In the course of just two feature films, Catalan director Albert Serra (b. 1975) has established himself as one of the most uncompromising and exciting filmmakers of the early 21st century, the newest member in a luminary constellation of filmmakers – Lisandro Alonso, Pedro Costa, Lucrecia Martel, Béla Tarr – that defy the ever-darkening skies of contemporary world cinema. Together, Serra's films Knight’s Honor and Birdsong define a radical mode of adaptation, a minimalist distillation of canonical and socio-culturally overdetermined texts – Don Quixote and the tale of the Magi, respectively – that reimagines these venerated tales as pure, almost trance-like cinematic events. Using non-professional actors gathered principally from Serra’s home town of Banyoles, and shot almost entirely outdoors without artificial light, Knight’s Honor and Birdsong are structured around exquisitely staged long takes that give a rare power and majesty to landscape and physical presence. Rather than iconic passages in Cervantes and the Bible, Serra carefully focuses instead on those interstitial moments lost to most versions, the quiet, melancholy idylls in the kings' lonely voyage, Quixote's casual musings to Sancho Panza, the miraculous passage of a cloud's vast shadow over a mountainside. A radical yet wonderfully accessible form of pure cinema, Serra's films rediscover the spatio-temporal quintessence of motion pictures, marvelously reanimating mythical heroes with the clumsy weight of existence and transforming landscapes into meditative dramas of light and shadow.
The Harvard Film Archive is honored to welcome Albert Serra for a rare US visit to discuss his unique approach to cinema and adaptation.