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Distributor Wanted: In the City of Sylvia

By J. Hoberman

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Love's Labor's Lost

In the City of Sylvia José Luis Guerín

Screened once in the 2007 New York Film Festival, In the City of Sylvia is pure pleasure and pure cinema. Catalan filmmaker José Luis Guerín’s fifth feature puts a dreamily minimalist spin on the Orpheus myth. A sensitive young romantic searches, against all odds, for his lost soul mate—fetish seems too cruel a word. In this case, however, the underworld is a paradise. Has any city on earth ever been as ridiculously ripe with gorgeous women as summery Strasbourg? Or is that another sort of hell? The artist sits in a café and sketches and looks and sketches and looks and then . . . but will Eurydice look back? And suppose she does—what then? Sensuous and gently self-mocking, Sylvia is predicated on a love of cinematic process as well as human grace, not to mention the labyrinth wherein Sylvia presumably dwells. Much of the movie was shot in real time and most of it is in the wordless tradition of silent cinema. (Could Guerín have been riffing on Vertigo with the pursuit at the heart of the movie?) The drama is almost entirely visual. Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” does figure in the coda but the real 30-year-old song that this movie illustrates is Johnny Thunders’s “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.” Except at the movies, that is.

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