by the hand–it seizes the whole of our bodies,” a young narrator describes as they head towards the tracks. This is their kingdom, a place where–dawning fanciful masks, feather boas, and colorful scarves — the girls pose as statues and perform for each other and for passengers speeding by. Collaborating with Argentine filmmakers Leandro Listorti, Pablo Marin and Tomas Dotta, Sachs offers us a series of magical realist vignettes (rock/piedra, paper/papel, scissors/tijera), their cameras constantly shifting over their often-frenzied bodies. A collage of small gage formats and video, the 42-min lyric is enhanced further by its sonic textures that foreground the whispers and joyful screams of the young girls with the rhythms of a city and a reoccurring chorus of farmers and student protesters. Filmed on location in Buenos Aries during a period of social turmoil and strikes, Sachs and co-editor Sofia Gallisá have constructed a bilingual work that places equal value on the intimacy of the girls’ lives and their growing awareness of those social forces encroaching on their kingdom. “ – Carolyn Tennant, Media Arts Director, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, New York
“Argentine author Julio Cortazar is the inspiration for WIND IN OUR HAIR (2009, 42 min.), which loosely interprets stories in the collection “Final de Juego” against the backdrop of social and political unrest in contemporary Argentina. In her first attempt at narrative filmmaking, Sachs still retains her associative, playful structure and documentary eye. Four young women, again played by Sach’s daughters and family friends, grow restless at home and begin to make their way through Buenos Aires in search of excitement and eventually to a fateful meeting at the train tracks near their home. The film moves from childhood’s earthbound, cloistered spaces and into the skittering beyond of adolescence, exploding with anticipation and possibility. Argentine musician Juana Molina lends her ethereal sound to compliment the wild mix of formats and styles.” – Todd Lillethun, Artistic Director, Chicago Filmmakers
“I completely felt Cortazar’s stories throughout. The fluidity in which a ludic and serious tone mix and the combined sense of lightness and deepness capture the author’s vision.” – Monika Wagenberg, Cinema Tropical
Three Films by Lynne Sachs (Friday and Saturday) This review of recent work by one of the leading New York independent filmmakers includes the local premiere of “Wind in Our Hair,” a 41-minute video, made in Argentina with the collaboration of Leandro Listorti and Pablo Marin, that explores the world of four teenage girls, both as they imagine it and as it exists within the restraints of social reality. Also on the program are “The Last Happy Day,” Ms. Sachs’s 2009 portrait of a distant cousin whose itinerary took him from prewar Hungary to a remote corner of Brazil, and a brief homage to Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator” (2010). Anthology Film Archives, 32-34 Second Avenue, at Second Street, East Village , (212) 505-5181, anthologyfilmarchives.org; $9. (Kehr)
August 3 – September 5, 2010
Free. Screens at the top of the hour from 12 noon during gallery hours. On Thursday, August 26, Sachs introduces the 7 pm screening, which is followed by a discussion.
Inspired by the short stories of Julio Cortázar, Lynne Sachs creates an experimental narrative about a group of girls on the verge of adolescence. While their lives are blissful and full of play, the political and social unrest of contemporary Argentina begins to invade their idyllic existence. Sachs’ brilliant mixture of film formats and the ethereal music of Argentine singer Juana Molina complement the shifts in mood from innocent amusement to protest. 2010, video, in English and Spanish with English subtitles, 41 minutes.
Presented in conjunction with Guillermo Kuitca: Everything—Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980-2008 exhibit.
Through some 50 large-scale paintings and 25 works on paper, Guillermo Kuitca: Everything traces nearly three decades of work from the Buenos Aires–based artist Guillermo Kuitca (b. 1961), one of the most important painters working in Latin America today, whose canvases have received significant international attention since the early 1990s. Departing from previous surveys, it explores both the conceptual nature of Kuitca’s singular painting practice, as well as its interdisciplinary origins.
Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403
As the lights came back on in the theater, I sat in my seat, trying to absorb everything that had played on the screen over the last 40 minutes. The camera angles, the plot (or lack thereof), the Spanish words combined with English narration…it was all too much. As I walked out of the movie theater, I felt a sense of disappointment. Why had I sat through that? I had just seen my first “art film,” and I had been completely unprepared for it.
“Con Viento en el Pelo,” (or “Wind in Our Hair”), inspired by the writings of Julio Cortázar, gives the audience an exclusive viewing of life as seen through the eyes of four young girls living in Buenos Aires, Argentina who have yet to discover the outside world that surrounds their “kingdom.” Director Lynne Sachs, an experimental filmmaker born in Memphis, Tennessee, is able to transform the girls’ ordinary lives into something a bit more extraordinary. Though character development is slim, we learn the most about Leticia, a physically disabled, yet confident girl about which the others note, “leads us.” Every day the girls adorn their bodies with colorful swatches of cloth, gaudy masks, and parts of discarded Halloween costumes and anxiously wait for the train to pass by to entertain the boarded passengers with their crazy outfits. They call themselves “statues,” which is a perfect description of their daily show. The train is the girls’ only reminder that there is a world beyond their backyard. The train brings people, noise, and a boy, Ariel, who soon befriends them. He becomes their only concrete form of communication with the outside world by writing them notes and throwing them out the train’s window.
The notes, written in Spanish, are only one of the numerous mediums Sachs employs to convey the movie’s meaning. Spanish dialogue and writing, English subtitles and narration, all contribute to the melting pot of cultural differences expressed in the film. The narrator has a magnificent voice for translating the girls’ rapid chatter. She can turn three minutes of undistinguishable murmurs to one clear line of understanding. In one scene, a girl chants, “Piedra, papel, tijeras”; yet, until the narrator informs the audience that this is simply the game “rock, paper, scissors,” the audience is lost.
Beyond the narrator’s voice, the movie contains few other vocals. This movie consists of one song: “Un Día,” meaning “one day.” Do not walk into this movie expecting a beautiful original score. The rest of the “soundtrack” is simply everyday sounds: birds chirping, dogs barking, kids laughing, the train chugging. At points, this lack of music works: it forces the audience to focus on the natural sounds of daily life. Other times it seems to leave an empty hole in the movie experience. Occasionally, you will hear a reporter on the radio announcing a farmers’ strike. But the girls pay no attention to it. Footage of demonstrations, reports of grain shortage, angry farmers yelling- these sounds barely break into the girls’ laughter as they sit at the table eating a variety of breads, which symbolizes a luxury that the girls take for granted. Only once in the movie does the narrator address the poverty in the surrounding neighborhoods. But the moment is brief, and soon the girls resume whatever game they had been playing before the outside world had intruded. This stark contrast reinforces the innocence of the four girls. The film does a nice job of juxtaposing the girls’ secluded “kingdom” to the chaos of the real world through visuals.
Every camera shot, though oftentimes seemingly random, has been crafted with great care by Sachs. The shots are often close-up, focusing on something that Sachs wants to be sure you notice. For example, you rarely ever see a full, detailed view of the girls. The frame might focus on a girl’s mouth if she is talking, her profile if she posing, her shoes if she is running. But at times, the camera angles are dizzying, forcing the viewer to try to decipher what is happening in the shot, instead of reading the subtitles flashing along the bottom of the screen. Wide-angle shots are rare: the backyard is one of the images that is shown from far away, which effectively relays to the audience how big the backyard, or their “kingdom,” appears to be to the four growing girls.
As I write this review, I realize I liked the film more than I previously thought. I understand and appreciate the careful decisions that went into every frame. Thought provoking and creative, “Wind in Our Hair” took me on a journey that opened my eyes to a life very different from my own. It showed me a genre of filmmaking that I had never been exposed to before, for which I am grateful. However, at times, the film ceased to hold my interest. Without the structure of a typical movie, I was caught off-guard by the lack of any real plot, problem, or resolution. What it lacked in plot, though, it made up for in originality and heart. Overall, the film did not fulfill my expectations and left me rather bewildered; however, from an artistic point of view, this film was satisfying to the eyes and the mind. “Wind of Our Hair” is a refreshing antidote to a movie industry dominated by special effects. If you go into the theater craving an action-packed “Clash of the Titans,” you should probably skip this movie. However, if you are seeking a movie that is artistic and stimulates the mind, “Wind in Our Hair” may be the perfect choice.
Con Viento en Pelo begins and ends with the approaching rumble of a train engine. For the young protagonists of the film, the train represents both a source of freedom and an interjection of cold, adult reality into their innocent, sheltered existence. This film forgoes a traditional narrative in favor of an exploration of the sensations that accompany the burgeoning adolescence of four Argentinean girls. This causes the film to unfold as a documentary of emotions, so to speak, rather than a conventional movie. Director Lynne Sachs is far more concerned with capturing textures, sounds, and feelings, the ingredients of memories, than action or dialogue. For example, in an early scene, Sachs juxtaposes a soft-focused close-up of a fluffy, wet dog with the cold, austere barbed wire fences of the Buenos Aires slums.
Central to the film is the dichotomy between the cold, urban adult world and its harsh realities and the warm domestic comforts of the girls’ homes and the lush gardens in which they play. The girls pretend to live in their own kingdom, where the forces of imposing adulthood are kept at bay by the walls of their imaginary fortress. They run, scream, laugh, and play while outside of their domain, their country is fraught with labor strikes and smoldering social tension.
Even in their sheltered existences, elements of reality manage to seep in and take hold of the young girls’ emotions. When asked what she is most afraid of, one of the girls responds with a recount of a dream she had in which she was kidnapped and her parents could not afford to pay her ransom. Adult issues like the threat of poverty or coping with debilitating illness are ever present in the girls’ lives, despite their best efforts to escape.
Leticia, the eldest girl and self-proclaimed queen of the kingdom, is marred by an unnamed ailment, which leaves her limbs stiff and brittle and demands constant attention. Rather than give up in the face of the disease, the girls mock it with youthful abandon. The girls play a game called “statues” in which they try to hold strange poses for as long as they can by the train tracks. In a way, this innocent game seems like a way for the girls to help ease the pain of Leticia’s ailment by experiencing it each themselves. They laugh at it with the belief that laughing at a serious situation can, through some sacred childhood magic, assuage the severity.
The omnipresent train offers the girls their first brush with the excitement and confusion of adolescence. A mysterious boy throws notes to one of the girls each time he barrels past them on his train ride. The mystery and allure of this situation lead them to envision him as a prince charming. However, they are sorely disappointed when the two finally meet face to face and the interaction is awkward and stilted.
Director Lynne Sachs utilizes a mixed-medium filmmaking technique in which documentary footage of Argentinean riots and protests is unexpectedly interspersed within the larger fictitious framework of the film. It seems as if these interjections of real footage into the film mirror the obtrusion of reality into the girl’s sheltered fantasy world. The disorienting effect of this editing drapes a homogenous haze over the film, blending fantasy into reality and vice versa. This exchange culminates in the cathartic final moments when the walls between the harsh, urban adult world and the girls’ kingdom of childhood innocence crumble and the screen is flooded with a rush of excitement and confusion about the adolescent limbo between child- and adulthood. Con Viento en Pelo ends with the images of the rumbling train and the girls’ outdoor safe haven becoming one as they fade into abstraction.
In slightly over forty minutes, Sachs is able to encapsulate not the events of childhood, but rather the sensations and feelings. All the while, the tensions and concerns of the adult world quietly smolder in the background, offering a constant reminder of the limited longevity of childish innocence. The film is often disorienting and confusing, but couldn’t the same be said about the transition from childhood to adulthood? Con Viento en Pelo is an experience intended to be felt rather than understood.
Family, history, and oblivion pervade these two short works. With the experimental documentary Last Happy Day (2009, 39 min.) Sachs reconstructs the life of a distant relative, Hungarian doctor Sandor Lenard, who escaped the Holocaust, settled in Brazil, and, among other things, translated Winnie the Pooh into Latin. Sachs’s daughters and their friends read from this text and and recite bits of Lenard’s biography, providing a piquant tonal contrast to the archival footage and the interviews with his son and his second wife. A visit to Buenos Aires and short stories by Julio Cortazar inspired the dreamy narrative Wind in Our Hair (2009, 42 min.), which deals with sisterhood, children’s games, passing trains, and brief encounters.