“I was lucky enough to first see Warsaw Bridge at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Barcelona in the summer of 2000 as part of a “hometown boy makes good” retrospective the museum was presenting of Portabella’s work. I was literally freaked and said, “Who? Pere Portabella? Used to produce Bunuel films? Why haven’t I ever even heard of this guy? How could a rich and dazzling and sumptuous film such as this remain so utterly unknown in my country? The exquisite images, the superbly rendered music, the bravura style, this bold narrative, the great performances, the perfection of the totality of this unique and vibrant wonderland of a film — How to get it seen in America?”
Jonathan Demme, Silence of the Lambs
Warsaw Bridge (1990) is the first Catalan film I have went to see and it has opened up a whole new area of cinema that I am yet to explore. I had not heard of Pere Portabella until I read the description of the film on the ICA website and his political background, as a Spanish minister Intrigued me. Warsaw Bridge marked Portabella’s first film since 1977 and it was his first to be produced in colour.
Pere Portabella’s 1990 puzzle of a film (does it form an object?) presents the deceased forest-found scuba diver as the hedge pin to this otherwise narrative-resistant cinema. Of the films eighty-five minutes, there are only two scenes devoted to this concept: the first scene appears after the opening credits (20 minutes in, or thereabouts) where the body is discovered and examined; and the second being the last scene, where the mystery is answered. In between, the viewer is left dealing with…well, interchangeable pompous writer types.
Portabella is interested in film as a medium, the technological aspect; expanding what the cinema means and the kinds of ideas that it can explore. His love for the look and visual of film in and of itself causes him to immediately stand apart from much of typical experimental filmmaking. Where these projects often roll on 8mm or 16mm, Portabella appears committed to laying down his essays on 35mm film stock. And, this, his first colour feature, fully explores the colour palette in glorious shots of architecture, nature, etc. Beyond that, Portabella wields his camera like a writer; he is making a cinematic poem- expressing ideas, and hopes, and feelings. The storytelling is the least of his concerns. I would argue that Portabella is guiding us through concepts; the narrative being the vehicle for Portabella to drive one sequence to the next, allowing and sometimes forcing, one sequence to turn over efficiently and seamlessly to the next.
“You’re stifled by rather precarious aesthetics,” one character says to another in Pere Portabella’s “Warsaw Bridge,” a film from 1990. Aren’t we all? For his part Mr. Portabella seems pretty comfortable with his aesthetic of narrative enigma, elegant camerawork and attractive people who speak in literary and intellectual riddles. A Catalan filmmaker whose recent work includes “The Silence Before Bach,” Mr. Portabella was for many years associated with Luis Buñuel. “Warsaw Bridge,” which takes place mostly in Barcelona (with a few scenes in Berlin), is not shy about declaring a debt to Buñuelian surrealism. This is especially true in several exquisite musical interludes, including one in which the members of an orchestra, housed in separate apartments, follow their conductor’s gestures on video monitors, and another set in a seragliolike bathhouse. Connecting these images is an elusive story, or rather a series of events and conversations organized around a central anecdote.
A. O. Scott, New York Times