One Hundred Steps


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

One Hundred Steps
"There are layers of colonial consequence to these spaces, their gardens dominated by stepped approaches and the borrowed architecture of imagined pasts." | Photo: One Hundred Steps (Bárbara Wagner, Benjamin de Burca)

These hundred steps which were created in the 1840s. Given history by the presentation from the stately home's guide. Becoming background to the wandering of the young girl, slipping from hand to climb stairs to the dollhouse. There in that simulacrum of the house without the small harp beckons, invites. In the shadow of a larger harp she lies dreaming. Or was it ever a dream?

A document, if not a documentary. The singing of a song by the fireside is itself a form of history. Barbara Wagner and Benjamin De Burca's film is described in the programme notes of the 2022 Glasgow Short Film Festival as a meditation. It is certainly a place to think, a stillness punctuated by music, by film. The Academy ratio or thereabouts in crisp black and white is replaced by the warmth of film shot by a camera we see on camera. The Irish pipes in a room touched by sunlight, the orange of burning wood. A moment of differing perspective matched by the knife sharp edges of shadows cast by torch against chandelier.

Texture abounds, not just the sound of tapping feet against a polished floor but the sheen of waxes and dust, the albedo of animal leather and the sliced light of sprung wood. In a grand room those steps echo, bounced from the paintings, dulled by the curtains, still heard as the camera pans to the cracks of light through shutters, a space redefined by energies and shadows.

This is beautiful to look at, as formal and detailed as the architectures it explores. "with this house the owner shows his power", and so too with this film the creators theirs. There is perhaps a notion that the habit of collection is bourgeois and indeed this is a collection. The act of purchase purely for display contrasts with hidden doors, the visible attendant.

Drawing parallels between musical traditions of Ireland and North Africa, the film is constructed of performances in Bantry House in West Cork and the Musee Grobet-Labadie in Marseilles. That the more proximate of those two locations is, despite the city's large population with Maghreb roots, still at one remove is perhaps a function of a film at least as arch as architectural. There are juxtapositions everywhere, the clash of light percussion to the clank of light switches. The stairs echo with a song filled with the invitation to drink, addressed in lieu of apostrophe to the seated guard who one might assume would not allow a beverage past her station.

There are layers of colonial consequence to these spaces, their gardens dominated by stepped approaches and the borrowed architecture of imagined pasts. Not that there was not a Rome, or an Athens, but that the idea of The West borrowed less from them than an idea of them. Feedback like the electrically enhanced oud-like instrument, a recursion to distortion by amplification. Framed not by the carved stone of wealth but the wriggled steel of work. Pedro Setero and Joanna Luz are credited as the Directors of Photography Ireland and France respectively, and it is to their credit that they have achieved something so consistently matched. Wagner & de Burca's vision is a compelling one.

As with any short, particularly those that indulge in the metatextual and the metamorphic, context would help from the film itself. As an exploration it is in and of itself of interest, but for all its beauty there are moments where it feels a quest without a grail. It is likely inevitable that this will only be seen at festivals, bounded and bolstered by programme notes or presentations, but this is a work so rooted in recontextualisation that it would help to know more about its starting points to see how well it left them.

Reviewed on: 26 Mar 2022
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One Hundred Steps packshot
The eighth audio-visual collaboration of Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca references the work of Bob Quinn, Irish filmmaker.

Director: Bárbara Wagner, Benjamin de Burca

Year: 2021

Runtime: 21 minutes

Country: Germany, France


GSFF 2022
GSFF 2023

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