Friday, April 17 - Sunday, April 19, 2020
Paulino Viota's Contactos

When Light Industry closed its doors last month in response to the COVID-19 crisis, we shifted our efforts and organized the Cinema Worker Solidarity Fund in collaboration with Screen Slate. Together we then raised nearly $80,000 and redistributed it to over 350 movie theater employees across New York City, all of whom had been furloughed or laid off because of the shutdown. Since it’s still unclear when we’ll be able to re-open, Light Industry is moving its program online, beginning with Paulino Viota’s Contactos, which will be streaming on our Vimeo channel all weekend. This screening, like all of our presentations in the coming months, will be free and thus more accessible during a time of tightened belts. As a W.A.G.E.-certified organization, of course, we remain committed to compensating artists for their work, so if you’re in a position to do so, please consider subscribing to our Patreon for as little as $2/month, making a one-time donation through PayPal Giving Fund, or purchasing one of our benefit editions.


Contactos (Contacts), Paulino Viota, 1970, 64 mins

“Madrid, 1970. A guesthouse where the characters live and hide, exhausting themselves; a restaurant where they work and socialize, discrete automata; sexual encounters, probably for cash. Stealthy work relationships, stealthy sexual contacts, ‘tangible distance’; clandestine contacts too, in a dark, underground struggle. Endure, and mutely rebel. Silent anguish, behind closed doors; suffocating in an unbearable situation; an infuriating duration that seeks to unravel in a scream, in the perpetual and painfully postponed explosion.”

- PV

Hailed by Noël Burch as one of the most important European films of the 1970s, Paulino Viota’s Contactos is underground cinema in the term’s most political sense. Produced in secret during the Franco regime, it chronicles the day-to-day interactions of young Madrilenians living under dictatorship. Evidence that these figures are leftist militants is revealed gradually, in ways barely spoken yet implied. The visual style is rigorously minimal throughout, a potent reduction featuring only four locations and five fixed camera positions. Shots advance with a necessary precision, as though the montage itself were a covert network, each sequence a relay.

“I can’t remember exactly how the idea of Contactos came about,” Viota explained in a recent interview. “I think the formal development came first, the idea of what it should be in formal terms and the harsh, harrowing tone, before the specific subject matter, but I’m not completely sure (Hitchcock put it very well once, when he said, referring to a project that he had in mind, that he had the entire film in his head even though he still didn’t know what it would be about). I put Santos Zunzunegui and Javier Vega to work, writing the script separately so that each of them would give me a different image of what the film could be (one was in Bilbao, the other in Santander, me in Madrid). The film was my own interpretation, a third image, materialized in the form of a film. What I do know is that the real setting that we used for the guesthouse, a ground floor apartment that we could film through the windows, from the various courtyards, ended up being a very strong influence on the final film. Based on this place, I changed everything I had planned (the camera was originally going to be positioned in the hallways of the guesthouse), and I think that the strategy of filming through the windows ended up being part of the nature of the film.

As for the theoretical development, we were strongly influenced by a certain avant-garde spirit (the spirit of a particular sector of the avant-garde) that was about the search for simple forms, about non-representation, and that was more concerned with structural matters than with expressiveness (or that sought expressiveness through structure): Eduardo Chillida’s sculptures, in which matter delimits the void; Jorge Oteiza’s book Quousque Tandem...! with its ideas on what we could call art’s tendency towards the reduction, the neutralization of its expressive qualities; what I would call Mondrian’s ‘essentialist’ painting; Barthes’ Critical Essays and his structuralist ideas about construction by means of juxtaposition; and even atonal music... The list would go on and on. Last-minute influences that turned up just before the film was made included Noël Burch’s articles in Cahiers du Cinéma (which later became part of his Theory of Film Practice), Straub’s film Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, and three films by Ozu, all of which I watched on Spanish public TV. The films were Tokyo Twilight, Equinox Flower, and An Autumn Afternoon.

What do I think of the film now? I insist on its singularity, as I said earlier. I think that leaving aside its aesthetic value (although it’s not right to say that, because you can’t leave aesthetics aside), it is a film like no other (or it was at the time). And there’s something else: I think that it is a true image (in aesthetic terms of course, as a transposition); an image that was shared by many of us, of life, or of certain lives, under Franco’s dictatorship. It would be interesting to see what films offer an image of the Franco era that doesn’t appear to us to be manipulated. They certainly exist, perhaps in greater numbers than we realize, and sometimes even in seemingly innocent films (which is by no means the case of Contactos).”