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Spain, 2012, 84 Minute Running Time
Program: DocumentaryLanguage: Spanish English Subtitles
DIRECTOR: Oskar Alegria
Screenwriter: Oskar Alegria
An endlessly enchanting experimental documentary that above all submits to the surreal operations of chance, The Search for Emak Bakia seeks an answer to the origins of Man Ray’s mysterious Basque-language film title, Emak-Bakia. In the spirit of Ray’s astonishing art of the unconscious, filmmaker Oskar Alegria gleefully pursues diversion after diversion as his camera circuitously explores the narrow, seaside streets of Biarritz and its southwestern Basque Country environs: a clown’s grandiose grave marker, an eccentrically named vintage clothier, and a hard-to-decipher postcard all provide opportunities for narrative and geographical detours.
With Alegria finding an answer to his initial inquiry around the 45-minute mark—it is at this extremely unconventional juncture that the film’s opening credits finally roll—attention shifts to yet another extraordinary discovery of the filmmaker’s roundabout search: a real-life Romanian princess (and former table tennis champion!) with an intimate knowledge of Emak-Bakia’s true namesake. Later episodes in this delectably odd and anomalous documentary include a casting-call for eyelid models (in an effort to re-create a scene from the original, in immodest split-screen) and the figurative resurrection of a dead entertainer.
The Search for Emak Bakia is an act of exhumation: of the forgotten meanings of an all-but-dead Basque language and the even more obscure private histories that Alegria’s digressive approach manages to uncover. It is also a surprisingly easy pleasure, despite its superficially esoteric subject and its avant-garde embellishments. The Search for Emak Bakia is one of this year’s real finds.
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