• First Film Competition



Alan Martín Segal

Somewhere undefined, half-way between empty office spaces and abandoned shopping mall, a young man drops to the ground in slow motion. Walls rot, the mail piles up behind closed doorsteps. Peering through window panes, another young man observes an enigmatic ballet as two elegant young women invert the urban desert and make it into a playground for their subversive imagination. Under cover of re-appropriating the deserted apartments and offices, they engage in strange poetico-political acts, part situationist, part Oulipian. They slip papers and pink, yellow, and green chips under the doors, sowing existential formulas on clothes tags… Negative Path’s minimal intrigue amounts to the boy’s initiation to the rites and mysteries of the secret society, and the playful seduction it allows for. Script and direction work through subtraction : of drama, of weightiness, of any kind of explanation to the situation. A strangely worrying end-of-the-world atmosphere pervades the empty city, but the catastrophe has already taken place. A few signs hint at its nature : an economy in full and definitive decrepitude, like a collapsological extrapolation of the repeated crises that have struck Argentina. The film’s singular beauty owes to the contrast between the portrait of a world in the terminal stages of its collapse, and the supreme elegance, the high-fashion care with which Alan Martin Segal tailors his shots, sets up the frame, lighting, and sounds. But don’t let that trick you : under their fun and chic appearance, the negative path taken by the film and its characters is of the highest political consequence. Let the world run to its end to regain life. Create nothingness, then give shape to nothingness. Undo the world, empty it, and make of your life a form moving through free space. Elegance as the ultimate resistance. (Cyril Neyrat)Alan Martín Segal

Interview with Alan Martin Segal

Negative Path follows three young adults on their both subversive and playful path in a deserted city. Where does this story originate? What was your first impulse, intuitions?

My first impulse was to adapt Ezequiel Martínez Estrada’s La cabeza de Goliat, an early XX century sociological study of Buenos Aires, providing a template for reckoning with every city founded by Europeans in the Americas. The text is both a love letter to Buenos Aires and demand for the city’s destruction. That book, an extended and poetic essay that I was trying to narrativize preserving its affective tone and its prophetically tragic pulse, was the origin of the film.

The minimalist action, set in empty storefronts and apartments, takes place in what seems to be the ruins of society after its ultimate crisis. No location is specified, not even Argentina. Where did you draw your inspiration for this representation of a collapsed civilization? How did you choose the locations?

I was thinking of using the 2001 crisis in Argentina as a landscape for Negative Path’s actions. A moment of collapse such that the own fabric of the present was so torn that it was possible to imagine a different future. That time has an autobiographical weight, playing an essential role in my life; it signifies the end of my adolescence. At the same time, in national history, it is a kind of mythical moment that represents the cyclical and recurring crisis from which the country does not seem to be able to escape. When I was about to start filming in Buenos Aires, the city was still struggling to reach its regular form/shape after the lockdown. I decided to use the condition of the current crisis to tell of another crisis.
Buenos Aires is full of old commercial galleries that predate the malls by many years. These spaces work somewhat like time capsules. Over time, the businesses that remain within the corridors of these old commercial galleries are those that cannot compete anymore in the commercial struggle of the cruder capitalism that takes place at the street level. In this way, these galleries are populated by trades and services in extinction and technologies in disuse. Walking through them is to have a glimpse of a recent past. Simultaneously, their architecture reveals the eurocentric aspirations of a city heading towards the second half of the 20th century. Those galleries were ideal for conveying the image of Buenos Aires that I was trying to craft; a city that is stuck in time because it aspires to a future based on a fraudulent idea of its own past: a state of constant misleading nostalgia.

Very few characters inhabit the film, of whom we know nothing but their enigmatic behavior and its political implications, except for very rare glimpses into their past. How did you draw these characters, and how did you work on their characterization? And can you talk about the casting? How did you choose the actors?

The casting process wasn’t conventional. I was back in Buenos Aires after a series of rootless years, and I found myself immersed in a new social scene that I was interested in discovering. In that sense, the casting process was a social act in which I collected people that caught my attention. Instead of actors, I was looking for people who were able to make me put a question to my identity. Some of them interpellated me because of a specific moment of their life they were dealing with, others because of a shared past experience, and so on. In a weird way, it was an exercise on how to expand or ramify my identity through them in the film.
Negative Path was supposed to have fewer characters, but I felt attracted to more people and decided to include them. I dealt with this multiplication by doubling and unfolding some characters until organizing them in a scheme that can be described as a mirror game.
The composition of the characters was intuitive. Each actor had a distinctive personality, story, and set of abilities; that we used for the film. I met with them for a long conversation before the shooting to gather information about their lives and interests, which I ultimately used to shape their fictional doubles.
During the filming, they became very close friends and began to do activities together, which turned them into a single entity, some sort of a multiple-organism, bringing an unexpected intimacy and complicity to the film.

The camera work is impressively sharp, and precise – frames, lights, colors. It has a strong choreographic dimension, in full control of the form, which strongly contrasts with the environment, with the state of the world around. Can you comment on these aesthetic choices?

When not working with a traditional script, staging and editing occupy an even more prominent place since they are responsible for organizing and giving meaning to the elements that constitute the film. I like to shoot the scenes many times until I find an internal rhythm and a choreography that can mesh with the montage and the pace that I already have in mind for each moment.
I believe that instead of generating contrast with the environment, those aesthetic decisions create it. In a way, the precision of the mise en scène allows the illusion of an environment in decline. The strict, violent act of exclusion that my style of framing implies; elicits a series of laconic relations and tensions between the architecture and the characters. The film’s visual device aims toward the creation of an offset image of the world, as disturbing as a vivid dream.

Negative Path: the title seems to refer both to the behavior of the protagonists, in its political dimension, and to your own attitude towards filmmaking – writing and directing. What is this negativity you seem to claim and practice?

The film uses various techniques to virtualize, to make present that which is apparently impossible to express, perhaps a certain political ideal or an alternative order of things. It is primarily a poetic vocation, which can be understood as a form of resistance.
Perhaps a large part of my task is to create a negative image, a reverse, a concave imprint of the ideal film, impossible to produce or actualize. I’m particularly interested in evocation as a cinematic tool. Evocation is approaching via negativa the imaginary reality that could reconcile the tensions, poles, and conflicts that agitated the bosom of our experiences.

The musical score is as sharp and minimalist as the mise en scene. It contributes highly to the tone and rhythm of the film. Why and how did you work with Ailín Grad?

With Ailín, we worked on a previous project called Incomplete Disappearance. I always liked her music and felt a great affinity for her work. While working together, we discovered that her way of composing and my way of writing had a lot in common; both processes took shape mainly in the dimension of montage. Incomplete Disappearance served us to develop a way of working together, a language to collaborate. I usually send her an excerpt of a scene or maybe only an image along with some notes that generally refer to the concept or emotion that I’m pursuing in that particular scene. Ailín answers me back with a series of sound materials. Usually, I manipulated these first materials very freely while editing. Then I return those sketches to Ailín, who collects what she finds attractive from my tests and starts to elaborate again from there. It is a sonic dialogue where there is a lot of openness.
For Negative Path we thought of a restricted sound palette to accompany the film’s abandonment atmosphere. Ailín proposed to work with the saxophone and especially with multiphonic sounds. Multiphonic sounds on the saxophone are the product of an extended playing technique, where the air circulates in a way the instrument is not prepared for.
This technique produces sounds of great beauty and complexity but are simultaneously very unstable, volatile, and tense. This way of using the saxophone is similar to how the characters interact with the objects in the film, where all the protocols of use and functionality are disrupted. Nothing is used as it should be; from flyers to apples, everything is altered, trouvé. The soundtrack is an echo of the film’s anti-conventional will.

Interviewed by Cyril Neyrat

  • First Film Competition

Technical sheet

South Korea, Argentina / 2022 / Colour / 65’

Original version : spanish
Subtitles : english
Script : Alan Martín Segal
Photography : Pablo Bernst, Florencia Mamberti
Editing : Joaquín Aras, Alan Martín Segal
Music : Ailín Grad
Sound : Manuel De Andrés
Casting : Stella Ticera, Felipe Saade, Agustina D’Alessandro, Koichi Kairiyama.

Production : Alan Martín Segal & Gastón Solnicki (Filmy Wiktora).

Filmography :
Without Anteriority, 2021
Incomplete Disappearance, 2020
Deviant Chain, 2019.
Key, washer, coin, 2018
An interrupted investigation of R, 2017.