The Silence Before Bach / Mudanza - The Silence Before Bach / Mudanza( Blu Ray) [Second Run - 2021]
Here from Second Run is a region free Blu ray bringing together two films from Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella, whose work here focuses on European music and history, and does so in an arty and unconventional- yet largely approachable manner. The two films here are 2007’s The Silence Before Bach, which an experimental documentary that blends past, present, fact and fiction. And 2008's Mundaza- which follows the removal of furniture and objects from the home of Spanish poet Federico García, who was assassinated in 1936. As we’ve come to expect from Second Run, we get a classy presentation- with new high-definition prints of both films, an in-depth interview with the director, and a glossy inlay booklet featuring new writing on both films.
Pere Portabella was born in 1927 Figueres, Girona, Catalonia, Spain. His first film No computer Amb Els Dits, appeared in 1967- it ran thirty-three minutes and was a drama that focused on the relationship between images and things that seemingly are isolated, having nothing in common, but emulates the conventions found within film and television advertising. In all he has helmed twenty-six films, taking in both documentaries, shorts, and experimental feature-length. And Euro cult fans will be interested to know in 1971 he made Cuadecuc, vampir- a documentary studying Jess Franco’s 1970 film Count Dracula. So, he’s certainly a versatile and interesting filmmaker, who has an eye for picking varied subjects and themes for his work.
First up we have The Silence Before Bach (Die Stille vor Bach)- this is one hour and forty-minute film that blends and blurs historical reconstruction, 'dramatic' scenes and documentary sequences. The film features a very unconventional and unpredictable structure, though the whole thing is largely appealing and involving in its unfold. The picture shifts back and forth through time and location, as well as narrative and non-narrative filmmaking. It opens with a POV camera moving around a series of seemingly empty white-walled rooms- when we make it to the end of these set of rooms, we suddenly become aware of a moving-on-wheels automated piano- this is playing out one of Bach's pieces, at it follows the camera back up the corridor. As we move on, we meet some of the following: a blind piano tuner and his dog, two men travelling in a lorry with one man playing a Bach tune on a harmonica, period re-enactments of points in Bach's life and related historic moments, a young female cello player and her older partner- with their stories often been cut off/ left hanging, mixed with more Bach related/ themed audiovisually elements. From the above description, it may sound like the film is drifting or abstract in its flow, but it’s very clean, clear and flowing in its unfold- with interesting titbits of info about Bach’s life/ career( for example it was 50 years after his before his work was formally written down), been blended with Bach related/ connected characters, and of course Bach's music- which is played via several different instruments, like an old and complex church organ, harpsichord, strings, a collection of pianos, wind instrumentation, the human voice, and most impressively via a single harmonica player. The camera work though-out is a wonderful mixture of gliding and shifting, both following on-screen action, pulling back through it, or remaining relatively still. The whole film is alive with the rich, layered, and buoyant flow of Bach’s composition- and this can be felt both in the formal audio/ visual elements of the film, as well as the rhythm/ flow of the film structure. For an experimental mix of drama, reconstruction, and documentary-it's surprising how watchable and rewarding the film is, highlighting both the talent and wonder of Bach as a composer and how his influence reverberates through time to the present day.
The second film here is Mundaza-this runs at the twenty-one-minute mark, and is less approachable than The Silence Before Bach, though still a worthy/ interesting experimental doc. It follows the then-recent and largely quiet and thoughtful removal of items from the home of Federico García- who was a key member of the Generation of '27, a controversial and provocative group that introduced ideas of artier/ experimental European ideas (symbolism, futurism, and surrealism) into Spanish literature. He was killed in 1936 by Nationalist forces at the start of the Spanish Civil War, and his body has never been found. The film once again uses wonderful flowing camera work- which goes from been active and more slowed/ considered. It starts with slow panning shots of the outside of the building, as it moves on, we observe the busy, yet precise packing on the house's contents- going from pictures, vases and stands, and large items like a piano. And when everything is gone, we slowly move around the empty room spaces, before seeing all the items wrapped up in a large storage space. The film nicely highlights a few things, the business-like but caring movements of the professional packers, and the items themselves and their visual meaning/ impact in the space.
Moving onto the extras here- and on the disc, we get an episode of Catalan TV arts show Sala 33- this is from 2008 and focuses purely on Pere Portabella. He is an interview by a very buoyant presenter- the focus here is largely on The Silence Before Bach & Mundaza- though we do get a visual look back through his filmography. It runs at twenty-six minutes and is a most worthy and interesting extra, which really gives you some nice insight into Portabella work. As always with Second Run releases we get a glossy inlay booklet- this runs twenty pages and takes in writing about the films, as well as a good selection of stills.
With this release, Second Run have once again highlighted and celebrate the work of one of the more distinctive and original filmmakers in arthouse cinema- with the company once again giving a classy and arty presentation to the release and its packaging. I can see both films appealing to those who enjoy creative & experimental look at art and history, and as I mentioned early, The Silence Before Bach is certainly at the more approachable side of arthouse cinema. Roger Batty