Tuesday, 9 June 2015

In Lisandro Alonso's La libertad, a man cuts down trees, strips their bark and puts the wood in piles, before loading it into a borrowed pick-up truck and delivering it. Throughout this process, he meets four people: the owner of the pick-up truck and his young son, a shop assistant, and a businessmen who buys and sells the wood; aside from some half-hearted haggling, they barely exchange words. These words, though, are the only clue as to the film's location. Of course, the likeliest setting for the film is Alonso's native Argentina, but this narrative exists with so little context that it could easily be happening anywhere in the world; and at any time: the pick-up truck, a portable radio, and a chainsaw providing the only (vague) suggestions of a time-period.

Instead of (overtly, at least) attributing some kind of socio-political significance to this woodcutter and his work, Alonso devotes the entirety of the film to his quotidian routine, mostly observing with a free-wheeling, constantly-mobile camera that centres him in the frame even as his work takes him elsewhere; and sometimes Alonso ignores the work altogether and simply watches as the wind passes through the trees, or as the woodcutter finds the perfect place to take a shit. In this sense, La libertad, which translates as "freedom", is a fitting title: Alonso is tied to nothing, and his film is as boundless as narrative cinema can be. But La libertad's cyclical structure and the tedious, repetitive routine it depicts suggests that this freedom is perhaps not as liberating as it seems.

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