Review: One Hundred Steps – Cineuropa

– Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s short may seem heavy-handed, but it effectively urges audiences to be responsive and attentive to obscure but meaningful stories

Cineuropa is releasing this Talking Shorts review again as part of our new collaboration (read new).

For eight years, a duo of filmmakers Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca have developed a hybrid practice that infuses a documentary-fiction blend with musical performance. With an emphasis on the socio-political, historical and geographic layers of different musical genres, they collaborate with artists in their works to delve into hidden and marginalized histories, from Brazil to Canada to Germany. Their latest film One hundred steps, which was filmed during the pandemic and premiered at Berlinale this year, was briefed by the Irish filmmaker and writer Bob quinn (º1930), in particular his documentary quartet and his book “Atlante”. Quinn’s diversions from dominant Eurocentric views on Irish heritage and history revealed the influence of North African culture on the Irish as a result of trade journeys through the Atlantic sea lanes, providing an anti-colonial counterpoint to the traditional stories.

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As Quinn’s work involved drawing connections between traditional Irish song and dance (sean-nós) and Arabic equivalents, its relevance to the practice of Wagner and Burca is only natural. One hundred steps begins to gaze out of a window at Bantry House in the southwest of Ireland, an 18th century aristocratic stately home. Wagner and Burca’s musical performers begin as visitors to the house, which is today a museum showcasing the abundance of art and artifacts collected by the Earls of Bantry on trips to Europe. Shot in black and white, the film immediately underlines the status quo preserved in these privileged spaces which, as the artists say, “represented empirical knowledge”, determined by an elite. The camera moves slowly and carefully through the home showrooms, just as we would as visitors to these spaces, but in this case the centerpieces on which it rests are the subtly provocative performances of traditional musicians. Irish, sean-nós singers and dancers, who “are never represented in the house, but they play there”. This first chapter ends with a young singer climbing the one hundred titular steps found in the grounds of the estate and gazing at the house and the grounds, positioning herself above this symbol of landlord class and excessive private wealth.

The second part of One hundred steps moved to Marseille and mirrored the structure of the first half, this time taking place at the Grobet-Labadié museum, a bourgeois house built in the 19th century for a wealthy local politician. This house also showcases the wealth of art gathered by its former owners over years of continental travel. Here, Wagner and de Burca provide a stage for North African musicians living in Marseille, a city that is home to more than 150,000 people from the Maghreb – an immigration of course linked to France‘s colonial past. Presenting these sumptuous rooms as if in them time was frozen in favor of an old elitism, the film underlines the need for a more meaningful engagement. The performers therefore bring dynamism and can claim the space by occupying it with their own cultural heritage and their presence in the city. In one scene, three men play a card game, marked by the sounds of the urban street, mingling what is a casual everyday outdoor setting for true Marseilles residents with the immaculate delicacy of the living room.

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