In the City of Sylvia

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12/12/2008 11:15 AM |

The funniest Vertigo remake since The Black Dahlia, José Luis Guerín’s In the City of Sylvia, which plays for a week at Anthology starting this evening, is a knowing, sun-blessed evocation of the power of the look, the eye’s or the camera’s, to capture the present-tenseness of an image, and an elegy to moments fixed in (past) time.

We’re in Strasbourg in summertime, captured in long fixed-camera shots letting busy urban comings-and-goings come and go through the frame — and, before that, a darkened motel room partly illuminated by beams of headlights, which cast shadows on a darkened wall, like projector beams. A young Euro model type hangs out in cafes, first glancing at the murmuring, coffee-sipping, power-napping ladies at the tables around him, and then following one through alleys and byways, following a (red-clad, naturally) woman to the center of the labyrinth, in a sequence of forward-moving p.o.v. shots and backward-tracking reverse shots. She is not, it turns out, Sylvia; it’s really creepy to follow people like that, she tells him at last.

Who is Sylvia? Is there a Sylvia? He met one, once, six years ago — he would have been six years younger, then, maybe about the same age as a group of schoolgirls he later watches in a park. (There’ve been a number of excellent film-theoretical readings of the film, like this week’s Hobereview and Henry Stewart’s above-linked L review, but we’ve mostly been glossing over a really keen psychological insight that the movie obliquely slips in: the way even people in their early twenties get nostalgic for their late teens.) Probably they’re all Sylvia, in the sense that Sylvia is something lost and unrecoverable, a single frame from a reel that no amount of subsequent viewing can recapture. It’s silly to even try.

3 Comment

  • Great insight about nostalgic 20-somethings; it accounts for that scene with the young girls better than my “girls of all ages” dismissal. I also liked Nathan Lee’s idea, in his review today, as to why the title cards always say it’s night even though most of the action takes place during the day. (http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/movies/12sylv.html) I look forward to reading new re-readings of Sylvia over the next few years, since it lends itself to that kind of analysis…as does Wendy and Lucy, to a lesser degree, though no one seems to want to bother with that one! Illegal immigration allegory, anyone? (In which Lucy is her “family”, the continental 48 is “Mexico”, and Alaska is “America”?)

  • Ooh, good call on Wendy and Lucy.

  • Sounds a bit like Antonioni’s The Passanger, when Nicholson stalks Maria Schneider. That scene when Nicholson follows her into some cathedral or other and she’s like why the hell are you following me. Anyway yes, too many movies to see…