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Año Uña ***

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Año Uña is composed of photographs, static images, taken of real people in real situations, with a virtual narrative and virtual characters. As some have noted, this is a technique under-used in directorial debuts, and is an excellent exercise in cost-cutting. It is also an intriguing interrogation of the nature of the moving image and of intentionality. These photographs are of necessity ‘of the world’, but held together in order and time, and with a narrator, they become ‘a world’ bounded in their portrayal over time, and as interpreted as a dynamic image, much like a work of digital animation. This problem is closely related to the principles of movement-image and time-image. A story emerges from a series of static images, moments; as Deleuze argues right at the off in Cinema 1, time cannot be broken into a series of moments, and as Max argues in Año Uña, photographs do not express truth in privileged moments: this narrative is woven in virtual time from images of the world and Cuaron looks to exploit this in creating a transcendent representation of interpersonal experience.

Ano UnaThe director and writer’s debut is confident and certainly Cuaron Jr. has his own voice. In trying to achieve his artistic aim, however, I believe him to be overstretched. The script is at times affective and intellective, but his male lead is incredibly irritating. Whilst the whispers of his loved object feel intimate, the amorous subject’s are positively venereal. I suppose this is largely down to the nature of his discourse: I cannot contend that it is inappropriate or unrepresentative; simply that it forces one into a condescending and self-ignorant corner. The young man, in the throes of puberty, is entirely preoccupied with sex. The tone is set with his first lines, regarding the last night’s masturbation. Daring and candid, the portrayal of his innermost thoughts may be, but also one-dimensional. It plays to stereotypes by ignoring the boy’s other thoughts. I wonder whether it is out of embarrassment at my sex or at this one-sided portrayal of it that I feel ashamed to listen. I presume this afflicts other audience members, though I was the only one to transmute this awkwardness into open laughter. The trouble is that this representation of the boy’s thoughts is accurate, but the teenage boy has thoughts about more than his object’s “tits” and “ass”. Boys, and indeed girls, of all ages do hold discourse on sexual desire, sometimes even in such a linguistic mode, but there are innumerable shades of feeling that accompany the linguistic train. I also expect that many other textual thoughts are neglected for the sake of exposition. Though Cuaron does well to weave these limited lines into a story that articulates some shades of meaning, it cannot go beyond the boundaries that language places upon expression.

I recently read an article by a professor of art who criticised the latest round of Turner-prize entries. He noted that the obfuscation of any meaning in such contemporary works of mediocrity was probably down to their attempt to articulate verbal ideas in the visual artistic media. The problem is that, on his view, successful works of art need to deal with the universal, not the particular (a little nod to Aristotle), and communicating non-verbal ideas visually is what makes the work accessible to the audience. That is not to say Año Uña will not communicate to almost anyone: its wealth of visual images and volume of text (ripe for interpretation) ensures that countless meanings can be understood. In this manner, moreover, Cuaron is expressing non-linguistic ideas about the nature of love (“I do not understand the young. All they care about is making a relationship last. They do not think of enjoying it.”) in its transience, its solitude and its proper relation to value, in an effective way. What he is attempting to express through linguistic thought, however, is the idea that we can comprehend the truth of the amorous relation through the two internal monologues of the lead male and female. There’s the problem.

Ano Una2It relies entirely upon the audience’s relation to the characters, who consist solely in a static body and in dynamic monologue, and imagination of their non-linguistic thoughts, to understand the relation. This is no different to the portrayal of a relationship outside the minds of the participants. Introducing the internal monologue is essential to flesh out the sequence of photographs into a film, but does not prove any more enlightening than if we were to hear the ‘actors’ speak. We may be abstracted to a linguistic layer of thought, which takes us beyond the extremely unenlightening spoken exchanges of the characters, but the real substance of the relationship lies in-between these verbal thoughts. No greater truth lies in their internal monologues than in their spoken words and physical actions.

It might be conceited to assume this is Cuaron’s aim. Año Uña is an interesting insight into the lover’s discourse, in all its language games, unquenchable desires, futile gestures and defeatist figures. It is also, in all its honesty, terribly sad. The lover is privileged in their ignorance to the object’s thought, though knowledge of that thought might well have averted the construction of images and reconstruction of moments implicit in becoming the lover. For the male lead, between his moments of frustration at perceived failure, and ultimate disappointment at failure to satisfy his desire, can enjoy the pleasures of the amorous relation. But in the knowledge of his object’s freedom, condescension, amusement, contrasting self-image, internal image, rivals and complicity, he would be denied all pleasures, as are we, the audience. Año Uña places the audience, thankfully a third party, in the condition of persistent knowledge of the disparities the amorous relation requires: perhaps another reason why identification with the male lead is so unattainable. To empathise with the boy is to be in a constant state of despair. As it is, we must listen to one monotonous and pathetic edge of his thoughts, untempered by ignorance to his situation. The potential for identification of his desires with our own is defeated by our knowledge of their futility, of his condition in relation to hers.

Ano Una3I would like to know if audience members of a different sexual self-identification to my own have a similar perspective on the female lead. In my inability to hold experience analogous to her own, I wonder if perhaps my lenience toward her portrayal is naïve. Nevertheless I do suspect she has been written with less capacity to irritate but less real-life insight than the boy. How well does Cuaron know the proper constitution of her thoughts? I expect she thinks as much in cliché as does the boy. Regardless, Año Uña, as an expression of love’s nature and insistent study of the freshest lover’s language game, in all its pessimism about the amorous condition and all its optimism about the imperative of temporal happiness over immortality, is a success. Its charm is quaint, its monistic discourses frustrating, and its intentionality inscrutable, but in matters of love it speaks of Cuaron’s success at introspection.

The pictures are pretty too, whatever Max says. Aesthetic pleasure is aroused by many, and in their construction as a dynamic image, they benefit from each being opened to an extensive blind field they would otherwise lack.


Año Uña, Dir. & Writ. Jonás Cuarón, Esperanto Filmoj, Mexico, 2007


Written by James P. Campbell

03/12/2008 at 12:10

Posted in Reviews

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