November 23, 2014
More than your eyes can see
Gabor, the Spanish documenttary by Argentine-born Sebastián Alfie is a most unusual work: you could say it’s a film about a director of photography who lost his eyesight 10 years ago. But actually it’s not. Or at least that’s not all of it. Everything began when Sebastián Alfie travelled to Bolivia to fulfil a very specific assignment: to shoot a short film in the first person singular, with a personal viewpoint, about an organization that works for the recovery of eyesight in blind people. So he rents a camera for the short film, and in so doing he meets Gabor, a blind Hungarian DP. Of all things, Sebastián asks Gabor to go with him to Bolivia to help him with the cinematography. You’d think that Gabor should be able to see to do that, wouldn’t you?
Yet he can. Because he has a great photographic memory, he can recall a scene of a given film shot by shot, as though he were actually watching it. He can also “feel” the right framing, the appropriate exposure, the way lights and shadows have to interact as to draw the best possible shapes. Of course, he can also discuss with the director how he “sees” the film has to be photographed. So in no time, Gabor, the film, becomes a film about Gabor, the person.
And just when you thought you knew what Gabor is all about, you realize it’s also a film about how the many elements the language of cinema can be put to play with when a creative mind is behind the camera.
Sebastián Alfie resorts to many smart ways to narrate this singular story. There are cartoons, a disruption of chronological time, a film within a film, his voice-over letting viewers know how subjectively this story is being narrated, camera movements such as travellings which are shot in the simplest ways, Alfie himself is seen both in front and behind the camera, and the story of Gabor is narrated in a most clever way. It’s all done with a firm, yet gentle hand, that of a sensitive filmmaker who’s met another equally sensitive filmmaker in a very unexpected and rewarding manner. It has nothing to do with the original assignment, which Alfie believes was a cinematic disaster from the get go. It wouldn’t be fair to tell viewers much more about the film, since a lot of the fun has to do with the discovery. Let’s just say that Gabor is filled with surprises, not only because it’s quite creative and inspired in cinematic terms, but above all because it casts an understanding, easygoing but also profound gaze on a complex issue in all its nuances.
Limited release: Centro Cultural de la Cooperación (CCC)
Gabor (España, 2013). Written and directed by Sebastián Alfie. Cinematography Angel Amorós. Editing: Javier Laffaille. Running time: 72 minutes.