Perpetuum Mobile – Nicolas Pereda (2009)

Boredom – this word could be considered as a one-word summary of Nicolas Pereda’s Perpetuum Mobile (2009). Not so much of the viewer’s state. Personally, I didn’t get bored. It is more a state of boredom the characters evoke. But then, boredom is not the right word, though perhaps the most adequate in the English language. I have come across a similar effect in my writing on Lav Diaz’s Melancholia (2008), in which I felt compelled to switch to my native language and use the German word “Langeweile”.

The difference is pretty simple. Boredom implies negativity. It is an expression of a lack of motivation, of interest. The way “Langeweile” is used these days in German implies negativity, too. Yet, the original meaning comes from its literal translation: long duration, a long while. If you experience Langeweile, you spend time without doing anything profound. You probably just sit somewhere and stare at nothing in particular.

Perpetuum Mobile is one of those films, which asks for the German term. I was vaguely aware of just how much time is spent on the characters doing nothing. But once I put the photoset together for my Slow Cinema Tumblr, it jumped right into my face. Pereda’s film is more than his other films one of waiting, of sitting around waiting for something or someone. It is mainly the latter; Gabino and his mother waiting for Rodriguez, Gabino’s brother; Gabino and his co-worker waiting for work; Gabino waiting for a man, who has just fooled him, to return his long-lost dog; Gabino and his co-worker waiting for a customer – a man who has just been thrown out of his flat because he hasn’t paid his rent – to find a place where he can store his furniture.

Waiting – perhaps this would be a good word to describe Perpetuum Mobile. This would also describe the viewer’s state in one word. The film starts off very slow, perversely enough with a rather slow subject; an elderly woman, who, because of her age and failing health, walks very slowly through her house. It sets the tone of the film, although it is unclear till close to the end who that woman is. In effect, this matters little – we dive straight into the story of Gabino, a moving truck driver, who has a kind of “can’t be bothered”, “not now”, “leave me alone” atmosphere around him, especially when he is with his mother.

And yet, he is a funny character. There is something about him that made me smile more often than not. Maybe it was the situational humour. More and more often he finds himself being hired by men or women who leave their partners, sometimes without their knowing. He becomes an in-between character, a public guest so to speak in a rather private matter. And once he and his co-worker have moved everything into their truck, as ordered, they are asked to return everything. The person has changed his or her mind. These situations make for a good contrast between Gabino’s and other people’s lives. There is something happening in their lives, while Gabino has way too much empty time at hand. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be a way out, either. There is talk about a new job, but nothing comes out of it.

It is not the first Pereda film I have seen. He uses the same actors and characters, and after a while I had the strong urge to watch his films back to back. I have the feeling that Pereda works in similar veins as Tsai Ming-liang did. He uses the same actor/character, and a new film means a new stage in character development. Of course, I could be wrong. But given that slow film directors often build on the same cast/crew combination, the idea is, in fact, not all too farfetched.

Perpetuum Mobile certainly isn’t Pereda’s strongest film. I find Summer of Goliath to be a stronger cinematic work. However, this may derive from Pereda’s different approach. In his later works, he tends to blur the line between fiction and fact. Interviews with characters exercise a remarkable strength on his work, which I have always found intriguing. But it seems to be a characteristic of his later works. Let’s see what the future brings. Perpetuum Mobile definitely belongs to Pereda’s more entertaining works. So do catch it, if you get the chance.

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