'Los Pasos Dobles': A spiritual journey that loses its way
Isaki Lacuesta's film attempts an abstract portrayal of the life of artist François Augièras. But an admirable effort to tackle a difficult subject ultimately gets caught up in its own complexities.
One is frequently surprised at Zinemaldia. If you’re used to watching films that follow a linear structure or which guide the viewer towards understanding its main argument, it can come as a shock to watch a film that does neither.
I tried hard to keep a grip on Isaki Lacuesta's 'Los Pasos Dobles'. The film has two parallel-running stories: One about a group of men trying to locate a buried military bunker with paintings by French artist François Augièras, and the other apparently the story of Augièras himself. The first is an easy-to-follow, amusing insight into a people and their culture. The second verges somewhere on the brink between allegory and farce.
The film's synopsis talks of a man who "walks backwards over his own footsteps" so that no-one discovers the bunker whose walls he has covered with frescos. But, it goes on, "who is Augièras? A legionnaire, painter, writer, gangster, saint, thief, devil, or a little bit of them all?" What I expected was 'the tale of one man's journey'. But it is the second part of the summary that forms the basis for the film: Who exactly was François Augièras?
Those of us watching 'Los Pasos Dobles' ('The Double Steps') probably fell, aptly, into double categories: Those who already knew something about the life of François Augièras (a minority, I suspect) and those who didn't. I did not.
So my personal problem with the film was not knowing anything about its subject, François Augièras, something which ultimately marred my overall enjoyment of the film.
Scant Wikipedia research into the life and works of François Augièras offers a certain insight into the story, as well as the form and structure of Lacuesta's production. Such as the fact he was a (white) US-born Frenchman who nevertheless considered Saharan African to be his 'true home'; That his 'dream-like' first novel 'Le Vieillard et l'enfant' ('The Old man and the Boy') is a fictional account of the homosexual relationship between a young Arab boy and an old Frenchman, incidentally a reflection of Augièras' abusive relationship with his own uncle.
That at some time he confessed to feeling attraction to young boys and girls and even animals (if you've seen it, you'll know what I mean); that he had at some point belonged to a travelling theatre and that it was ultimately 'precariousness and extreme solitude' that threatened his life (he had taken to living in caves to escape hospices).
With such information to go on, one can't help wondering whether a straightforward biopic about the life of François Augièras might not have been more digestible. Instead, the film sets out on a spiritual journey through the subject's mind and soul, to show that he was not just a painter and writer but everything from legionnaire to gangster and even possibly devil.Admirable though the attempt is, audience enjoyment is too frequently sacrificed in the name of art. Scenes are intercut with images of Catalan artist Miquel Barceló being arty while a voice over offers profound insights such as "within every fruit there is a fish". Perhaps they are intended to be helpful, but ultimately they just prove annoying.