Credit: FIDMarseille
by Michael Sicinski Featured Film

The Bus Station — Gustavo Fontán [FIDMarseille ’23 Review]

July 14, 2023

Argentinian filmmaker Gustavo Fontán has produced fourteen feature films since 2003, but still hasn’t broken through on the film festival circuit in a substantial way. This is perhaps odd, given the attention that Argentina has received from the film world in the last two decades. But judging from The Bus Station, Fontán’s films may be challenging even for audiences who have embraced Lucretia Martel, Lisandro Alonso, and Matías Piñeiro. Situated somewhere between observational documentary and experimental spatial study, The Bus Station often seems more like a photographic project than a film, per se.

Fontán’s chief concerns seem to be more of capturing particular qualities of light, rack-focus effects, and an overall atmosphere of the given space — a bus terminal near Córdoba — than the comings and goings of the people there. The film’s handheld camerawork often appears to move around a given image in order to discover the perfect angle or arrangement of forms, which means that we see a lot of fleeting “views” of people and places, with photogenic results coming into focus and then dissipating just as quickly. Certain motifs emerge, like the distant headlights of buses arriving at dawn, or the reflective surfaces of a skill-crane game in the corner. But mostly, The Bus Station regards human figures, architectural features, and ambient space as equal terms in a gray, shadowy cinematic environment.

The soundtrack is fairly conventional, composed of grinding motor sounds, murmurs, and freeway noise. However, at regular intervals Fontán gives us voiceover comments by various people, remarks described as “testimonies” in the end credits. These unseen individuals are talking about love, whether they had a great romance in their lives, and whether they were able to sustain it. I’ll freely admit that I have trouble seeing what this material specifically contributes to the film. Is the bus station a place of hellos and goodbyes, which for Fontán suggests the fortunes of our emotional lives? In the end, I came away thinking that The Bus Station, as my first encounter with Fontán’s work, may be part of a larger aesthetic project to which I’m just not privy. On its own, the film seems like an honorable experiment, though one that does not entirely gel.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 28.