A film of transformative power, provocation and no commercial potential whatsoever, “Waiting for Sancho” redefines the making-of film — usually a long-form commercial, but here a real artistic inquiry and celebration of itself. Festival play, which has already been healthy, will continue, given the film’s unusual gestation and subject matter and what it says about observational cinema.
In “Sancho,” Cinema Scope magazine editor Mark Peranson follows the New Wave model of critic-cum-cineaste, and chronicles the making of Albert Serra’s “Birdsong” — a deliberate, often static but visually and intellectually absorbing take on the Three Wise Men of the New Testament. Shot in black-and-white DV, but given the photographic finish of Orson Welles’ “Othello,” “Birdsong” is a film for a very select, discriminating and some would say infinitely patient audience. Peranson, who had befriended Serra after seeing the latter’s “Honor de cavalleria” (a reimagining of “Don Quixote”) was cast as Joseph in Serra’s Magi movie.
Consider the crowd for “Birdsong.” Now consider how many would want to see a movie about it being made. But Peranson defies many of our expectations, shooting (when not acting) in vivid high-definition video (and in vivid color, which sets it apart from “Birdsong”). He does so with a sense of framing and an instinct for composition that are either innate or the osmotic result of years of watching other people’s films. Most importantly, what he manages to capture is a sense of that often sought-after and usually elusive phenomenon, creativity.
Shooting unobtrusively but intimately, Peranson watches Serra, aided by producer Montse Triola (who plays Mary in “Birdsong”), work out the movie the director has barely sketched out on paper, and what we get to see is Serra discovering the essence of his film practically in real time. Shooting on the lava-black landscape of the Canary Islands — which provides surreally stark, barren terrain on which to set all this fertile creativity — Serra and Co. torture their movie into being. What’s remarkable to anyone who has seen “Birdsong” is how haphazard the preparations are, and how so much alchemy occurs in front of the camera.
It’s rather hilarious that the YouTube video for “Waiting for Sancho” is a 49-second shot of Lluis Serrat (who played sidekick Sancho in “Honor de cavalleria”) taking a nap on the sooty-looking black soil of the Canary Islands. He doesn’t budge — gotta love honesty in advertising. But like the Samuel Beckett play that is its namesake, “Waiting for Sancho” is about much more than its mere surfaces would imply.
Production values are good, especially Peranson’s precocious camerawork.