BANARAS ME: When words fall short

     |    Thursday, der 30. January 2014

Art was invented because sometimes words are not enough. Art has the capacity of expressing great things, things that if we tried to express through words we would reduce their original beauty in a tremendous way. Nevertheless, in the audiovisual field there are many filmmakers who prefer to over-decorate their sequences with cinematographic ornaments like music, voice-overs, or visual effects, eclipsing the authenticity of everything. But that is not the case with director David Varela, who, in the documentary BANARAS ME, decides to strip his travelling experiences of any décor, and give us India pure.

Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges River in India, is a sacred city, the home of god Shiva, plunged into a supernatural spiritual microcosm of music, voices and religious rites. Using a hand-held camera, a stranger contemplates everything around him, inviting the spectator to follow him. There are no further explanations than the image and the ambient sound, but David Varela certainly manages to create a lump in the throat, and awaken our senses as if we were there as well.

But he is not the only one to cut the rhetoric. The known “symphonies” present an idea or a concept throughout pictures collages to the rhythm of a specific music or sound, creating what its own name describes; an audiovisual symphony. In 1929, Dziga Vertov already used this technique to portray Saint Petersburg’s daily life, in “Man With a Movie Camera”, without using one single word. In this case, the subjectivity of the piece is much more evident, since the post-production process is very visible (accelerated images, slow motion, non-diegetic music, etc.). But BANARAS ME has a different background; is as if it went back to the origins of filmmaking, when contemplation was the essential goal.

Even though it’s true that the lack of music and dialogue brings us closer to pure reality, we look through Varela’s eyes, since; anyway, he is the one to decide what  he is going to look at. Thus, objectivity does not exist from the very first moment we decide to portray a reality, because, inevitably, we become the first information filter ourselves. Even if it seems that we are only explaining what our eyes see, without any opinion or added assessment, the way in which we perceive something is totally altered by our own character, belief, ideology, and prejudices. If we, in addition, decide to explain what we see, the information goes through even more filters; the words we use to describe something, our tone, our gestures; all of them are elements which directly influence how the viewer perceives what we are communicating. This works exactly the same as in the audiovisual field. When we decide to film this instead of that, we are selecting, dismissing and highlighting one piece of information instead of another. And once we decide to film what catches more our attention we still have a number of decisions to take during the production and post-production process that will contribute to a creation with name and style throughout; the type of shots, of light, the sequences, the framing techniques, the choice of the music, effects, etc.

The eyes of a stranger awake our senses. The noises, the colors, the faces become part of us, and we are not even there. David Varela gives us a vote of confidence; he tries to hand over to us the most primary essence of his trip, the pictures and the sounds, so we decide ourselves what to do with it.

Clara Rodríguez Arasanz