The warm weather is over and thick fog has settled again over San Francisco. It’s from beneath this blanket that I look back on last night’s ATA screening of Vincent Moon and Lulacruza’s collaboration: Espearnado el Tsunami.
We began late because everyone is late in warm weather; if you’ve lived in a tropical climate, you know how heat makes you linger. The doors were open and the music was playing and people were hanging out on the sidewalk. It was a perfect beginning, like a bridge made of humidity, to Colombia, where the movie is set.
Esperando is more of a poem than a movie. It has no plot other than its premise: that Moon and Lelacruza (musicians, Alejandra Ortiz and Luis Maurette), travel the Colombian countryside in search of music, the land, its people, and its spirit.
Vincent Moon is best known for shorter pieces—a lot of blogs say that he has reinvented the music video with his spontaneously composed sessions, song-length takes with musicians in their homes or the landscapes that define them. Esperando runs about an hour, and the longer format gives Moon space to experiment with his camerawork. The results are mesmerizing. I love the way his camera plays in the darkness, on the surface of the water, against the window of a moving car.
The text– or the voiceover, if this movie is a documentary– is a long poem, written and spoken by Alejandra Ortiz, about the land, the spirit, Colombian mythology. The writing is very beautiful, and so is her speaking voice. It is hard to watch the movie and not be carried by the tide of verbal and visual poetry. But—
After a certain length of time, so much poetry becomes precious, heavy. The film is perhaps too beautiful. It doesn’t make room for a grittier and more real story to take shape. A longer piece begs the question: what is at stake for Ortiz and Maurette? What is at stake for Moon? What is gained and lost as these three seekers wander through the Colombian landscape, culturescape?
My favorite sequence was what I’d call the psychedelic climax of the film, a montage that begins with a great cascade of tumbling earth that turns out to be the movement of a body under the sand. Then we see a millipede, huge, in sharp focus, and a colony of leaf cutter ants, who multiply and terrify, until we are moving fast down a winding dirt road—
The soundtrack is, of course, amazing in this film, and as the tension builds, an unearthly chanting fills the space. The shot cuts finally to the chantress, an old woman sitting on a bleak, sun-soaked veranda, shaking with the power of her song.
Ortiz is next to the woman. Ortiz and Maurette fill the movie with their bodies. Alejandra fills it with her voice, but I wonder who she is.