Regia: Ricardo Silva
A weight of meaninglessness, about which there is nothing
insignificant, and which crushes me. On the edge of nonexistence
and hallucination, of a reality that, if I acknowledge
it annihilates me. There, abject and abjection are my safeguards.
The primers of my culture.
Navjazo (2014), the documentary of Mexican director Ricardo Silva had its first screening at TIFF after a 15 minute delay caused by a technical problem (the impossibility of screening the movie with a Romanian subtitle). This was the first moment that could have determined some people to leave, but they all decided to stay as if waiting for a revelation or maybe just for the product they have recently bought. The moment they actually started getting off their seats was during the projection, as if they were running from their own human abjection, just because it wasn’t sure whether the screen was still able to divide the self from the other. The title of the documentary comes from the Spanish word navaja, which means “knife” and designates the wound made by stabbing. Navajazo is set in Tijuana, the gateway to Mexico, which is bordered by California, having the motto: The Fatherland begins here. Most of the illegal immigrants heading towards North America cross the border of Tijuana, an in-between space that is both la patria (the fatherland) and an uninhabitable land-border. Tijuana is also the space of the deported, who reach this city with no documents and no identity. They are the shadow-people that compose the mass of migrants, narcos (drug addicts), prostitutes, “Satanic” street singers, homeless with sandy feet, ex-convicts with penis tattoos etc. It is a reality that annihilates us and that is why some of us need to frame the abject- in order to defend the meanings that we operate with, that are defenseless in the eyes of a defaced material layer of the world. But what a strange situation when we need to step outside the cinema to get out of crushing realities and not the other way around.
It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection, but what disturbs identity, system, order says Kristeva and, indeed, Navajazo does not shake self-coherence in the viewer only because of the disjointed reality captured, but also because it directly assumes the disturbing mechanisms of the exploiter/explorer who wants to see (ex. there is the hand of the cameraman which pops out to touch the woman that should move a little bit to the left for us to better see the oral sex act between the two narcos that injected their veins.) There’s also a face covered man that is asked if he has ever killed and he peacefully says that we all make mistakes. The punk singer, called El Muerto de Tijuana (The Dead of Tijuana), is singing in the parking lot a song dedicated to the devil, in order to domesticate him a bit. The most poetic human subject is that of an old man that has a huge cemetery of exposed toys. The close ups of the old toys are as quietly inquiring as the photos of his dead wife’s corpse. There’s also the story of the porn actor searching to show love on the screen through explicit sex and the ex-convict who confesses he wanted to be different from anybody else and placed a tattoo on the most intimate part of his body while he was in prison. What is surprisingly obvious is the willingness to speak and to confess fragments of experience in front of the camera. They don’t do it because they feel they are being listened to but because they are paid for it (as Ricardo Silva himself confesses in an interview). Knowing all this about the documentary and going back to it, we observe that the despair of the meaninglessness surpasses the social despair; this is when the abject becomes intimate, meaning that it no longer belongs to a disadvantaged social sphere, it becomes profoundly ours. In Navajazo, the abject is not an image, but our own surplus of materiality experienced by means of witnessing the flesh, that is not symbolically, artistically or institutionally captured. We hold your gaze, says the voiceless subtitled line at one point in the film. The subjects of the film hold our gaze, because we are incapable of watching them until the depth of the gaze. We can follow these people as long as we see them as self-destructive ghosts of a failing social system, meaning as long as we watch symbolically. If we go beyond this, there is the flesh, the abjection, the bareness and the unenforced affection of the eye.
The documentary has some ethical issues concerning the director’s relation with his subjects, but despite this, Ricardo Silva says something very relevant when asked about why he decided to pick up such heterogeneous people that still have something in common: We wanted to find a voice that could unify all the others, to show that the claim is eternal, like the class struggle, or simply think about the promises of language that never got to them. The beauty of these people is that they can confess even if they don’t have the language of confession, because they can make the affections of the abject speak like no elaborated story can. When interrogated, they face the camera and they look emptied by the apocalypse they have just abolished, because they proved the world doesn’t end when society does. Beyond a life of the common that we all experience within the confiscated lines of society, they testify to the fact that there is still life inside the bare reflexes of shared dehumanization.
Ricardo Silva calls this documentary an “ethnofiction”, a term that he borrows from Martin Lienhard, who offers the following definition: it is the literary re-creation of the Other’s discourse, the fabrication of an artificially-ethnic discourse…Inside the ethnofiction, the author wears the mask of the other. The camera cannot wear the identity of the marginalized people, but Navajazo shows it can, at least, wear the impossibility of reaching the other in some other way than by re-writing the visual. The visual part is artistically re-written for an audience (like me and you) that fears the abject and the lifeforms the human can take outside cultural structures. That is why Silva needed poetry in Navajazo and also, the essential music of Albert Pla.