The Window (La Ventana)
Dir. Carlos SorÃn
Carlos SorÃn’s The Window follows Antonio, an elderly, bedridden writer (played by writer and actor Antonio Larreta) through a single day as he prepares for the arrival of his son. The action is minimal, almost mundane — we watch Antonio lie in bed, gaze out the window, talk to the doctor, arrange to have the piano tuned, and walk through the fields surrounding his hacienda — but SorÃn uses it to create a poignant reflection on aging, loneliness, memory, and mortality. Despite taking on such heavy, angst-laden themes, the director manages to make The Window a surprisingly modest, soft-spoken, and occasionally wry film.
Much of The Window’s effectiveness lies in what is left unsaid or unseen. The film opens with a dream that we learn is a childhood memory of Antonio’s; he discusses this dream with his doctor, along with another recently resurfaced memory of his wife’s house from the couple's courtship days; the doctor shrugs and says something about the wonders of memory. SorÃn prepares us for a film about memory and reminiscence in old age, regret, and the loss of loved ones. But, after setting the stage, he backs off, denying us flashbacks or even verbal explanations of Antonio’s memories. From this point on we watch the protagonist examine memory-triggering objects -- a dust-covered champagne bottle he’s unearthed for his son’s arrival, the horse pasture outside his hacienda -- and we can see from his expression that he is remembering something. But the easy flashback never comes.
This technique of withholding the content of Antonio’s reminiscences forces us to imagine what his past might have been like — and not just the events, but also the amorphous, conflicting feelings of nostalgia and regret that Antonio is presumably experiencing. It creates a deeper, more personal connection between the viewer and the character than is possible in films that open characters up with flashbacks and omniscient exegesis. Which is not to say that this is a film in which nothing happens, or a plotless blank on which the viewer is supposed to project, or simply let her mind wander. But it does require us to be willing to empathize with Antonio, and this requires that we play more of an active role than we're normally accustomed to.
Several things make this empathetic connection easier than it otherwise might have been. The first is that the film's virtual lack of a score pushes the ambient sounds forward — rustling grass, chirping crickets, the plunking of a piano being tuned. And the combination of these sounds with the long, almost static shots of the hacienda makes us feel as though we are present in Antonio’s world. Second, the hero's trembling decrepitude makes his most mundane activities fraught with danger and suspense. Third, SorÃn’s topic is universal enough that he can depend on a reservoir of viewer feelings about aging, loss of spouses, and the estrangement of children busy with their own lives. The director needs only to allude to them to make himself understood.
The Window has been described as a Bergman-inflected poetic reflection on memory and mortality, which seems correct: SorÃn is concerned with both, even making explicit allusions to Wild Strawberries. But where Bergman was occasionally angsty and self-serious, SorÃn here is modest and soft-spoken, making The Window a pleasant surprise.