Monday, September 21, 2015
Encountering Horse Money
Juxtaposition of two excellent pieces this past weekend - Complicite's The Encounter at the Old Vic in Bristol, and Pedro Costa's film from last year, Cavalo Dinheiro, or Horse Money, at the Watershed.
The former is a genuine tour de force by Simon McBurney and his associates, moving beautifully from an introduction to the complex microphone setup involved (all the audience wear headphones) handled almost like stand-up comedy, into its narrative (which concerns the encounter between photographer Loren McIntyre and the Mayoruna people of the Amazon). Perhaps sometimes a little too credulous (it feels as if the production wants to believe in the telepathic communication with the Mayoruna chief which McIntyre himself claimed to have taken place), and I cannot claim to have been absolutely transported at every moment - but on reflection perhaps this is itself the point. McBurney begins by discussing how everything is fiction, but that we cannot draw a neat line between the real and the fictional: he tells us that when he blows into the microphone we will feel our ear, beneath the headphones, getting hot, and indeed we do. Breaking the spell is repeatedly dramatised in the production, as McBurney's daughter interrupts his narrative, but the dialectic between immersion in fiction and observation of the fiction as fiction will be different for every audience member. For me this was encapsulated by realising in retrospect how carefully a piece a fake blood must have been placed, which was needed after a sequence in which McBurney trashed pretty much the whole stage.
More quietly, Costa's film (the first by him I have seen) is equally remarkable. It also entangles the fictional and the non-fictional, but whereas The Encounter begins with a man on a stage telling a story taking full advantage of the possibilities of theatre (it could never be filmed), Horse Money could be nothing other than a film. Its apparatus, to begin with, mixes the real and the fictional: the actors are relating events based on, or at least very close to, their own lives. But this narrative - whatever it status - is then placed in a space which refers obliquely to itself. Time and space continually blur, transform & get confused. But, intriguingly, the narrative itself is not confusing: we piece it together fairly straightforwardly. What is remarkable is that there is no attempt to create a stable fictional space within which to deploy this story. If we were told that this was the afterlife, or a dream, nobody would have much trouble, but withholding such certainty allows Costa to create a sense of stability of reference simultaneous with utter mysteriousness. It is also visually extraordinary, mostly stable camera set-ups (which somewhat recall Roy Andersson) showing a collection of unforgettable faces with a palette of mostly subdued but occasionally vibrant colours embedded in utter blackness.