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In the City of Sylvia

November 8, 2011

In the City of Sylvia (2007)
Director: José Luis Guerín
Actors: Pilar López de Ayala, Xavier Lafitte, Michaël Balerdi

en-la-ciudad-de-sylvia.jpg (300×161)

Synopsis: A male artist journeys round the streets and cafes of an unnamed French city, searching for the eponymous ‘Sylvia’.

Review: This is a gorgeous ode to the art of looking and the gaze, as the film’s simple premise places a young, tortured male artist in an unnamed French city for a number of days where he spends his time wistfully, sketching beautiful women in cafés, before following the eponymous ‘Sylvia’ as she walks around the city. In the City of Sylvia is such a great antidote to the tyranny of narrative and genre, as its beguiling schema is simply to follow the artist (in essence, a cipher of the viewer’s gaze) as he conceives this obsession with an attractive French woman. Director José Luis Guerín does a wonderful job of sensualising the film, honing his cinemascape to every little sight and sound, and concentrating the viewer’s attention so much that a simple shaft of sunlight, or the gesture of one of the looked-at women, becomes something arresting and of transcendent interest. The little bit of story there is (the artist eventually catches up with ‘Sylvia’ on a tram) reaches a suitably enigmatic pay-off, as Sylvia acknowledges the artist’s voyeuristic hunt for her, but then takes it away – a metaphor for the impossibility of the quest for perfection. (November 2011)

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