Sycorax is a fluid re-orientation of filmic and theatrical modes, a mostly successful attempt at contextualizing classic modes within a contemporary context.
The vastly different (if, at times, equally insular) worlds of theatre and cinema are two realms that usually best function when not entangled with one another. Both are time-based mediums, albeit in opposing contexts and settings — recording a live performance sort of defeats the purpose of it; showing the final product in a traditional movie theatre does the original experience even dirtier — and each does things that work best specifically within their own parameters. Sycorax, a playful new exercise from collaborators Matías Piñeiro and Lois Patiño, constructs itself around establishing a fluid middle ground amongst these distinct artistic methods, and concerns itself with the eponymous Shakespearean witch — but articulated from a perspective that attempts to conceptualize this figure within a contemporary context. The once unseen character, who as we’re told was “the first” on the island on which The Tempest is set, is here about to be cast in a production of the play that we never end up seeing. The other famed roles have already been designated — albeit to random bystanders, all assigned their characters (Prospero, Antonio, Caliban, etc.) via voice-over, a callow tactic that aims to imprint the original text’s relevance and significance onto the faces of present persons merely by association.
The audition process for Sycorax herself proves more intellectually and thematically fruitful: each participant lines up to say their lines, going in an assigned order and given a number to distinguish themselves from the others there. “Wind, rain, fire, and fog. This island they want to steal. Ariel, this tree will take care of you,” they each recite with varying degrees of accuracy, moving off-screen after speaking and letting the next would-be Sycorax deliver the line with no interruption. After the final woman speaks, a slow dissolve transitions into an outdoors diegesis — an overlaying of fiction subsumed by the natural world, with classical music playing to reinforce the evanescent quality of the moment. But it’s also here where order gives way to something more intrinsically organic in its structure and development, and meshes these interior and exterior states of being. It’s here where another marking occurs: that of Shakespeare’s play onto the modern world, embodied by the traveling actors who are dwarfed in size compared to the lush vegetation of the forest they continue to traverse deeper into. Time ultimately seizes both the production and Sycorax as a whole, right before the light of day vanishes and ends that day’s festivities, fading back onto an image of yet another possible Sycorax lost in the darkness.
You can currently stream Matías Piñeiro & Lois Patiño’s Sycorax on Mubi.
Originally published as part of Cannes Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 9.