In The City Of Sylvia

In The City Of Sylvia


Reviewed by: Adam Micklethwaite

Following the movements of a lonely young man who spends his days sitting in cafés and roaming the streets of Strasbourg looking for the elusive and mysterious Sylvia whom he apparently met several years earlier, this offering from Spanish director José Luis Guerin is a paean to the dubious art of people-watching.

Let’s start with the positives: the film has some excellent cinematography, particularly the intriguing sequences which centre around a tram (one of very few symbols of movement in the film) and its use of limited dialogue and natural soundtrack yield some promising results, which (temporarily) hold the viewer’s attention.

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However, don’t be fooled by my clemency here. This is a film with no plot, no character and no sense of progression or development. I was intrigued by reviews of this film which alluded to its status as a piece of art in motion, but I feel it only fair to warn you that ‘motion’ is not a word with which this film deserves to be associated.

For a film which relies so heavily upon the central character, I found its voyeuristic first/third person perspective to be oddly alienating and it in no way endeared the ‘hero’ to me. This was especially true of the strange scene in which he ‘stalks’ a woman whom he has mistaken for Sylvia, following her for several minutes without confronting her and then, when challenged, sheepishly apologising for his behaviour. To make matters worse, we are never given any background, either to the character or to the nature of his quest for Sylvia and despite spending the entire film in his company, I was little wiser at the end than I had been at the start.

Did it justify its existence as a feature-length film? For me the answer was a resounding ‘no’. I felt that this would have made an intriguing and accomplished short but that’s exactly what it should have been. It never did anything to suggest that it had a genuine raison d’être as a feature length piece and I left the cinema feeling that my experience of the film would have been hardly any different if I’d walked out after the first 15 minutes – indeed I would’ve felt somewhat less cheated by the lack of pay-off at the end.

To be perfectly honest, the film left me with the strong impression that it was at least 64 minutes too long, which is far from ideal given its running time of only 84 minutes. Unless you have infinite patience and no interest in either plot or character, don’t see this film.

Reviewed on: 01 Oct 2008
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A boy dreams of finding a lost love.
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Read more In The City Of Sylvia reviews:

Amber Wilkinson *1/2

Director: José Luis Guerín

Writer: José Luis Guerín

Starring: Xavier Lafitte, Pilar López de Ayalam, Michaël Balerdi, Laurence Cordier, Tanja Czichy, Gladys Deussner, Eric Dietrich, Charlotte Dupont, Philippe Ohrel

Year: 2007

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: Spain

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