Pablo Messies believes that a miracle is possible in the theater

Pablo Messies returned to the theatrical genre after his foray into dance last year at the Autumn Festival with A dancing body. The Argentine director and author, who has the respect of critics and loyal audiences, is back with The will to believe work after his famous The songs (2019). Sticking with the same cast, the twist this new work includes is delightful. With a clear staging, theater based on ritual and performance, memorable scenography and light from another time, Messiez manages to revisit one of the most dazzling works of art of the 20th century and turn it into an anthem of the theater. , to love the other as well. Another question is whether he succeeds, as the Danish director Karl Theodor Dreyer Dreyer c Ordet (1955), work wonders on stage. For that they will have to go see it and decide.

Vinyl falls on the white floor of the space, starts playing It becomes clear performed by María Elena Walsh and Leda Valladares, a beautiful zamba of the great Atahualpa Yupanqui. We are on a farm in Euskadi, a lesbian couple has just arrived. Amparo (Michele Uroz) returns home with his pregnant wife Claudia (Marina Fantini) to give birth. They are greeted by Felicidad (Rebecca Hernando), Amparo’s sister who acts as a housekeeper, and Paz (Carlotta Gaviño), her intellectual and poetic sister. At that moment, Juan (Jose Juan Rodríguez) bursts onto the scene, dancing in a poncho. Whether you want to believe it or not, you have just entered the universe of ordet, one of the pinnacles of 20th century cinema, in which Dreyer dared to film a miracle and managed to make it believable.

Johannes—Juan in the play—is an enlightened man who claims to be Jesus Christ and who, according to his family, has gone mad reading the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard. Inger, the pregnant woman, will die in childbirth and Johannes will resurrect her. This is the challenge that Pablo Messies took on his back. Nothing more and nothing less to do, perform, wonder, but on stage. To achieve this, Messiez begins with a profound exercise of translation, of appropriation. Thus we pass from a deeply religious film to a more modern universe in which disbelief reigns, although the hunger for transcendence does not stop. Something that leads the characters to frustration and sadness. We go from a farm in Jutland to an unspecified place between Spain and Argentina, where Messiez’s heart is. Although the work takes place in the Euskadi, this Euskadi has the imaginary nature of the city of Santa Maria in Onetti’s literature, a space outside of time typical of this author who arrived in Spain in 2006. It is repeated throughout the work: “The return never it fixes what the departure broke.” Messiez’s Santa Maria is a mixed-race universe in culture and gender, inhabited by characters who reason like 21st-century beings, but who continue to face the same questions that the old Dreyer asked himself with such tenacity. Dreyer’s maxim, from his film Gertrudewill fly over the piece continuously: “I believe in the pleasures of the flesh and in the incorrigible loneliness of the soul.”

Miracles are black and white

The audience enters the Naves del Matadero, an empty space bordered by white linoleum. The backstage door is open. The audience sees people walking outside the theater. Curious people stare and say to themselves: “Ah, this is a theater”. On stage, in home clothes, the cast wanders. This is not a rehearsal, this is already the play, but the actors are not yet drawn into the characters, they are halfway, in a strange place chosen to gather the audience, they question it, they say “I am here, are you here? What’s your name?”. They call with the word. A declaration of the principles of a theater that, although it will accept codes of fiction and narrative, also stands as a ritual. The characters tell the audience scenes that will happen, phrases that they will say , as in a summoning exercise.In one corner, a small monitor broadcasts images from the film Ordet. The door closes, the play begins.

This empty space during the work will be filled with life, fiction and poetry, at the same time the Gothic room with large windows will be built, which will house the burial chamber where the miracle will happen. The miracle must be built. The design of the picturesque space, by one of the greats, Max Glentzel, is impressive at the same time that with the addition of walls and windows it changes in readings and gives scenic possibilities. In a moment, half built, it will be a bedroom; and at another time it will separate the common space of the house from the room where the birth takes place, in which the mother and child will die, it will separate life and death. The chosen aesthetic will house only black and white, both in the sober wardrobe of Cecilia Molano and in the lights of Carlos Marquerie. Thus the blood of birth will be black, and only a treacherous and bright orange, from a calm sun, will be intuited into the white light that rules the whole thing when the miracle arrives. Everything works perfectly. The sets, costumes and lights support and support the actor and the dramatic action.

The characters of the will to believe they are lost heroes, on the border between madness and sanity. Among them stands out that of Felicidad, the governess’s sister, who represents the unyielding authority that in Dreyer’s film is exercised by the priest or the neighboring family who practice a dogmatic and exclusive religion. But the translation is not in the way of Ingmar Bergman, but rather in that of Berlanga. A translation that gives birth to one of the richest heroes of recent decades. Something made possible by the amazing work of Rebecca Hernando, an actress who achieves a farcical composition without removing an iota of depth from the character. Hernando embroiders this Happiness, already inserted in the long tradition (which goes from Lorca to La Zaranda or Laila Ripoll), of dark women, my girls and uncompromising, but full of truth, with which the audience not only laughs, but which is identified. All the characters are cast off themselves in this theatrical reimagining of Dreyer’s work. All except Juan, a character of extreme difficulty if Preben Lerdorf Rai’s otherworldly self-absorbed interpretation is anything to go by. In this case, José Juan Rodríguez, although he takes on some of the aura of the Danish actor, manages to take the character to a more playful and dramatic place, perhaps easier, but which gives more play to the scene and joins another element , which distinguishes Messiez stage proposal from the film: humor. There are scenes in the play, like Felicidad’s rant against poetry, or the moment when she, tired of her enlightened brother, challenges him to perform a miracle, that are really funny.

Although Messiez cites this newspaper as a humorous reference to the play of the same name, from which the film was created, by the author Kaj Munk, the explanation is clearer when the Argentinian director explains that when they started working on the film three years ago, the work saw that Dreyer’s Scandinavian tone “looked like a fraud in the bodies of the Argentinian-Spanish cast. So I suggested that we abandon this form, which fit us like a tight suit, and let its own expressive uniqueness emerge. At this rehearsal we saw that we are closer to Berlanga than to Dreyer”.

The theater as a miracle

There is no breaking the waves by Lars von Trier, true Ordet modern, c the will to believe; Messiaen’s work does not delve into the suffering and madness of the believer as Haneke does in Black swan. the will to believe abandon that root to embrace a universe of your own. A universe drenched in Dreyer (like the beautiful scene of devoted and carnal love between Claudia and Amparo or the concept that the body knows more than the mind), but this cannot be supported by the faith of religious faith. In Dreyer’s film, who believes in Johannes is a girl who makes the miracle possible, a childlike innocence where reason does not yet reign. In the case of Messiez, the poet Paz will decide to believe her brother Juan. More a decision born of someone lost than an enlightened faith. Although this is the story support used by the work to make the miracle possible, there is also a subtext that is strongly present throughout the performance: the theater as irrefutable proof that meeting the other is possible. An encounter in which actor and viewer believe and in a certain way can escape, albeit ephemerally, from death. This is how the piece ends. With Claudia dead, already in the coffin, and addressing the public in a theatrical country. Perhaps one of the most theatrical aspects one has ever seen. Claudia, Maria Fantini, defends the theater as an act of life, as salvation. A defense in which, to make matters worse, Messiez takes the liberty of introducing into the text, as if it were an acrostic, the title of the works he wrote and directed and which in a certain way saved him from that irremediable loneliness of the soul of which Dreyer speaks .

The work will finally end in a miracle. Claudia will be resurrected. The miracle will be presented. But it will happen in that equidistant terrain between Dreyer and Berlanga, where, while laughing and moving, one does not know the degree of plausibility and justification of what one sees. Film director and screenwriter Antonio Jiménez-Rico, who recently died of COVID-19, spoke on José Luis García’s film program This movie theater is so bigthe fifteen-minute-long standing ovation received by an elderly Dreyer with a cane on the steps of the Lido at the Venice Film Festival at the presentation of his latest film, Gertrude, in 1964. Like the profession and European critics, from the intelligentsia of the Communist Party to the most reactionary factions, they applauded the Danish director with true dedication. This applause, apart from competition, was also for that mysterious film, Ordet, capable not of portraying but of performing a miracle on celluloid. Perhaps we are in another era and the miracle within the will to believe be in everything that happens before Claudia rises. Or not. This is for each viewer to decide.

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