Critics’ Picks

Paulino Viota, Fin de un invierno (A winter’s end), 1968. 16 mm. black and white, 27 minutes.

Paulino Viota, Fin de un invierno (A winter’s end), 1968. 16 mm. black and white, 27 minutes.


Paulino Viota

Calle Luis Hoyos Sainz 2 (interior)
October 8–November 15, 2020

Though it references Paulino Viota’s 1970 opus in its title, “Paulino Viota, Contactos” omits that singular insurgent classic of underground cinema to instead highlight the Spanish filmmaker’s obsessive research and adaptive visual style. Much of the gallery is taken up by several works on paper—artifacts of Viota’s lifelong practice as both film scholar and teacher: a dense visual diagram of the famous Odessa Steps scene from Battleship Potemkin, a Jakobsonian dissection of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 129,” and a collaged encyclopedia-cum-fanzine on Godard’s cinema. 

Four of Viota’s short films are, by comparison, elusive and wandering. Las Ferias (Fairgrounds) (1966), made when Viota was a teenager, patiently documents the day-to-day routine of a group of traveling carnies in his hometown of Santander. The others—Tiempo de busca (A Time to Search, 1967), Fin de un invierno (A Winter’s End, 1968), and Jaula de todos (Everyone’s Cage, 1974)—form a miniature saga of frustrated youth, buoyed by Viota’s rare esteem for actors and his light touch in the editing room and haunted by the arresting heart-shaped face of his wife, muse, and lifelong collaborator, Guadalupe G. Güemes. Much more than the icy, hypnotic formalism of Contactos, these early shorts anticipate a looser, performance-centered style, which Viota would later develop in his brilliant and overlooked final feature, Cuerpo a cuerpo (Body to Body, 1984). The films of Éric Rohmer are a close relative—similarly drawn to the elasticity of relationships and turns in dialogue that leave characters helplessly entangled or suddenly torn—though Viota swaps Rohmer’s cool distance for an intense immediacy that seems to emanate directly from the lives depicted on-screen.

This show is the first-ever solo exhibition of the seventy-two-year-old filmmaker’s work and inaugurates fluent’s new venue, a sort of glass-walled terrarium in the center of a small commercial arcade in Santander. It is a fitting habitat for its first subject: a fastidious local cinephile with a panoramic view of his city.