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Ignasi M: Film Review

Ignasi - H - 2014

The Bottom Line

An often engrossing profile of someone who’s different enough to be interesting, but typical enough to draw the viewer in.

Venue

Cines Princesa, Madrid

Director

Ventura Pons

Maverick Catalan Ventura Pons’ 25th film is a festival-friendly documentary that focuses on just one man.

On paper, the life of the subject of Ignasi M (Ignasi Millet i Bonaventura, to you) is unusual without being remarkable. A Barcelona-based museologist and and an HIV carrier with two sons who has become defiantly gay (and flirtatiously camp) since separating from his wife, Ignasi’s life seems to have been chosen by Ventura Pons as an example of triumph over adversity -- except that Ignasi’s own perspective on his life seems to be altogether more positive. It’s his infectious bubbliness that defines the tone of a film in which the auteur Pons is happy, for once, to let his subjects do all the talking.

A festival stalwart, Pons has taken Ignasi M to festivals including Toronto, Bogota and Stockholm. More are likely to follow.

We first meet Ignasi, a man who “lives for color,” as he enthusiastically describes the 29 pills he needs to take each morning -- it’s a sequence which simultaneously suggests that this will be a film in which we get up close and personal. But from now on, Ignasi will rarely get the chance to address the camera directly: more often, he’s shown in conversation with a range of people who are close to him in some way. This is key: a bit of a motor-mouth, it’s crucial if the audience is going to get to like Ignasi that Pons is able to portray his subject as not only a good speaker, but as a good listener too.

Early scenes show conversations between the bald, bespectacled and lively protagonist and his separated parents Ramon and Merce. His family life he considers to have been a disaster, but of great creative value. Ramon recently tried to commit suicide (“If love is like a flower,” he declares, “then I’ve lost the watering can.”). A work colleague, Josep Boya, offers a professional perspective on Ignasi, whose great passion is art restoration. At this point in the film, it becomes clear that the viewer can just sit back and enjoy hearing intelligent, sensitive people riff not only about Ignasi, but about the larger cultural themes on which their relationship with Ignasi has touched.

Pons records Ignasi rock-climbing with friends, squealingly getting his jab from his nurses; or flirting with his young Argentinean assistant, Diego. There’s an enjoyably matter of fact air to conversations, like that with Carme, his wheelchair-bound former wife of fourteen years, where sentimentality might have been expected. All the people with whom Ignasi unselfconsciously engages in chat about himself are expressive,  articulate people, or at least come over as such after Marc Matons’ editing. The conversations with his two sons are the only moments where perhaps a slight undercurrent of tension is felt.

The camera focuses on full-body, half-body or face, loosely aligned to the degree of intimacy being expressed. Ignasi himself is an exhibitionist who, though entertaining and often genuinely witty in his views -- “I believe,” he declares, “that Saint Paul was the first teacher of marketing” -- comes over far more interestingly in the family and professional contexts in which Pons has located him, which act as a brake on his self-obsession and make the film more than mere hagiography: the film’s title might be Ignasi M, but he’d be the first to admit that it’s about all those people whose lives he’s touched.

The film is basically in the Catalan language, but there are brief snatches of Spanish. Lovely, gentle guitar melodies are scattered lightly throughout, but unfortunately and strangely go uncredited. Interestingly, the name of a Spanish aristocrat is bleeped out during one interview in which Ignasi opens up a little too wide.

Production: Els Films de la Rambla
Cast: Ignasi Millet i Bonaventura, Ramon Millet, Merce Bonaventura, Julep Boya, Dr. Jose Molto Dra, Merce Arderol, Bernat Millet, Merce Altarriba, Oriol Ribera, Maribel Real, Xavier Millet, Marcel Millet, Diego Cordoba, Marina Miquel, Assumpta Esquis, Carme Subiranas, Carolina Ribera, Joan Garcia Biosca, Arnau Millet, Jonathan Jegousse, Maita Payas Puigarnau.
Director, screenwriter: Ventura Pons
Producer: Ventura Pons
Director of photography: Andalu Vila San Juan
Editor: Marc Matons
Sound: Natxo Ortuzar
Sales: Latido Films
No rating, 87 minutes