Discernable within the shadowy, gorgeously shot, black and white frame is a behind the scenes dynamic, with an actress patiently waiting while a crew blocks her shots and asks her to utilize different movements on various takes. Arising from sleep in a cavern of sorts, this nude woman is portraying Sol Juana Inés de la Cruz, the Baroque poet and scholar turned nun in 17th Century New Spain and is reciting some of her works by candlelight, painting on herself while speaking of the stars and inertia.
But these fragments of another film being made don't comprise a story unto themselves, providing Catholic imagery but not expanding on them within the experimental context. Pereda's work is more focused on the aesthetic and the nature of time. The moments between the shots and images of people walking around the mostly empty film studio take up most of the runtime with the only audible dialogue, aside from the poetry, being direction commands.
Pereda seems to be pointing out that for every significant or powerful moment of film, there is a bounty of empty time and preparation involved. His contemplative use of time and space suggests either that of loss—as in the loss of wasted moments we'll never relive—or power in the stillness. It's possible this being mirrored with Sol Juana's repressed brilliance, subjugated by her time and gender, but it's not evident within the images presented. Similarly unclear is if the actress portraying Sol Juana, Jesusa Rodriguez—a noted performance artist, director and political activist—is the true subject, or is merely a symbol of female empowerment and intellect in the modern era.
External research provides some context, insomuch as this really is a behind the scenes look at the filming of a theatrical poetry recital of Sol Juana's Primer sueño for a television movie about the nun's life. But Pereda's intentions with this experimental, very specific, look at the filmmaking process are left open to interpretation for the handful of people patient enough to watch.
In fact, aside from some stunning photography and the assertion of filmmaking as a lethargic and mechanical process when viewed objectively, there is little here beyond experimentation of form. If anything, Overtaken merely reminds us that existing narrative conventions exist for good reason.
All Things Were Now Overtaken by Silence screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Where are the Films of Nicolás Pereda retrospective on Saturday, November 24th at 3:15pm. (Nicolás Pereda)