La Libertad (Lisandro Alonso, 2001)

or when contemplation is itself a political and aesthetic statement...



The heaviness of the cinematic medium in terms of political and aesthetic content have undoubtedly changed the way we watch films. Consciously, we form expectations through our experiences. And the predictability-unpredictability of a certain approach in filmmaking remains, for many, the fundamental premise for our understanding of a certain film. This result to numerous familiar stratagems we see in today's commercial and art cinema. It is, by its nature, the reason why art films can be formulaic as much as genre films can be. The polemics of the approach is very much like what Godard and Truffaut did in the French Cinema of the 60s. Of course it starts with independence and the glorification of the auteur. From then on, art films have managed to create its own stylistic system often with supreme antagonistic insight about the commercial cinema. But some also favored the half-way house wherein commercial cinema and art cinema meets. That house, once a small part of art cinema, is now a booming genre with an increasing market value and a sizable audience turning itself into a pseudo-commercial cinema (which often denies itself from being one).

Abstraction has never been this good. Most of Cannes Film Festival films sells good. Lars Von Trier sells artsy mutilation films (of course with a Criterion label) while Pasolini's Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom (1975) is a cult. We get a glimpse of how controversy and issues on censorship can stir the sales to heights one can never even imagine. This is the kind of politics Lisandro Alonso and a pack of filmmakers like Lav Diaz and Raya Martin attempt to disarm.

Films like La Libertad (2001) disconnects us from this new cultural hegemony of pseudo-commercial films and takes us to the center of cinema itself: the persistence of vision in twenty-four frames per second. La Libertad brushes through a man's life as if it was a painting from a lost time. Like still life paintings of Cezanne, the film can be 'hanged' on walls of one's house and let it breathe through that space connecting volumes of emotions. It is through this method, the manifestation of La Libertad as some sort of a moving painting, that cinema has triumphed in resuscitating itself.

Banality, in this case, is a form counterculture and a form of abstraction. The film strikes a phenomenal glare on what is happening in today's cinema, which, if not manipulative to the audience often robbing the democracy of one's eyes and one's own thoughts to see and think through the film. La Libertad liberates the viewers from this unconscious hegemony of the frames and refreshes what is cinema in their eyes. The lack of narrative drive and polemics of the film depoliticized and de-clog the overload sign-symbol systems of the contemporary cinema. It narrates plainly a day in a life of an Argentine woodcutter. The story unfolds without deviations from the main narrative and nothing happens. No causal interactions between the characters, no drive and definitely no motivation.

The film achieves total radicalism from today's cinema. Far from the capitalist-infested commercial cinema, far from the overloaded art cinema, far from the cult films, there lies a small portion of cinema where it takes us to its core and even to its origin: the persistence of vision, the moving image, and the simplicity of depiction of an event like the  Arrival of a Train (1896).