There is something about the films of Nicolas Pereda, which I particularly like, even though I do not know (nor do I fully understand) why. Pereda’s films are always floating around. Somewhere between documentary and fiction, somewhere between what is and what isn’t. If I think back to my first discovery of his films, I can say with certainty that I became attached to them. There was a particular calm in his films, and there still is. I only have to think of Summer of Goliath (2010) or Perpetuum Mobile from 2009, or even Los Ausentes (2014), which was such a still film, so quiet, so particular. And, at least for my part, it’s so quiet around the director himself. Often, I see by accident that he made another film. He’s never on my radar, a radar that I use to follow up directors that I appreciate. Pereda comes and goes, he pops up and disappears again, even though he is perhaps the most productive contemporary Mexican director I know of with 16 films to his name in just 13 years. I met him briefly in Brussels once. I think he was there for a retrospective of his work at the Cinematek. He is as quiet and wonderful as his films.
The last film by Pereda, which I saw, was Los Ausentes, which diverted slightly from his previous films. It was nevertheless beautifully shot and moving. After that, I heard of Minotaur (2016) and of his documentary Tales of Two Who Dreamt (2016), but I never got round to actually watch them. Blame the fascinating output of Slow Cinema around the world for it, which I try to keep up with, and corona. Of course, what else is to blame for a lack of focus and concentration!?
Fauna is Pereda’s latest film and adds perfectly to his growing filmography. I always have to think of Tsai Ming-liang, even though his films are different on so many levels. But both Pereda and Tsai have created a kind of fetish around their main character. For Tsai, it is Lee Kang-sheng, who became the main figure around which all of the director’s films were constructed. Seeing Tsai’s films from the beginning of his career through to his latest film Days (2020) also means witnessing Lee maturing and getting older.
Gambino is the person/character I’m always looking most forward to when I embark on a new film by Pereda. It is not only about the film, it is about watching Gambino grow and mature, just as Lee Kang-sheng has done throughout Tsai’s films. Fauna showed that a character/person always remains the same; we are only getting older. Deep down, we remain the same. Pereda and Tsai are a bit apart from the rest of the slow film directors because they add the dimension of character identification. A lot has been said and written about character identification in cinema, especially in Hollywood cinema. It’s the idea that viewers need to identify with the hero in order to appreciate the film, or in order to feel comfortable with what they see.
I believe that character identification works different in Slow Cinema. We can identify with everyone we see in the films (perhaps with the exception of Dracula in Albert Serra’s Story of my Death … then again, maybe some people can do this!), because the films are human and they say a lot about our human condition, about what it means to live today, in the here and now (this is what my book is about, too). But we can go even deeper than this in some films as they allow us to witness the development of recurring characters, who are not only that, namely characters, but who are also simply themselves. This is the wonderful thing about slow films; the ‘use’ of non-professional actors, the ‘use’ of people as they are, which makes it much easier to identify with them. When we see their growth, we see our growth. The repeated use of the same character/person creates a stronger connection to the viewer, who is invited to return again and again to the films by the same filmmaker, if only to look at him/herself.
Fauna reminded me of Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice. For those who have seen both films, you may argue that they’re two entirely different films. And yes, they are. But the longer Fauna lasts, the more it becomes theatrical. It becomes a play, not on a stage, but in real life, in which characters take on different roles that change the relation (tension?) between them. It’s a particularly funny exercise in Fauna as the two main characters are also actors in the film. The film begins like a perfectly normal film. Luise and Paco are on their way to visit her parents. They struggle to find the house, which the parents had bought only a few years earlier. Pereda’s camera films through the windshield their disorienting journey (I struggled a bit not to get sick at the beginning, you can’t give me those scenes…). Gambino, who is Luise’s brother in the film, has a similarly difficult journey to his parents’ house.
Once all three arrive, their parents are not in. They wait in front of the house. There are awkward silences, awkward looks at one another, conversations appear difficult. Paco disappears to get cigarettes, which turns out to be quite a difficult task. The local shop doesn’t have any anymore. But hey, the man before him bought two packs, right? Paco follows him, tries to negotiate. He gets a bit agitated. He can’t find cigarettes anywhere. In the end, he manages to get two packs for 200 pesos. I’m not telling you the twist in the story, but it’s brilliant…
This seems to be Fauna, a collection of uncomfortable silences and dialogues, and subtle humour that is truly enjoyable. Pereda, just like Albert Serra, makes films that don’t forget to show the funny, often deadpan sides of life. Nor does he forget the magic of cinema, which can transport us anywhere anytime. When Luise asks Gambino what the book, which he was reading, was about, the film becomes different from what it used to be. It becomes the book. It becomes the literary narrative which Gambino tries to summarise for his sister.
And it is here that I had to think of Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice. The film’s indoor scenes have the appearance of a theatre play. So does Fauna become a strange hybrid of film, book and theatre. Besides, is what we see really happening, or is this just a rehearsal for a group of actors who need to practise their roles? Pereda continues to surprise. He continues to reinvent himself, to take new routes, new pathways. He is playful. This is perhaps the most adequate description. He transfers his playfulness onto his films, which invite the viewer to take part in this playfulness. One thing that I can say is that I never feel heavy after a Pereda film. In my book, I wrote about the heaviness of being, the heaviness of time and memory. Pereda’s films, on the other hand, feel lightweight. In some ways, they are escapist cinema, just without the Hollywood bangs all around (and without the speed). It’s a cinematic version of a (Buddhist) retreat, which you search for to get out of your busy life, to wind down, relax and also to find joy again. I believe that this is Pereda’s cinema: a slow, escapist form of retreat.