The funniest Vertigo remake since The Black Dahlia, José Luis GuerÃn’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.