In the City of Sylvia (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
A young man (Xavier Lafitte) in, presumably, his twenties met a girl (Pilar López de Ayala) in Strasbourg, France six years ago. Ever since their encounter, he couldn’t get her out of his mind. The young artist was back in Strasbourg and he hoped to cross paths with the same girl by hanging out in an outdoor café. If there was anything to admire about “En la ciudad de Sylvia,” it would be its sheer audacity. The pacing was deliberately slow, the dialogue was minimal, and the lead character was somewhat of a creeper. He was inspired by women. He liked to watch their body language as they conversed with their friends, the way their lips curled just so when they sipped coffee, and the intensity of their spontaneous laughter during tête-à-têtes. The camera was his eyes and we were subjected to watch with him. When he became fixated on a special image, like a man on the foreground and a woman on the background forming an illusion of a kiss, he sketched on his book. He was an observer. And as an observer, there was an air of detachment about him. I enjoyed the contrast in that the film was shot in natural light and much of it being a bit of a fantasy. Although the young man’s predilection for stalking could happen in the real world, no one noticed and called him out for staring. Perhaps it’s a European thing, but if I saw a person staring at me and I began to feel uncomfortable, I would move as far away as possible or, if left no other choice, confront him in public. But the guy was supposed to be in love with the girl and I couldn’t help but go along with it. In some ways, I was convinced that his intentions were pure. For instance, when he finally saw her since their last meeting, he looked at her with a certain serenity and he held himself with just the right amount of happiness. It was like watching a lost child who was so relieved to have found his mother. It was interesting that there was a possibility that there was something wrong about the guy but there wasn’t enough evidence for us to know for sure. As he stalked her through the labyrinthine alley, he just didn’t get the hint that she was aware that she was being followed. Why not make things simple and just say, “Hey, do you remember me? We met six years ago in a bar.” Shyness wasn’t an excuse. There was a scene in which showed him having no trouble making conversation with a beautiful woman in a bar. “In the City of Sylvia” thrived on its conceit which made its offbeat structure challenging. For instance, there was no obvious dramatic or character arc. But not all movies have to contain such things. Fortunately, it wasn’t difficult to get into its flow. Written and directed by José Luis Guerín, “Dans la ville de Sylvia” featured stunning beauty in terms of location and people in front of the camera. I especially liked the shot with the girl’s hair being blown all over the place by the erratic wind. I wanted to take a picture. But the reward after sitting through extended shots felt half-empty and transient. With films like its type, I always ask what makes it worth telling. I’m not sure I have an answer.