• International Competition

LA TERMINAL

THE BUS STATION

Gustavo Fontán

Bathed in the half-light, a bus station north of Cordoba in Argentina. Waiting, and the arrivals and departures of the local buses punctuate the lives of these workers and travellers. Far from making an observational documentary, Gustavo Fontán crafts the ghostly portrait of a place of transit where the traces of those who bring it alive resonate and are muffled, blending mystery with everyday life. Attentive to the light that shifts across the people waiting, the very thing that gives rhythm to this transitory space, the director establishes a fragile relationship between the visible and the invisible, presence and absence. Like a kaleidoscope, the camera offers fragmented shots of the station featuring blurred silhouettes reflected in the windows of ticket offices and buses, portals to a world off-screen. Like a prism recomposing light, the film seems to fix the permanence of transience. The camera captures the elusive expressions on the faces it glimpses, whilst audio-wise, snatches of voices evoke loss, past loves and wounds. The voices, melancholic counterpoints to these sepulchral images, act as convergence lines in a film that emerges as a multi-dimensional play of mirrors. Although La Terminal opens with the purchase of a wristwatch that a woman sets as she puts it on, time seems to stand still in this blueish obscurity. “Perhaps the exact date is to be found under the word ‘ghost’” (Alejandra Pizarnik).

Louise Martin Papasian

The entire runtime of La Terminal is set inside the La Falda bus station in northern Córdoba. How did the idea of filming this specific location come about ? Could you describe how the movie came together ?

From the very beginning of the project, we were interested in finding a station where intercity buses would circulate, carrying their flow of predominantly workers and students. We wanted to focus on this specific flow, on a small scale, but also to consider other types of flow, such as the way light flows onto bodies and objects. Eva Cáceres and Ana Lucía Frau, the film’s producers, spent a long time identifying the station which would match these expectations in the villages surrounding Córdoba. As soon as they discovered the La Falda station in upper Córdoba, they knew they’d found the perfect place.  

The overall bluish lighting, fuzzy contours, shadowplay and mirrorplay, all partake in building a shattered and spectral portrait of the building. Could you comment on the photographic intentions ? How did your collaboration with your director of photography unfold ? 

Transit and waiting spaces are inherently subjected to a flow : they grow fuller and emptier. What comes in goes out. I’ve always believed this to be an illusion : movement is only the most visible part of the flow, but I also believe that these spaces are home to the remains of the human experiences that took place within them. When people cross such a space, they leave something behind of their pains, fears, and hopes. Something residual, something persistent and evasive. It is with this in mind that we worked with the Ezequiel Salinas, the film’s director of photography, to create a visual effect of thickness as opposed to transparency. The first task we set for ourselves was to study Camera Work, a photographic movement from the early 20th century, to understand how the blurring of contours and allowing for the presence of dark areas within the frame created an image where the invisible was no less important than the visible, and weakened the distinction between those two categories. Once we were done studying Camera Work, we practiced these techniques extensively, in order to get as close as possible to the visual rendering we were interested in. 

The film’s sound processing reinforces this ghostly aspect, with frequent effects of suspension, muffling, and resonance. Could you elaborate on the creation of this sound design ? 

Atilio Sánchez handled the film’s sound design, and his work was guided by the same intentions as that of the chief operator. Space has a complex temporal dimension, and we wanted to ensure that the present would contain the remains of the past as well as the promises of the future. We knew that sound would be essential in creating the appropriate state of perception. Furthermore, overall, in the story’s relation to the future, we designed sounds as slip moments, nearer or farther away every time to what the image establishes as « the present ». This allowed us to modulate levels of intensity throughout the film. 

As an echo to the sonic environment of the train station, vocal snippets relate tales of love at first sights, lost or hurt relationships. How were these snippets selected in the writing process, and whose voices are they ? How does their presence fit within the film’s rhythmical structure ? 

We came to this decision for screenplay purposes : we sought to edit the oral tales according to the romantic experiences. On set, in the station, Atilio Sánchez would ask travelers waiting for their connections or coming off the bus if they had a love story they wished to share with us. Some declined, but many were those who trusted us with marvelous responses. Then, we had to select a few narratives, not solely based on how powerful they were, but also based on how well these fragments could be adjusted to the film’s pulse and rhythm. 

La Terminal opens with the purchase of a wristwatch, in the daytime, and ends in the dark of night, nonetheless leaving us with a persistent sensation of a dilatation or a suspension of time. Could you tell us about the film’s editing ? 

Everything that appears disappears, relentlessly. That was crucial to the way we approached the task of editing, which was handled by Mario Bocchicchio. Even though we’d already designed a three-day structure, we were very careful in handpicking the fragments which resonated with specific moments in the film, and studying how they interacted with each other, how one image influenced another. In order to achieve this, I need to refrain from shooting everything in one go, and rather to approach shooting in this piecemeal way, so that it’s always possible to shoot, edit, ponder, then shoot again. This is how I’m most efficient at truly incorporating the ideas into the film’s matter. 

Interview realized by Louise Martin Papasian  

  • International Competition

Technical sheet

Argentina / 2023 / 63’

Rights holder
Punto de Fuga Cine
Eva Cáceres
puntodefugacontenidos@gmail.com