SHORT FOCUS 2019: August Sun [Franco Volpi, Argentina, 2018]



In chapter five of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, Joseph K. is passing along a corridor in his office when he happens upon a storage closet emitting disquieting sighs. Within, he discovers three men: his two arresting officers, and a leather-clad third, whipping them. Through an arbitrary location, the scene evokes an enormity of anxieties as to the absurd caprices of the state. Director Franco Volpi has an eye for discordant settings in his film August Sun: the back galleys of kitchens double as corridors - byways through clinical institutions - or places to take a phone call in sterile franchise pubs, while irregular geometries of concrete nestled between riven industrial terraces serve as community football fields.


Like Joseph K., Javi (Miguel Di Lemme) is a mannered man before the law. For three months in Buenos Aires he has attended punctiliously to the myriad bureaucratic gum surrounding the care and medication of his widowed, bipolar mother, Miriam (Silvina Sabater). He is suing her insurance provider, whose arcane eligibility margins seem to supply infinite and pliant recourse to reject her prescriptions. Di Lemme plays Javi broad (brusque and particular, wringing an ever-ready valise for a full repertoire of tactile little fusses), as does Sabater Miriam (confused, doddery, unfocused), so that they’re less specific people (in the manner of, say, the unvarnished performances of a Ken Loach film) than figures in a tale: the poorly old mother, and her dutiful, impatient son.

The fitful son now lives in Vienna, where his work and partner are waiting for him (the film’s title invokes the bi-polarity of his emigration - August is winter in Argentina, summer in Austria), making the infirm madre a competing obligation. They read this situation at poles as well, Javi focused on the macro, the impersonal, seeing the state as the kernel of their woes: a system that fails to care for his mother in his absence; that provides the means but no solution for the dispersion of family and community. Miriam, indifferent, sees it simply, personally - she is separated from her son. One does not have to wait to sense Volpi’s perspective on the global-economic tides that have facilitated their estrangement - a mutual conferral of circumstances invites the viewer to adjudge the more repulsive predicament: “I’m a freelance editor and translator at an online betting and casino site,” says Javi, pressed to explain his profession. Uncomputable to Miriam, she responds with what is likely a mere skipping of consciousness, but contextually reads like a reciprocated grievance: “I think I’ve got a pimple in my crotch.”

Ultimately, most beguiling about Joseph K.’s discovery of the torture room is not that its location is arbitrary but, rather, disarmingly personal. Opening the closet again, he quickly closes it when he finds the men still there. The scenario approximates the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat, where observation induces reality. He reacts as if his witnessing their suffering influences its existence - calling it into being each time he opens the door. Toward the end of August Sun, Javi waits beside a door behind which he will discover the outcome of his lawsuit.

It is another gently dislocating setting - this legal ruling to be decreed not in the openness of public court, but lushly-furnished, low-lit chambers, with gothic-inflected wall art. “We’ve either won or lost - we just don’t know the final score yet,” explains lawyer and family friend Ruben (José María Marcos). Both outcomes simmer in superposition (the waiting scenes in the film are numerous and attenuated). There’s perhaps even cause for optimism. After all, Javi - alert, precise, world-weary - seems far nimbler at navigating these systems than any of Kafka’s heroes. But then, his was never really a systemic problem.

'August Sun' was the winner of the Golden Frame and an Audience Award at Short Focus Film Festival 2019. Available to watch on FLTV.

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