Combustible Celluloid
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With: Pilar López de Ayala, Xavier Lafitte, Laurence Cordier, Tania Czichy
Written by: José Luis Guerín
Directed by: José Luis Guerín
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French, Spanish with English subtitles
Running Time: 84
Date: 09/05/2007

In the City of Sylvia (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

People Watching

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Spanish-born director José Luis Guerín helms this extraordinary French film about -- basically -- people watching. The soulful Xavier Lafitte, with pop-star hair and one too many days' growth of beard, hangs around cafes with his sketchbook, quaffing beers and looking women over. He sketches, makes notes and scribbles. His attention wanders from woman to woman; sometimes his view is blocked, and he needs to crane his head or change seats.

These are astonishing sequences, as anyone who has spent time doing the same thing can attest; Guerín conducts with ultimate patience, knowing that his gentle tone will take us along rather than make us impatient. Soon, our hero spies the beautiful Pilar López de Ayala and, in another long sequence, follows her through the streets. He loses her, finds her again and works up the courage to speak to her on a bus. He's looking for a woman he met briefly six years earlier and thinks she may be the one.

The film lasts only 84 minutes but the spell never once wavers. It's a majestic achievement. (Viewed at the San Francisco International Film Festival.)

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