• Flash Competition


Serge Garcia

Divided into three chapters, A General Disappointment is an existential meditation based on a text read through a series of long still frames. These stage the director Serge Garcia in everyday situations that are suffused with a depressive sense of the grotesque, where what is mundane becomes absurd, thus weighing heavily on the character’s solitary body. As a counterpoint to this silent, pedestrian everyday scene, the text may be seen in subtitles, like some inner voice that brings to mind, through the telling of odd anecdotes, the caustic meanderings of Woody Allen or Larry David. The basic logorrheic scheme to A General Disappointment matches its wonderous precision as well as its reflexive density. After Grand Central Hotel (FID 2021), Serge Garcia again puts together a cinematic object at the service of discourse, and devises a means to bring together literature (his own and, among others, by Kathryn Scanlan) and philosophical thought (by Lauren Berlant). This he does by dint of neat, long framings. As Serge Garcia is sitting in a parked car, eating away from a noodle dish that inevitably brings to mind the dreariness of an undercover cop’s life in second-rate crime films, the text invites one to ponder over the systemic failures inherent to capitalist societies, and over how vain their promises of happiness and self-fulfilment are. Short scenes come and go from the street to a room, in a motion reasserting the political dimension of the intimate. In so doing, it also confirms that the necessary analysis of our most personal affects (feelings of maladjustment, frustrations, neuroses) are themselves manufactured and normed. Through a close-up on an amplifier, the voice of Laurene LaVallis, some soon-forgotten 1980s singer, reverses the operation of concentration, from reading to full listening as a potentiality for a reappropriation of one’s body in the present. Unostentatiously, what Serge Garcia weaves is some presence in the world and unto oneself.
(Claire Lasolle)

Interview with Serge Garcia

Could you tell us about the writing of your film and its text? At what point did Lauren Berlant’s thinking and Kathryn Scanlan’s texts meet ?

This film is somehow bound to my experience reading the novel 100 Boyfriends by the American writer Brontez Purnell. The way Purnell creates fiction based on his own life and experience helped create a space for me to think, reflect, and marinate on what my next film could be. Much like the slice-of-life tales in 100 Boyfriends I wanted to fictionalize a few events I experienced and infuse the vignettes with concerns, preoccupations, and neurosis that color my daily life.
Kathryn Scanlan’s The Dominant Animal came into the picture shortly after reading 100 Boyfriends. Its sharp, witty, and carefully chiseled prose felt like the perfect vessel for the unsettling dark humor I wanted to play with. There’s also a very appealing tonal contrast and mood that echoes in the language that she uses that feels very chiaroscuro. This feeling and the fact that it deals with quotidian and human failure helped refine my approach with the text.
When it came to the actual writing, I wrote 3 short stories. The text became a fictionalized rendition of things that have happened to me or situations I’ve been in. I used these scenarios as a device to enter weird and neurotic thoughts on the universe’s meaninglessness. Not to mention Lauren Berlant’s ideas on cruel optimism and our attachments to antiquated notions and unachievable fantasies of the good life that normative ideology, bourgeois universalism, and liberal capitalism promises us in the west.
Lauren Berlant’s work and her book Cruel Optimism was the perfect motif to contextualize my preoccupations with cultural criticism and queer theory too. It was important for me to introduce her thinking into the text to try to create a piece that engages with strong feminist ideals that concern itself with the political. I love her work.

How did you think about the staging of everyday situations in order to respond, without illustrating, to the text displayed on the screen ?

The quotidian scenes help punctuate the text with a level of reality and intimacy that extends well beyond just illustrating what the text displays. It also creates an intimate environment and tone for the text to live in which creates space for metaphor and symbolism.
The film deals with themes of loneliness, alienation, desire, and isolation so I took a lot of cues from Tsai Ming-Liang and films like What Time Is It There. A lot of the characters in his films are seeking themselves and the private emotional landscapes which are often hard to reveal. This is the most personal film I’ve made so far and it felt right to design and film scenes that depict slices of my everyday life and routines away from social situations.

You work exclusively with still shots. Can you explain this cinematographic bias?

I’m interested in a cinema that questions itself, its possibilities, and its relationship with the expression of time. I lean on stationary composition that decelerates time because it provides a window to map and collect the inner layers of the people on screen and the present moment. It’s a reaction against overproduction as well, and the usual bells and whistles of mainstream commercial cinema.
I think still shots have the potential to activate the viewer to see, hear, and think differently too. I owe a lot to filmmakers like Chantal Akerman, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Tsai Ming-Liang to name a few. I borrow from their work and the cinematic language they have helped develop.

The film is built around a dense text that is displayed as a subtitle in the image and therefore requires the viewer to read. You did not opt for voice-over. Why did you choose to read rather than listen?

The text is meant to feel like my thoughts and observations – it’s a fictionalized version of events in my life from the past year. However, I didn’t want my cis-male voice to color the narrative so I opted to quietly present the story with the simple text driven approach. I think this film, especially the 3rd vignette, reckons with questions or dilemmas that we face when we think about gender, identity, sexuality and its intersection with patriarchy and capitalism. It also reckons with the discomfort and loneliness that comes with dealing with this stuff. How can we advocate for or react with a need to disassociate and dis-identify with normative masculinity – what does it mean to un-become one’s masculinity (or femininity). So, it’s not to say that a voice over can’t create a space to reckon with these things, it’s that silence and stillness speak much louder than words (or a voice over) at times.
Also, to be really honest, I’m kind of bored with voice overs – at least as a storytelling technique available to me at this very moment. I’ve used voice over to push the narratives of most of my films and it’s a great tool. But I often feel alone and isolated when I engage with the discomfort and work that comes from questioning politically necessary or interesting things. The text helps ground this loneliness and alienation into something real and tactile for me. Hopefully for the audience too.

The film ends with a piece of music by Laurene LaVallis. This is the only musical moment. Why this choice? How did you work on the soundtrack of your film?

I chose Laurene LaVallis’ ‘Love Don’t Change’ as a counterpoint to the text. It was important for me to also end the film on a note that keeps the rhythm of daily life going. Like most people I suppose, I like to soundtrack my mornings with a little bit of radio or music while I do boring domestic duties. The musical moment is also a little wink to Apichatpong Weerasethakul and the sudden musical moment in the karaoke bar at the end of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

A general disappointment is shot in 16 mm, like your previous films. What does the use of analog film allow you to do?

I like the texture of analog film. Whether it’s 16mm or 35mm. Stylistically I also prefer the medium compared to digital camera workflows. I self-finance all of my short films so the choice to work with analog film immediately introduces a strict set of limitations that forces me to think about every little aspect of the filmmaking process, not to mention my approach to storytelling. This has opened up a space for me to push and refine the formal rigor seen in my films. Usually, I can only afford one or two cans of film so the self-imposed limitations are a big part of my process when it comes to making shorts.

In Cycle One, you adapted Padget Powell’s The Interrogative mood. Here, you construct a device that invites us to discover the writer Kathryn Scanlan. Is literary adaptation for the cinema a field of investigation that you will continue to explore?

I think literary adaptation for the cinema will definitely be something that I continue exploring, especially with fiction based projects. I’m currently trying to get my first feature length film off the ground right now. It’s a narrative fiction based on the Mexican novel Pedro Paramo and it takes place in Guatemala. While this project isn’t an adaptation in the traditional sense, I’ve used the novel’s central character, its non linear structure, and its central themes as a starting point and guide to build new characters, a new world, and storyline.
I read an interview with Sally Potter on the making of Orlando a while back and she talks about cinema being more pragmatic than the novel. The novel can withstand abstraction and arbitrariness. With cinema, you have to have reasons, however flimsy, to propel the story forward. I find these types of challenges are necessary and interesting, especially when thinking or ruminating on what a story can be.

Interview by Claire Lasolle

  • Flash Competition

Technical sheet

United States / 2022 / Colour / 16 mm, 35 mm / 27’

Original version : no dialogue
Script : Serge Garcia
Photography : Simon Köcher
Editing : Serge Garcia
Sound : Serge Garcia
Casting : Serge Garcia

Production : Sergio Garcia.

Filmography :
Antenna, 2022
Cycle One, 2021
Grand Central Hotel, 2021
El Patojo, 2020
Noncompliant, 2019
Gordo As Gordo, 2019
A Child Of House: Shaun J
Wright, 2019
Jackie House, 2018
The Longer I live, The Less Chance I’ll Ever Recover From What Life Keeps Doing To Me, 2015
Butcherqueen, 2013.