BUENAS NOCHES, ESPAÑA Review
What separates Earth from space? If we are to base it from what could arguably be the most famous sequence in Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972), it is a speedy ride along a futuristic highway. The sequence, around five minutes in length, oddly switching from black and white to color, and uses a Tokyo highway to pass for the futuristic highway, approximates the experience of travel, more specifically, space travel. Stripped of the usual pleasures of escapist science fiction where space travel is always depicted to be exciting and enthralling, Tarkovsky's concept of space travel is more grounded, evoking a sense of displacement, awkwardness, even boredom. In a way, Tarkovsky has injected cinematic space travel with much-needed honesty, much-needed humanity.
What then separates now from
then? Time travel is nothing new in cinema. Yet the actual experience of time
travel has always been curiously neglected. At most, we have gotten ourselves
satisfied by seeing speeding cars disappearing in the sky, or sparks and bolts
of electricity appearing as kitschy contraptions are turned on. However, what
actually happens to the human being that is transported back in time is left to
the fringes of the imagination, unfairly blanketed by extraneous depictions of
characters and things disappearing supposedly back in time. So if we are to
base it from Raya Martin's Buenas Noches,
España, what separates
now from then are not sparkles or random disappearances, it is reality-altering
drugs and a lot of it.
The seemingly random events of Buenas Noches, España is grounded on one exposition, that on 1593, a
Filipino soldier stationed in Manila suddenly vanishes and wakes up in Mexico
City. Martin establishes several things through the anecdote. One, that non-traditional
travel exists. Two, that there is an inherent connection between and among
Spain and all of its former colonies. From those starting points, Martin places
two lovers (Pilar Lopez de Ayala and Andres Gertrudix) in a trip across Spain,
across time, and elsewhere. The footage of the couple are heavily processed,
played and replayed in various tints of red, blue and yellow, accompanied by a
perpetual droning and strategically placed sound effects from slapstick
cartoons of the past.
Martin replicates the experience of being under the influence of drugs. He also replicates the feeling of being lost in time, seeing scenes played a few moments ago played again and again with various details changed, and listening to sounds that evoke reminiscence of carefree childhood. Being in the influence of drugs and time travel, although at first glance are two very different experiences, are actually interchangeable, giving Martin's proposition logical sense, and very personal sense, too, since drug influence and time travel are both panacea to heartache, allowing a person an option to forget and to make what has been made permanent by the movement of time more or less malleable. Thus, the lovers seem to be in incomparable bliss being in that state of temporal randomness, oblivious of where they are and where they are going.
Curiously absent from the couple's ecstatic trip is the Philippines, past or present. A visit to the museum would reveal artifacts from Spain's past as colonial master: various paintings by Juan Luna, a Filipino artist who won various prizes for his paintings while sojourning in Europe with various other Filipino intellectuals. The sight of the paintings is sobering to both the lovers and Martin. From the vapid goofing around the museum's various chambers, the lovers are mysteriously awestruck and emotional, as if reminded of a closeted fact in history. Martin slows down too, relaxing the editing, substituting the heavy drone with ominous silence, and settles with black and white visuals. The sudden break is strange but fitting, alluding to a shared history between countries, finally establishing that long lost thread that will finally connect present and past, and Spain and its former colony.
Buenas Noches, España is more frustrating than it is pleasurable. It is more experiential than intellectual. Just as Tarkovsky has created the most precise cinematic equivalent of space travel, Martin has created the most precise cinematic equivalent of being stuck in time, immobilized by some obsession with the past, with history, never moving forward, never moving backward.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)