Long silences that play out like suspenseful set-pieces, interminable takes of an empty house impregnated with anecdotes, conversations that seemingly lead nowhere until they discover unexpected depths, and intense looks that weave fragile yet unbreakable relationships. Back to Stay restrains itself to intimate boundaries and finds a universe in every inch, as if every piece of furniture and wooden plank contained a universe, an Aleph of sorts, an infinitesimal window to the world, like in Borges’ story.
Long silences that play out like suspenseful set-pieces, interminable takes of an empty house…
Milagros Mumenthaler won big at Locarno and Mar del Plata with this, her debut film. With more self-control than her age and experience would suggest, she patiently hovers through the old house that shelters the protagonists, observing, with a curious camera, the daily indoor exploits of three sisters as they try to overcome the death of their grandmother, the previous owner of the property. The film does not find these sisters at a privileged or dramatic moment in time, but rather introduces them into the screen on a random and arbitrary day, during the course of a story that begins in medias res. Their shared past as a family, the weight of the inadmissible ghosts that wander the hallways of the house – the sisters never talk about their parents, perhaps because they died long before their grandmother and this earlier tragedy continues to be unapproachable –, all of this expository data, which the audience needs to build a context, is communicated gradually and without haste.
Viewers can watch the screen with virgin eyes. Their attention is not conditioned beforehand by the logic of a plot established during the opening minutes. Since their need to immediately understand the story is frustrated, viewers allow their gaze to stray across the screen and through the space of the house, at once spacious and claustrophobic, both broad stage and guarded perimeter, with open windows that frame outdoor escapes and shut doors that hide unspeakable secrets. Audience members become like detectives, exploring the screen in search of revealing hints, uncovering their own conclusions.
Back to Stay maintains a dialogue with current art film trends. It’s a cinema of contemplation, of silence, of absence, of long takes, which requires patience from the public. Ideally, however, once this rhythm is assimilated, the slowness is no longer experienced as such, and all that remains is a profound immersion into the narrative.
It’s a cinema of contemplation, of silence, of absence, of long takes, which requires patience from the public.
Mumenthaler has complete grasp over the tools of her medium. Although her entire film takes place within a house and its immediate environs, this is not filmed theater, unlike another movie that was screened at the Mar del Plata International Film Festival, The Reasons of the Heart by Arturo Ripstein. In that case, the characters incessantly verbalize their fears and hopes, as if expressing them to a public within the film’s diegesis. Mumenthaler, on the other hand, lingers always within cinema, evoking, not theater, but the work of other contemporary masters, like Tsai Ming-liang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Claire Denis, and her compatriots Lisandro Alonso and Lucrecia Martel. All of these filmmakers differ from each other, but they share an obsession with space, with the conflict between bodies and their surroundings, with narrative ellipses, and with the withholding of expository information. Their works are essentially mysterious, tormented by what is left unsaid and cannot ever be explained: memory, oblivion, the ruins of the past, the irredeemably lost and the hopelessly unreachable.
[notification type=”star”]87/100 ~ GREAT. Back To Stay restrains itself to intimate boundaries and finds a universe in every inch, as if every piece of furniture and wooden plank contained a universe, an Aleph of sorts, an infinitesimal window to the world, like in Borges’ story.[/notification]