I approached the 17th edition of Punto de Vista (International Documentary Film Festival of Navarra) with necessary ambivalence, owing on the one hand to the recently aired conference at the Berlinale Critics’ Week on the notion of a “Cinema of Care” and, on the other, the academic interrogation of the film festival in general as a taxonomical habitus with its own “rhetorical operation”.1 Both structural inquiries, in which the festival ecology is tasked with an ethnographic rigour worthy of its very films, gestured at a paradigmatic shift where artist and labourer were no longer enervated, much less exploited, by an apparatus intended to serve and celebrate their interests. 

Even a festival as “heterodox” as Punto de Vista, which claims as its ideological function the premise that a documentary is a kind of meeting place, may not evade the immanent institutional critique of its assembly and production. I should expect that the programming ‘team’, headed up by coach Manuel Asín, now in his second season, had arrived at a curatorial consensus by way of productively democratic conflict, and the festival staged without undue expense to the technical managers, projectionists, communication coordinators, and volunteers for whom this is an undertaking no less arduous than Pamplona’s other, more popular festival (it too involving the navigation of a moving spectacle). 

Putatively more engaged with the real, the documentary-focused festival operates existentially with higher stakes. In spite of the pervasive recruitment of documentary forms for entertainment purposes, the international festival iteration is scarcely a feel-good proposition. Invariably, the less didactic a film the greater its aesthetic success, but the implicit cumulative or collective sense of engaging with such visions en masse was of making sense of, if not correcting, the predicaments and afflictions we find ourselves in. If art enlarges our capacity for negative capability, of “being in uncertainties”, then the art of nonfiction takes such negativity as foundational. Moral lessons, which too often kill the more sustaining attributes of nonfiction cinema, are nevertheless structurally and materially intimated, and given greater contextual definition by the festival’s berth.

This latter notion found purchase in Claire Denis’ sensibly stubborn refusal, met with applause from the Cinema of Care symposium audience, to extricate concern from aesthetics, to separate life from cinema. Her reference to the specific beauty of a cat, say, or a garden, invoked Elaine Scarry’s treatise On Beauty and Being Just (either implied or as the missing citation in the room). If filmmaking was the mere pressing of a mechanical button, cinema was all that emanated – the impetus and consequence – from such an action. Could ‘care’ (that now most uncarefully commodified of concepts) be rightfully gleaned from, and in, the rendering of an image? If we could speak of a certain spiritual style in film, could cinema offer a demonstrable example and extension of concern in formal terms?

I kept returning to this idea as I negotiated peak moments in the Punto de Vista program: there, in the bunch of ripe cherries in a grandfather’s outstretched hand in Nagyapám kertje (Grandpa’s Garden, Varga Gábor, 2022); there, too, in the fluttering moth in the palm of a former soldier, a veteran of a civilian brigade in Artsakh, in Comes Chahbazian’s Notre Village (2022); or the harvest of nuts shelled by mallet atop a wooden stump and summarily enjoyed among his comrades; or even still in the crimson pool of a slaughtered boar’s spilt blood from which a white cat so delicately drinks. Each instance/image spoke to a liminal moment; mundane yet charged, of time’s inexorable passage, of the idyll of peacetime, of subsequent generations emerging into uncertainty, of life in death. 

Arrived-at more than premeditated, such occasions resist metonymic readings and are anti-totemic in nature, invoking absence and loss in what remains. This spectral quality – call it a haunting – informed much of the Official Selection’s more memorable titles; indeed, Myriam Charles’ Cette maison (This House, 2022) is a case study of grief and dislocation as it is transmitted through certain home cooked food, houseplants, and suburban bedroom decor – if drapes and bed sheets could weep. The house in question is the one in which Charles’ 14-year-old cousin was found hanged in Bridgeport Connecticut in 2008, and which she now struggles to return to (circling again and again in her car as the camera recurs her emotional trepidation). A film of manifold exiles by the Haitian-born, Montréal-based filmmaker, for whom the 1995 Quebec referendum would have furthered the divide.


This intractable essence is at the hollowed-out heart of Tótem (2022), an eloquent film essay directed by the anonymous collective Unidad de Montaje Dialéctico, which seeks a reckoning of the desaparecidos in Mexico’s long (but not endemic) legacy of political and economic violence, by virtue of a gaze into an (often hazy) abyss, absent of any causal narco-narrative. Instead, the montage accrues empty landscapes where there is no longer any discernible scene of a crime, where human is returned to its etymological source in humus, and an attempt by archaeologists to retrieve an Olmec colossal head from the depths of a river proves futile. Such absences provoke a consideration of the paradoxical presence they inspire, “spaces that accentuate a perpetual irresolution” in which a new totemic thinking might emerge, a potent emptiness that acts as constant vigil. The myth of playful death, itself a construct within Mexican culture, often obscures the more tragic dimensions of ongoing loss and socio-political violence.

Elsewhere, in a classroom sandbox a pair of plastic animal figures – a lion and a rhino – fight to an imaginary death. They are mere playthings in the hands of a young student, himself a refugee, possibly Syrian, who manoeuvres the figures into a symbolic clash that, sustained by the camera’s gaze, takes on the force of real violence. The experimental Petite Ecole in Brussels, where two former teachers welcome children with no prior schooling, is home to many such minutely observed, revelatory gestures in Éclaireuses (Leading Lights, Lydie Wisshaupt-Claudel, 2022). The classroom film is by now a genre (the work of Nicolas Philibert, Maria Speth, and Eric Baudelaire come to mind) often populated with an unorthodox pedagogue as protagonist, but the little urban school isn’t a traditional classroom, and the methodologies practiced are designed to prepare children, already exiled, for the potential alienation that formal education can entail. 

Certain heartbreak seems inevitable given the milieu of witnessing children, and by extension their caregivers, endeavouring to succeed, yet Leading Lights is neither sentimental nor hyperbolic in its treatment. Might this be an exemplary case, in both form and substance, of a cinema of care? Wisshaupt-Claudel’s extemporaneously nimble approach captures an affecting intimacy between the two nominal teachers (clearly exhausted) and their voluntary students: late in the film, Marie (Marie Piérrard) proceeds to break the news to young Mohamed that he’ll soon be enrolled in the ‘big school’. The two converse by way of an imaginary phone call, as if the emotional content of the news – yet more transition – might otherwise prove overwhelming. “Want to say something to someone?” he implores her, clearly used to handing over the line to adults. When Mohamed phones her back to ask which school he should report to in the morning, the camera tilts discreetly to recover him in the frame, orange rotary phone in hand, seemingly maturing before our very eyes. Like the more liberal pedagogical approach on display, which shifts the metrics of educability, the film is less quantifiable in its achievements; the observational approach allows something lyrical to emerge.


Evinced in the program was the sense that documentary could, among its myriad purposive claims, affect various forms of exhumation (exhume: verb (used with object), to dig (something buried, especially a dead body) out of the earth; to revive or restore after neglect or a period of forgetting; bring to light). Even Sharon Lockhart’s short film, Eventide (2022) – a hypnotic, crepuscular tableau of foragers panning the shore in Gotland, Sweden – offered an allegorical inquest for something seemingly as simple as sea creatures or as unidentifiable as lost time. And the ‘memory exercises’ put forth in the texts that comprise the short, El polvo ya no nubla nuestros ojos (After the Dust, 2022) by the Colectivo Silencio, consolidate a bicentenary of Peruvian history by way of its most damning and dissenting voices. Among those are Saturnino Huillca, who is resurrected, and refracted, through an anonymous reading of his first-person testimony in the 1973 film Runan Caycu (Nora de Izcue), in which the Quechuan labour leader became the embodiment of the land reform movement. The asynchronous assemblage complicates historical continuity through its deployment of a seemingly vintage visual aesthetic (Super8) imposed with rather lucent aural testimony. The uncanny effect forces a reconsideration of injustice as a continuum, more so than punctum, within a Peruvian historical timeline. 

A pair of regional shorts worked in similarly memorial consideration, invoking figures who contributed profoundly to Basque artistic culture. María Elorza collaborated with the great Iñigo Salaberria, filmmaker and video artist, in Al borde del agua (2023), whose early works she edits into an associative montage from both the ethnographic and abstract facets of his work. Thus, the salt pans of Añana and thermal baths near Reykjavík (Birta Mirkur, 1987) merge in a tribute to evanescence, and the light refractions emanating from a dock site on the Seine (Quai de Javel, 1984) become haunted by Salaberria’s coarse voiceover – and in the context of his recent death in 2022. Given his tendency for stark images and sombre musical choices (is that uncredited Eno in Quai de Javel?), I can’t quite make sense of Elorza’s counterpointed use of La Valse Ravel/Bernstein), but it’s a mystery that a welcome retrospective of Salaberria’s oeuvre might clarify.

Bide bazterrean hi eta ni kantari is musician/filmmaker Peru Galbete’s tribute to Joxean Artze, the inimitable musician and poet known for his visual poetry and contributions to Basque popular song. Itself a kind of visual poem, the film takes its cues from Artze’s work, imagining the words that go knocking on doors to see those inside, without daring to enter the homes of strangers. Part abstract travelogue, part home movie, and with found footage (including a memorable sokatira battle scored to Artze’s work), the condensed homage feels insular but deeply personal, with the closing image of the poet, seemingly at a loss for words, resonating too from a now-posthumous perspective (he died in 2018). 

The striatic quality of the video image from its inception in the ‘70s is often considered an aesthetic liability maligned in relation to the purity of the filmic image, but in Salaberria’s work it achieved a spectral beauty. Such a perceptual shift conditioned my appetite for Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville ‘s little seen television commission France / tour / détour / deux / enfants (1978), the couple’s exhaustive, didactic, and ultimately humanist endeavour to locate the life and mind of the child by way of a reflexive televisual mediation. Yes, Godard presses a young girl on the nature of her reflected image and thus the ‘real’ of her documented self; and queries a young boy if the space he travels is linear or curved (“both” is his wise response). Presenting the first two chapters of the marathon series (which runs 312 minutes over twelve ‘mouvements’), the program devoted to the “Lessons of Things” (which also included an episode of Rosselini’s TV mini-series Atti degli apostoli [Acts of the Apostles, 1969]) was both wayward and essential viewing, evidence of the festival’s seemingly modest yet ultimately inexhaustible scope. 

The Peter Nestler retrospective offered a colossal case in point: his vast legacy constitutes a documentary ethos in its own right (and deserving of its own report), in which he’s confronted the wages of rapacious capitalism, fascism, and persecution for over half a century of filmmaking, from his native Germany to no less exigent cases in Spain, Greece, and Chile. That Spanien! (Spain!, 1973), told in personal testimonies by former International Brigade members who came to aid the Republican cause in the civil war, should play to its avowed audience some fifty years hence was some kind of poetically and politically just arc. What does practical solidarity look like in times of resistance? Nestler’s dry, direct, but ultimately moving portrait of the will to resist is proof that, to borrow from Walter Benjamin, “he was man enough to blast through the continuum of history.” Indeed, other times are coming. 

Peter Nestler & Zsóka Nestler

An historical materialist approach also informed the festival’s other retrospective, “Far from the trees”, which considers “the production of essential goods over the length (and width) of time and, consequently, pays tribute to original unproductivity, non-industrial modes of production, subsistence economies, and animals”, according to curator Miriam Martín. Organized into sections of material production and industry, the delirious program paid tribute to fish, meat, milk, bread, the domestication of animals, clay, and, tellingly, a time that preceded such divisions of labour (“En el principio no era la producción”). To list but a few of the films in the service of such a purview is to give a sense of its exhilarating breadth: Mosori Monika (Chick Strand, 1970); Lu tempu di li pisci spata (Vittorio de Seta, 1954); Le Cochon (Jean-Michel Barjol and Jean Eustache, 1970); O Pão (Bread, Manoel de Oliveira, 1959); Ceramiqueros de Traslasierra (Raymundo Gleyzer, 1965). Credit to Martín for such a keenly realized index of the made and natural worlds, and the conditions of embodied labour (and play) that mediate between them.


It is implied that the ‘docufiction’ work of Flaherty warrants, by dint of its formal approach, the inclusion of artists such as Ana Poliak in the program; that renewed attention might be given to the non-fictive elements – be they textural, conceptual, actual – that inform and interact with her nominally fictional content. Parapalos (Pin Boy, 2004) is the key work in her oeuvre, a quiet masterpiece that fell outside of the Argentine New Wave and has assumed a kind of cult-like status in the interim. The opening sequence, of a young man stripped bare in anticipation of a medical examination, seems both banal (the eternal wait on the cold table) and quasi-religious (the flesh of a torso set against illuminated glass). Poliak intimates a connection. Cut to his newfound job manually setting pins in an old-fashioned bowling alley (he’s recently arrived in Buenos Aires from the country), and his stilled body is now put through its paces, seen from above alternating between two lanes, swiping at downed pins while scrambling to erect entire frames.

Most of the film will be spent within the confines of this pit (a crucible of futility saved by the grace and camaraderie of elder co-workers) and a similarly diminutive flat shared with a cousin (alternating their sleep schedules on a single bed). The insistence is on those who work, often invisible to those who play. That the measure of young Adrian’s fate is meted out in the material essence of pins clunked on worn floorboards is a fitting tribute to a festival that, for Nestler, remains attentive to the biographies of objects and those at their mercy. Poliak’s attention to the quotidian, and ultimately historical, fate of her protagonist – imploring, what are the spatial and corporeal conditions under which he can operate? – situates her within what might henceforth be called careful cinema. Neither slow nor contemplative, neither purely fabricated nor utterly factual, it simply extends what the Miriam-Webster dictionary calls “watchful or protective attention, caution, concern, prudence, or regard usually towards an action or situation.”  It follows that anything less risks the possibility of negligence.

Punto de Vista
27 March – 1 April 2023
Festival website: https://www.puntodevistafestival.com/en/home


  1. Woche der Kritik, “Debate: Reaction Shot”, YouTube, 21 February 2023.

About The Author

Jay Kuehner is a freelance writer who has contributed to Cinema Scope, Film Comment, MUBI, and other publications. His programs as curator include Veracity: New Documentary Cinema and Rayos: Cine en México (with David Dinnell), presented in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Related Posts