En La Cuidad de Sylvia
A young man’s return to Strasbourg, France, in search of the woman that he loved four years earlier sets the stage for the lyrical Dans la ville de Sylvia. The latest film by José Luis Guerín is an homage to cinema, painting, love and women that continues in much the same tradition as his 1997 feature Train of Shadows: The Spectre of Le Thuit, which was a tribute to the beginnings of film. Enraptured by Guerín’s atmospheric attention to image and sound, you can almost smell the places he brings to life.
A nameless young man (Xavier Lafitte) arrives in Strasbourg and spends his days sitting at an outdoor café, sketching the figures of the women around him, patiently waiting for Sylvia (Pilar López de Ayala) to appear. He finally thinks he sees her and gives chase, but it turns out to be someone else. He resumes his quest for his lost love and the innocence he longs to regain. Sylvia’s presence lingers, but it is impossible to return to the past.
Guerín is clearly interested in the artist and his interminable gaze on his subjects. We become the voyeurs, seeing everything through the eyes of the handsome young man. He highlights the beauty in the objects and people he observes: the way the hair falls on the back of someone’s neck; the delicate smile of a person in deep thought; the way the light plays on the creases of a dress. Guerín’s attention to sound is also one of the highlights of the film. We hear the scribbling of the pencil on the page as the artist sketches, and the click-clack, click-clack of heels as a woman walks past him then out of the camera’s (and our) vision.
Dans la ville de Sylvia imparts nostalgia for days when it was plausible to search for love, wander streets aimlessly and immerse oneself in a foreign place: the freedom to do as one pleases. Guerín carefully crafts the pleasures of youth, art and love in Sylvia’s hometown.
José Luis Guerín was born in Barcelona. He teaches at the University Pompeu Fabra and has made several shorts, including The Dramatic Puberty of Alicia (78), Notes on a School (82) and Portrait of Vicky (82). He has also directed five features: Berta’s Motives (85), Innisfree (90), Train of Shadows: The Spectre of Le Thuit (97), En Construcción (01) and Dans la ville de Sylvia (07).