The first documentary film by Jorge Tur Moltó is a piece that portrays with wit, sharpness and perseverance the day-to-day of the workers of a funeral home. De Función was produced within the frame of the eighth edition of the Master in Documentary Filmmaking at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. It is a brilliant and serene visual description of the funeral rhetoric, which is carefully observed from a distance behind the scenes. This is the hidden side of a religious scenario, usually charged with meaning, that is here demystified. The title of the piece plays on that double meaning, which refers to the theme of the piece on the one hand [‘defunción’ in Spanish means decease], and to the theatrical nature of the mis-en-scéne that it involves [‘función’ in Spanish is used for performance, as in theatre performance (‘función de teatro’)] on the other. What Moltó’s piece portrays is precisely this one last performance, made-up, dressed up, perfectly lit and even musically scored, which takes place, for one last time, in the chapel.
The film, whose format follows that of observational documentaries,achieves a balanced effect through the use of a static camera - placed on a tripod, at a relatively low point of view - which observes the action without intervening. It just frames, without interfering, but with a clear intuition, the interior spaces through which the cadavers are hauled. The images, recorded systematically, offer a respectful look in the presence of the deceased. It is the movements of the funeral home workers that which gathers the focus of attention. The main theme of the piece is therefore the relationship that is established between the dozens of workers who come in and out of frame during the length of the film, and between these and the bodies that they work with. The series of details portrayed during the duties of putting on clothes, shoes and make-up, preparing the coffin, arranging the flowers and the funeral wreaths, suggests, with the imperceptible gestures and ironic commentaries of the workers, a form of black comedy.
There is no voice that explains the events on screen; just whispered dialogues which turn the documentary into an analysis of a transcendental space, a space that is held together by silence, and by the movement and chores of the workers. The care with which the latter manipulate the bodies of the deceased does not hide the mechanic way in which the work is approached. The repetition of a number of movements, controlled by experience, takes away any form of sentimentalism that this type of work might suggest. We, as spectators having at some point worked under similar conditions, are quickly aware of the ease with which the tragic nature of the situation can be avoided, when one follows only the duty of work, keeping a close eye at the end of the shift and always making sure that the pain and despair of the relatives is not witnessed.
The film is structured in the form of a linear and chronological narrative, and contains sequences that have been recorded over a period of four months. It follows the itinerary of various deceased bodies, from the moment that they arrive at the funeral home, to that when they are taken to the cemetery or the crematorium. This is indeed a trajectory that the editing makes sure to emphasise from the first to the last shot, the moments of waiting and those of farewell. The way of presenting empty spaces that are continuously traversed by the workers of the funeral home, creates moments of high anxiety, not only due to the cold use of light, but also to the uncertainty of the dead intervals that the former create. The method of filming used by Moltó is very seductive, the subtlety with which the choreographed theatricality is portrayed reveals, with insistence, a sense of temporality. The only travelling shot included in the film follows a coffin at close-up as it is being taken in a lift to the wake. At this moment, a temporal ellipsis suggests a final countershot, that of the last performance.
Autopsies have been a recurring theme in the history of documentary film (Cada Ver Es by Angel García del Val) and avant-garde cinema (The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes by Stan Brakhage, The Red Gate and The Green Gate by Hollis Frampton). The staging of the last farewell has been the subject of one short fiction film Mortaja de Antonio Perumanes) and of this De Función, which was awarded several prizes in Sitges, Vila do Conde and Documenta Madrid.
Direcció i muntatge: Jorge Tur
Guión: Jorge Tur, Adolfo Estrada, Mayra Ortiz, Rodrigo Nascimento
Producció: Rodrigo Nascimento
Fotografia: Adolfo Estrada
So: Mayra Ortiz