Eyes behind closed shutters or the art of delicately hovering

The last few feet of film running inside th camera housing tend to buckle and jitter, producing overexposed splotches that seem to feed on the celluloid itself, like spreading fungal growth or delicate flames. The perceptual shift transforming the ?roll-out? from readily discarded technical glitch to fascinating organic reflex may be the most humble aspect of Rosa Barba?s ongoing commitment to unveil and unravel a formidable cinema organism- an endeavor all the more exhaustive for beginning in the entrails of the camera and reaching out to encompass the projection area itself, where celluloid blood vessels climb walls, map out blueprints for abandoned rooms, and configure themselves into glimmering, transparent curtains (as if the wholesale recognition of this living cinema had somehow obliged it to trace the outlines of its own domestic space). The very texture of the roll-out offers a sharp contrast to the optical printing and processing effects of avant-garde filmmaking, which have forever disrupted the illusion of cinematic representation by flaunting the ephemeralness and malleability of the image?s surface. Though grounded in a similar revulsion to televised realism, Barba?s approach to exposing the physicality of her medium has lead her not to a skepticism of the image, but to a reverence bordering on mysticism. In Panzano (Barba?s and Molsen's strange, gorgeous feat of alchemy), those fleeting intrusions of light rather pull us away from the surface, drawing us into a mystery whose essence seems to lie in the transition, the fragile gateway between worlds.

Inside a secluded cabin in the eponymous Tuscan village, Dino, Claudio, and Valeria are literally conjured up by another (though quite deliberate) in-camera phenomenon- perhaps even the oldest instance of special effects. The double exposure has summoned forth countless ghosts and apparitions, but never have they approached the camera as if it instead were the hovering, vaguely menacing intruder (perhaps wearily acknowledging an entity powerful enough to call them into being or whisk them away at will). Somehow, the simple act of gazing into (instead of through) the lens becomes a means for the protagonists to both confirm and challenge its power. The camera-eye places these shadowy forms in a petri dish only to find itself equally scrutinized and- confronted with a speaking mirror (a ravenous recording device in its own right)- even more disposed to lose itself in the contours of the human face.
The circumstances of the shoot reveal how such a peculiar dynamic could have come about. It had all the makings for an exploitation project or humanist pseudo-documentary: budding experimental filmmaker offers mental patients the opportunity to fulfill their silver screen ambitions. A chance encounter during one of their outings to a Panzano caf? and the confession of a collective dream to act in a film led to a two-week stay at the nearby summer home of aspiring singer/San Remo contestant Boris (who in the film?s climax beckons Dino into a fuzzy, luminous land of forgotten pop songs). The trio was given a very rough outline for a potential story and encouraged to gradually settle into roles of their own choosing.
No one could have planned or anticipated the mixture of wonder, apprehensiveness, and hostility evoked by the unmistakable fourth presence of the camera. While the resulting film possibly offers a vision of madness (as the fruit of certain missed connections or different forms of editing), something about the visitors` very surroundings seems oblivious to mere tricks of perception: the cabin which unfolds and retracts, lures, shelters, and stifles (a sometime wa station for passing "lightbeings"); the outlying fields (to merely cross the threshold of the front door poses uncertain repercussions, upsets a fundamental balance, invokes death); the train tracks (a final crossroads where Valeria?s unearthly smile somehow clenches, sums up, and resumes everything).

In a context where the three ?characters? already struggle to assign parts among themselves, Panzano creates a matrix where the three most taken-for-granted elements of any film (camera, subjects, and the spaces they inhabit) are all delicately at odds with one another- allowed to float freely, guage the terrain, stake out a compromise. It could have all come across as hopelessly vague and amorphous were it not for the fact that this is ostensibly a home and presumably a family. The strange rituals, comings and goings, arguments and reconciliations, and- most crucially- perpetual limbo are, after all, merely our own. Panzano is that rare work of cinema (short or otherwise) one might be tempted to qualify as visionary. Fortunately, Rosa Barba has not gazed into the mouth of madness, challenged stereotypes, broken barriers, blurred boundaries, portrayed, discovered, or even created a world. She has opened herself to light and movement, and asks us to do the same.

Carlos Garza

Rosa Barba, Off Sites/Sets, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther K?nig, 2003