Año Uña (One Year) directed by Jonás Cuarón is one of the few narrative features screening in this year’s Dallas Video Festival. While they all have exceptional qualities, Año Uña is to me the most distinctive. The opening sequence is white text on a black screen explaining how this peculiar film came about. The filmmaker took a series of still photographs over the course of one year in Mexico. He then found that when he ordered the photos in a certain way, they suggested the narrative that follows. The film then proceeds to flash photos across the screen periodically broken up by title cards. The narration oscilates between English with Spanish subtitles and Spanish with English subtitles. One may feel a twinge of dread at the thought of sitting through eighty minutes of what is in essence, a narrated slide show of stills. But, after only a few minutes of viewing I’m so engrossed in the story and characters that I’m barely aware of the stills. As the narrative progresses the two main characters emerge, a 13 year old Mexican boy named Diego, and a 24 year old American student named Molly. It is the story of an impossible affection. Año Uña is not a heavy plot oriented film, it is centered on small moments that make up larger themes of experience perhaps more heavily felt when traveling abroad or when awakening to one’s sexuality. Maybe this is why it is sometimes compared to the popular American Indy film movement called Mumblecore. The loosely related group of films and filmmakers that make up this movement is also critically praised for their focus on the smaller moments in ordinary lives dealing with themes of twenty-something relationship networks. They strive to highlight the turning moments lived between feeling on top of the world and wishing you were dead ,that run over us on any given day like – like an inconsistent breeze.
The film is in parts a clear homage to the still photographic storytelling used by French New Wave filmmaker Chris Marker in his masterpiece, Le Jette. Then one can also find a clear connection to the stranger abroad themes of Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation or perhaps Henry James’ novella, Daisy Miller. Instantly a familiar wave runs through me taking me back to my own travels as a student abroad, to those days of wishing you could freeze experience and as the film says, “live the moment forever.” Cuarón has done a commendable job in marrying the themes of the narrative to the style in which he presents it – still photographs/frozen time.
Finally the way the film was put together is sort of enchanting – backwards, images then story, instead of the other way around. The filmmaker chooses to let you in on his process in the film’s opening. Reminding you that only the story is fictional, the moments and characters are real. This is a perplexing assertion. Every few minutes an image will appear that might take you out of the story for a moment and make you ask yourself about the reality of that photo and how closely it comes to its counterpart in Cuarón’s story. These moments of curiosity or, questions of essential authenticity, are far from distracting, they are rather like catching glimmers of documentary in a narrative, sort of revealing the incontrovertible truths so resonant in our great fictions – maybe this is what makes up great art.