January 8, 2007
La Doble Vida del Faquir (The Magicians), 2005
In 1937, when Spain was in the midst of a devastating civil war between the Nationalists (led by Franco) and the Republican loyalists, an unlikely sanctuary from the austerity and violence came in the form of Sant Julià de Vilatorta, a charity boarding school for orphaned boys established at the turn of the century by a wealthy family who had, presumably (as postulated by a family heir), undertaken such an ambitious project as a result of their perceived obligation to the church after their religious conversion to Catholicism. That year, a wealthy businessman, cinephile, and amateur magician and filmmaker named Felip Sagués, having retreated to the rural village with his family to seek refuge from the violence of war, decided to make his own fiction film after having previously entertained the schoolboys with an eclectic assortment of Chaplin comedies and German expressionist cinema. Casting several students from the school as well as local girls from the village, Sagués would create a whimsical, if unremarkable Arabian adventure "homegrown film" called Imitating the Faquir. Now, nearly 70 years since the shooting of the film, filmmakers Elizabet Cabeza (whose own late father appears in a supporting role as band leader in the Sagués film) and Esteve Riambau assemble several surviving members of the cast for a reunion screening and interview on the grounds of the boarding school. Ostensibly a documentary on the experience of making Imitating the Faquir as "disenfranchised", naïve children during the turmoil and economic severity of the civil war, the referential double life of the title alludes, not only to the rediscovery of Sagués' amateur film by a new generation of young viewers (whose abstract conceptions of war and death seem so disconnected from the everyday reality faced by the children in the film), but also a deeper examination into social implications of filmmaking itself, not only in its archival role as civil war-era escapist cinema, but more importantly, in its contemporary role as facilitators - if not, re-enactors - of an invariably altered national history. Evoking Miklòs Gimes' Mutter in its probative re-evaluation of a country's collective history in the aftermath of a repressive, political landscape that engendered constant and systematic revisionism to suit current policy, The Magicians is an incisive and bracingly lucid exposition into the irreconcilable disjunctions between official history and individual testament - a penetrating reconstruction of historical authenticity through the discrete, often ephemeral fragments of personal memory and human experience.