‘Friends on a country road’, by Santiago Loza, or the total cinema

Santiago Loza is to the seventh art of the 21st century what Anton Chekhov was to the theater in the 19th century. This Argentine filmmaker is a true scholar of the signifiers that create multiple meanings on the big screen. He doesn’t attend one of his films like any other, but he doesn’t leave them either, like the rest of the cinema.

Given its exceptional character, let us also launch a different criticism. In parentheses: is there still film criticism in September 2022? The parenthesis is closed. It is not the same to see (), than to read it. Approaching a film with words is not the same as receiving its impressions of light and sound on our retina.

As the protagonist of this story affirms, through the verses of the poet Roberta Iannamico, at one point in her journey: I realized that you cannot say the song of a bird with letters. I have lived for a long time in the frustration of knowing the difficulty of translating the beauty of cinema into written signs. And especially of the subtlety, beauty and serenity of films like ‘Friends on a country road’. Just the try, I hope it’s worth it. For this reason, I warn our navigators: a text riddled with spoilers, interpretations and beacon signals. First, watch the movie; then continue reading.

‘Friends on a country road’

Santiago Loza’s latest work shows two friends walking through nature, chatting about their personal affairs. Proposal not at all cinematographic, at first glance, which is actually the very essence of cinema. Unite images, textures, sounds and music to awaken their own story in the imagination of each spectator.

What might seem like an argument is actually an excuse. The filmmaker’s characters are defined, above all, by what they say and what they do. The film begins and the protagonist is meticulously preparing some loaves of bread. She is going to transform three elements (water, flour and yeast), into something different. Like the three friends who make up an intimate and close bond of sisterhood, friendship, and perhaps something more. Sandra, Tere and Claudia, a trinity that is also going to become something else.

Claudia has already left, not by her own decision but for an inescapable cause (we are not going to reveal everything either), and now Sandra faces another farewell. Tere has asked for a transfer and leaves town, leaving her alone. They walk and chat, reproaching each other for the coldness of one and the insistence of the other. They need something to light them up. At dawn that morning, Sandra has seen a meteorite and goes to look for it, in the middle of the field, with her friend. As in her previous work ‘Brief history of the green planet’, the fantastic is combined in Loza’s cinema with a simple naturalness. The supernatural or the unexpected is not strange. It’s just life.

'friends on a country road'

‘Friends on a country road’

From the trinity we pass to the duo. That same morning, and like another meteorite, the daughter of the protagonist, Nora (name of which she always leaves and breaks with the established family schemes) has returned to see her mother. They hardly speak to each other. A pending conversation about her father is suspended. Her mother goes for a walk and the daughter meets her friend, Virgi (from Virginia, but so close to virginal). A whole new territory to explore. They chat too, but their conversation will be more about future paths than past paths.

From the trio and the duo we pass to the individual, to the unit. A young man, androgynous as only youth allows him to escape from a socially imposed duality, crosses paths with Sandra and Tere. They advise him the best route to go to the place he wants to get to. He is lost. Not like them, who already know where they are, a long, long time ago.

The film, as absorbing for the gaze as it is magnetic for its photography, I think offers at least two or three alternatives. to define these relationships. Everything is open to the interpretation of the viewer. The last element and, ultimately, the most important and, too often forgotten, part of the process of receiving a cinematographic work. The great cinema is not the one that is projected on the big screen and sticks to it. Forgotten in two minutes. The authentic seventh art endures after leaving the room.

Santiago Loza’s films begin when the screening ends. When the protagonist arrives at her house and, already transformed or not, she prepares to have dinner with her daughter, it seems that it is the moment in which that pending conversation about her father will begin. Or not. At that moment, the spectator, absolute monarch of the cinema, because without him the films would not exist, also becomes a director to enrich the story, from his personal life experience.

If, as in the story by Augusto Monterroso, “when he woke up, the dinosaur was still there”, with Santiago Loza, “when the spectator leaves the cinema, the film is still, and for a long time, still there”.

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‘Friends on a country road’

Zabaltegi-Tabakalera San Sebastian Festival

Original title: Girlfriends on a country road. Address: Santiago Loza. Script: Santiago Loza and Lionel Braverman. Music: Motorized Santiago. Photography: Eduardo Crespo. Distribution: Sublime Eva Bianco, Anabella Bacigalupo, Jazmin Carballo and Carolina Saade. Duration: 77 min. Country: Argentina (2022).

Synopsis: In a mountain village a stone falls from the sky. Two friends go looking for her in the field. Along the way they talk, they remember another friend who died, they laugh, they argue, they meet other seekers. From the beginning of the day until the light goes out. A farewell or several. The journey of the day from sunrise to sunset. Poetry as a common thread. A film about friendships and winter landscapes.

‘Friends on a country road’, by Santiago Loza, or the total cinema