Director: Gustavo Duc
Cast: Sofía Lionti, Emanuel Senno
Running time: 5 minutes
Richard Tawney, a 20th century British philosopher and social theorist, once proposed that the touchstone of how we should judge a society is how it treats those who – through losing out at birth at nature’s gaming table – face physical or neurological challenges that may hinder them from fulfilling their full potential as human beings. The more we think about the particular needs of this group of people and the more effective steps we take to meet those needs, then the more confident we can be that we are nearing the goal of becoming a Good Society.
Political ethics and caring for the disadvantaged in society are concepts that do not sit easily in the pop music video genre, which is often merely an exposition of how much erotic capital the performer thinks they possess. For a review of an especially vacuous and tawdry example of the latter, see ILF’s John Ranson’s recent piece on La Isla Bonita.
In a refreshing and innovative submission, Eternally in mi, the Argentinian filmmaker, Gustavo Duc has given us a genuinely subversive piece of cinema that challenges our preconceptions of what ‘works’ in a music video. His visual accompaniment to Gaby Camino and Juan Pablo Sabater’s music makes us think hard about our caring for others and the nature of human relationships. Duc sets up the challenge by casting two actors, Sofía Lionti and Emanuel Senno, who, due to the chance arrangement of chromosomes, are two people who have Down’s Syndrome.
Duc starts the film off conventionally enough. We have a close up of a guitar being tuned and then the camera tracks back to an audio mixing desk. The music performance scenes are filmed outside in what appears to be a darkening twilight. The camera moves back to the fretboard as the guitarist picks out the notes of the introduction, then it pans back as the vocals come in to show us the two musicians. Sabater, the guitarist, is in dark clothing and dark baseball cap. Somewhat disconcertingly for your reviewer, Sabater bears a passing resemblance to Eric Cantona, a charismatic footballer of several generations ago who went on become a decidedly gnomic poet and actor. Camino, the singer, is decked out for performance in dark jeans, brilliant white shirt, with razor thin black tie. Complementing the sepulchral whiteness of their shirt, the camera seems to be drawn to the diamond earring that Camino sports – not quite girl with the pearl earring but almost.
The music performance scenes are beautifully filmed and, by employing the conventions of the genre, they enable Duc to build a platform for what is to come – the subversion. True to convention, both Sabater and Camino possess a handsome, Romantic, distinctly gendered male beauty.
As Camino hits one of the first of a series of crescendos in the music, Duc cuts from the twilight of the music performance to vivid sunlight and we see Sofía walking – about to enter a shop. The cut sets a pattern for the rest of the video – at dramatic moments in the musical score we move from the darkness of the musical setting to the light in which the actors portray their lives. The editing and continuity are superb throughout and the blending of the music with the narrative is spot on.
Sofía enters the shop – some high-end grocery store. Emanuel who works in the shop as a shelf stacker comes in carrying a carton of goods. Emanuel and Sofía make eye contact – boy meets girl and romance is very much in the air. Duc then gives us a daylight scene where Camino is in civilian dress in a recording studio with first Sofía who is, a few moments later, joined by Emanuel. Camino is showing Sofía how to use the studio mike. For me, this was the only scene that did not quite gel – I am assuming that the director’s intention was one of empowerment – but the problem is we do not hear Sofía’s voice – all we have is Camino’s on the soundtrack, so it felt to me as very much the opposite – disempowerment. A small point but one soon forgotten, as we move on to the sumptuous finale – given that Duc is re-working a Romance – inevitably a beach scene. We see Emanuel and Sofía walking hand in hand and then a drone gives us the concluding shots of the couple looking into each other eyes – they grow smaller and smaller set against the beach and the surf with a glimpse of the towers of a cityscape in the distance – a beautiful composition within the topos of high romance.
The music. This is a love story and Camino fittingly provides a soaring ballad with lyrics vowing eternal love. Camino possesses an extraordinary voice with a wonderful range and timbre – at times the delivery takes one’s breath away – it really is that powerful. Sabater is a fine musician, and the guitar accompaniment is a delight. One misgiving I had was the use of synthesiser strings. I know their use seems to be de rigeur in romantic balladeering but, in this case, they come across as a distraction. I would suggest a far bolder move would have been to rely on the power of Camino’s voice and the resonance of Sabater’s guitar – for me that would have a provided a starker more emotionally effective setting. Yet, even with the sometimes overbearing syrupy feel to the strings, the song is certainly a gem.
Coming in at just under five minutes, with Eternally in mi, Duc has confronted one of the last and most rigid discriminatory practices in cinema and wider society – appearancism – where people who do not conform to conventional good looks or of sexual desirability are invariably assigned character roles. To cast two young adults with Down’s Syndrome as the two leads in a romantic music video and then to film them employing all the traditional tropes and devices of the genre is, in essence, a revolutionary action – smashing one of the many glass ceilings that mainstream cinema imposes. Duc is asking the audience to question the conventional music video approach which invariably offers the perfect body image as the measure of desirability and attainment, with all its attendant negative effects across the wider society in terms of individuals’ feelings of diminished self-worth and of body dysmorphia.
To look into the future, we will know that the struggle has had some success when a reviewer no longer feels the need to remark that the starring roles in a movie are played by actors who happen to have Down’s Syndrome.
Eternally in mi is the second submission that ILF has received from Duc – last year we reviewed the enigmatic short narrative El Viajero. Duc and his team of collaborators are based in the provincial Argentine city of Mar del Plata – the vibrancy and innovation that I have seen in these two pieces has been truly impressive. I would advise readers to definitely catch Eternally in mi and to keep an eye out for what comes next out of Mar del Plata.