“A body under the lava”: a breath of postcolonial revolt, with an incandescent image

“A body under the lava”: a breath of postcolonial revolt, with an incandescent image


Like a last wave, at the end of a rich year of cinema, here is more than a film, a painting, with its fragments, its elements – the sea, the arid reliefs – whose wild beauty we savor before even composing ourselves a story. In a corner of the “canvas”, here are three men hidden in the folds of a cliff then, appearing out of nowhere, two women, one of whom’s body is hanging on the back of a donkey, her long petticoat hanging on each side.

This first feature film, A Body Under the Lava , comes to us from a couple of thirty-something Spanish directors, Helena Giron, originally from Galicia, and Samuel M. Delgado, from the island of Tenerife. The tandem shoots on film and delivers some unforgettable images, astonishing chiaroscuro portraits, almost unstructured, thanks to the effects of their Bolex camera, as well as a macabre “still life”. These artisans work somewhere between the excess of the German Werner Herzog and the anthropology of the Portuguese Pedro Costa. Selected in 2021 in Venice (Critics Week), this essay waited two years before being distributed by the small research team at ED Distribution.

1492: three men, escaping from Christopher Columbus’ crew, escape from the tumultuous waves and set foot on a piece of land, the Canary Islands. One of them took a sail from the boat, as if to thwart the conquerors’ journey to the New World. They know they are being pursued, but we will barely see the attackers waving their torches, and even less the battle. The film opens in the bluish black, under the ocean, to enter the anthracite gray of the rocks, then the chalky sand of the peaks, when, thirsty, the fugitives continue their race under an overwhelming heat.

The melting point

This story of one hour and fifteen minutes does not seek to replay the adventure, just to lay down some “flat areas” of history by revisiting the colonial war in territories hitherto little explored in the cinema – during the conquest of the Canary Islands , the indigenous Guanche people of the island of Tenerife put up strong resistance, particularly in the Anaga massif, where part of the film was shot. The actors, non-professionals, speak in Galician, which belongs to the same linguistic family as Portuguese and refers to medieval oral tradition. And when the filmmakers insert in the first minutes an extract from Alba de America (1951), by Juan de Orduña, a Spanish propaganda film glorifying the conquistadors, they choose this moment where Columbus’ caravel melts into the sparkling blue water, as if still and silent before the assault.

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