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The Pleasure of Feeling Lost: On the Films of Teddy Williams

The Pleasure of Feeling Lost: On the Films of Teddy Williams

The Pleasure of Feeling Lost: On the Films of Teddy Williams

Sebastián Rosal

Talent Press, a section of Talents Buenos Aires, is a theoretical and practical program created for South American critics, writers, programmers, and journalists who reflect on new forms of cinema. Initiated by Berlinale Talents in collaboration with FIPRESCI and the Goethe-Institut, annual Talent Press programs and alumni network meetings are held in five cities around the world. For more details please visit http://talentpress.org/.

Mariángela Martínez Restrepo

Programmer Talent Press TsBsAs

Latin America Film/Critic Curator

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It is unusual for a director to establish all of the interests, arrangements, and processes that will characterize their cinema from then on with a first work. The short film “Could See a Puma” (2011), Eduardo “Teddy” Williams’ debut as a director, can easily be the exception to the rule. In it, we can see the initial distinctive and recurrent traits in Williams’ work — an almost obsessive fixation on young male groups, their chats, their more or less evident seductive games, and their wandering lives.

“Could See a Puma” (Teddy Williams)

This approach cleverly avoids both the sociological assumptions and the traditional “debt” that Argentine cinema has with conventional realism and instead embodies, indicated by attitudes and behaviors, some of his own ideas on cinema. What are these ideas? To begin with, the belief in the need to overcome classical narrative structure, to escape from that raging embrace that demands emotional intensities and continuous dramatic progressions.

Williams’ cinema is a mise en scène of a hiatus, a turn, resulting in the feeling that in between one event and a following one (developed in a scene, a sequence, or even in a single shot) there is an abyss, an ocean of uncertainty in relation to what will subsequently occur. This is why the youngsters seem to always be immersed in the practice of laziness (none of the characters in his films work, except for a few specific cases).

“The Sound of the Stars Dazes Me” (Teddy Williams)

“Once, I went to a place, and I didn’t understand anything. It was great” says one of the teenagers in “The Sound of the Stars Dazes Me” (2012). This statement sums up Williams’ universe with absolute conciseness and clarity. It is a universe that on one hand acknowledges the impossibility and uselessness of establishing articulated narratives, and on the other reveals the central idea of his work: if for Williams the world is an unknown place (in its most literal sense, impossible to uncover), the logical result of that initial premise is drawing attention to a series of sensorial stimulants; there is a presence of a baffled and fascinated perspective on the spectacle of a world that is there, at arm’s reach and visible. Cinema, he seems to say, is before anything else a vehicle of pleasure, an incredible inquiry on mystery and the sensual ambiguity of things.

In the idea of cinema ceasing to have any pedagogical purpose or operate as narrative machinery, a series of personal “marks” begin to manifest. Among those, there is nothing more significant than the fact that Williams seems to be blessed by the Gods of framing. His long fixed-shot or movement sequences, with a clean or grainy texture, in daylight or in almost complete shadow, can defy any logic and still flow with elegance, like in the remarkable end of “I Forgot!” (2014): a long sequence shot, taken supposedly from a camera in hand, rises and reveals itself to be actually footage from a drone.

That is his greatest but not his only leitmotiv. If the dialogues in Williams’ films seem bland, it’s because what matters is the word as pure sound matter and its rhythmic combinations (in Spanish, English, French, or Vietnamese) more than its communicative content.

“Que je tombe tout le temps” (Teddy Williams)

Although marginal, destroyed, or flooded, urban or forested places appear regularly. They are less of an expression of an exotic component than an estrangement in where it is possible (scorning the standard parameters of geography and chronology) to tie disjointed spaces and times together. His films freely move from a suburb in an Argentine province to the South East Asian jungle; from a marginal Brazilian neighborhood to a fair in Africa or a village garden in the French countryside. In this way, the stories (by all measures, micro-stories that make up each film or his films considered as a totality) do not move forward based on a conventional narrative but rather from precise scenes, and from random moods, like in a domino game in which the last piece determines the next direction. This inevitably allows for absurd humor to subtly emerge, especially in “Que je tombe tout le temps?” (2013), in which Africans talk about a typical Argentine herb (called “tail armadillo”) and its special powers (the herb would trigger the desire to “see pictures of girls”). The limits between one universe and the next are also unpredictable: in The Human Surge (2016), a video seen from a desktop screen is the entrance to the next scene, later the hole of an ant’s nest will be the connector between two distant spaces.

Towards the end of “Could See a Puma,” in the middle of the night, amidst the dense forest and the threatening ambient sounds, one of the characters asks: “We’re lost, aren’t we?” Williams’ answer to this question seems obvious. His irreverent metaphysic of the undetermined is an invitation to immerse oneself in a deviation, in all the twists and turns that are as dangerous as they are suggestive of risk and chance.  

About The Author

Sebastián Rosal

Sebastián Rosal was born in La Falda, Argentina in 1973. He is a film critic, creator, and editor of the film blog Tendencia Groucho. He has published articles for different sites such as Marienbad, Hambre, La noche del cazador, and Perro Blanco among others. He is a programmer for EPA Cine (International Independent Film Festival of El Palomar). He was also the catalogue editor of BAFICI 2018 (Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival). He was part of Talent Press, a section of Talents Buenos Aires, in 2014.

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