THE STILTS (Carlos Saura, 1984)

“It can’t be true,” Ángel, a professor and playwright, mutters as his eyes catch a photograph of his wife and daughters, all of whom have just died. Neighbor Terese, a schoolteacher young enough to be his daughter, thwarts Ángel’s suicide attempt and invites him to dinner with herself, her lover, Alberto, and their young daughter. Alberto extends their communal connection by having Ángel write a play, The Melancholic Gentleman it turns out, for Alberto’s stilt-walking street theatrical troupe. Meanwhile, Ángel falls for Terese and obsessively pursues her, even succeeding in getting her into bed. Discord threatens to undo Ángel’s second chance at life.
     Written by the director, Carlos Saura, and his superlative star, Fernando Fernán Gómez, from Saura’s story, Los zancos is haunted by Ángel’s recent losses. At one point Ángel must splash his face with water because his vision of his wife at her vanity table is so achingly vivid. Alberto remarks at dinner that he wants to make a film and hopes to search out what lies between sound and gesture. Saura has made that film. This is it.
     Saura keeps our gaze on a wrenched life. Ángel cannot imagine his infatuation with anyone as young as Terese; but he could not have imagined, either, the blows that life has recently dealt him. For a spell he is denied the one resolution that makes sense to him: suicide, which Terese regards as an “inconsiderate” act. But how can one go on as if nothing has happened? We watch Ángel hopelessly try to do this by correcting student exams. We fully appreciate this ridiculous effort of his. His attachment to Terese is equally ridiculous, but Terese has encouraged this result. By aborting Ángel’s suicide attempt, she has inadvertently made herself his alternative to death.

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