2004 | 13mins | Colour
By Mieke Bal & Shahram Entekhabi
Audio; no dialogue
Is this your idea of a birthday?
From the blue suitcase decorations, plastic spoons, and lemonade cups emerge. He tosses these on the coffee table, after positing a cardboard box there, which, it turns out, has a birthday cake inside. Again, his face and body postures are unreadable, although tainted like an old mirror by reminiscences to the early comedians of Hollywood, and the cultural of migrancy across space, time, and class they engraved upon the retina of Western cultural memory. Buster Keaton’s unsmooth movements and sad face, Charley Chaplin’s incomprehension in the face of the industry that rejected him as redundant, fit this strange man to a T.
But the jerky movements of his shuttling back and forth between the two sides of the sitting area in the Alcazar’s lobby to decorate this desolate space are poignant in a weirdly contemporary way, precisely because they are so historically out of joint with the present. When all is set, he sits down on his suitcase, folds his hands as if in prayer, and waits for his imaginary guests. He just sits there. These images do not offer the solace of psychological understanding and the identificatory sympathy that follows in its wake. His sitting is just an image, perhaps a painting, perhaps an ad, perhaps an old photograph.
In the dark images that evoke the chiaroscuro of baroque painting as well as the melancholy of old pictures, an elderly woman shyly comes into the scene, invited by a gesture to sit down. The man invites her to dance. The woman teaches him the elements of ballroom dancing, the pleasure of her own long-gone time of glory. Then he stands up, takes the suitcase and leaves. He walks out of the hotel just as he came in, without reason, without purpose. Outside, he looks in both directions of the street, takes a left, and disappears. Only to reappear as the loop goes on, irreducibly repetitive, erasing the illusion of a beginning and ending that the act itself might have suggested. Between the medium that continues, the evoked paintings that, like time itself, stand still, and the stagnation of life this hotel embodies, the act of coming and going leaves a gap that only the silliest of acts can pretend to fill.
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