On the roof of El Museo Del Barrio
1230 Fifth Ave. at 104th Street, New York, NY 10029
6 to 103rd St. or 2/3 to 110th St.
|11:30||After-party on the roof: Open bar courtesy of Radeberger Pilsner|
The Tightrope (Nuria Ibanez | Mexico | 80 min.)
A pink poodle leaps on the back of a horse--or tries to over and over. A trapeze artist literally scrapes his shoulders against the stars--the fabric of the big top is wearing thin. A clown's face brightens up--imperceptibly, perhaps, to all but the closest observer. The images are evocative, the performers are passionate, but for this classic family circus, passing through small towns in Mexico, the show is suffering and the crowds are sparse. The noble search for glory is giving way to the mere struggle for survival.
Filmmaker Nuria Ibanez has pointed out that in cinema, as in the circus, there has always been a divide between "the machine of dreams and the mirror of reality," between fiction/fantasy and documentary/reality. Ibanez, trained as a screenwriter, expertly melds the two forms in her stunning debut film, The Tightrope. With a deft eye for symbolic details, a remarkable gift for artistically representing key story points, and the ability to quietly build narrative tension, Ibanez has crafted a realist documentary that feels like a dreamy fiction.
Ibanez illuminates the way the circus itself attempts to cross fluidly between these realms. We see the performers practice and theorize, out of costume and in the bright of day, as they aim to create wondrous illusions that are remarkably real. But with this circus a forlorn reality has settled on their lives like the meticulously observed sawdust on their sweat. They are caught in a cycle spiraling downward: decreasing crowds portend less revenue; lack of funds means broken props, misplaced costumes and lost animals; low morale leads to sub-par performances.
At the end of her rope, in love with a performer who doesn't have the circus truly in his blood, Jaque, the eldest daughter of the circus, considers leaving. Her ongoing contemplation--sometimes seen in frustrated exchanges, sometimes coyly hidden behind a curtain--comprises the emotional crux of the film. It's easy to understand why she would leave this difficult life. But she sees in her father, who impressively demonstrates his expertise at many circus arts, the pride and dignity of the hardworking performer-craftsman. And as she discusses with her mother, if she leaves the spotlight, "no one will ever applaud you for cooking dinner."
Jaque gazes beyond the bigtop, the circus balances on a tightrope, and viewers of this lovely and intimate film will be riveted to the screen.
-Mark Elijah Rosenberg