Navajazo, debut film of the Tijuana-born filmmaker Ricardo Silva, is a documentary that is located in a doubly liminal ethical position. On the one hand, at the methodological level, the junction between documentary registration and fictitious parameters can reveal (with ethically ambiguous results) power relations between the documentarian and his informants-characters, as well as the precarious and necropolitical context where they develop. On the other hand, at the formal level, the openly provocative narrative told through a fragmented montage and a disjointed mise-en-scène sabotage (with ethically debatable consequences) the identification between the viewer and the film situation, showing the antagonism between the apocalyptic outlook we are shown and the accomplice comfort of the spectatorial gaze. We will review this double ethical status of the film as a means to develop theoretically two concepts that the director and the film offer us: the ethnoficction and the slash («navajazo»).
Documentary ethics, filmic enunciation, spectatorial gaze, ethnofiction, slash.
Navajazo, ópera prima del realizador tijuanense Ricardo Silva, es un documental que se ubica en una posición ética doblemente liminal. Por un lado, en el plano metodológico, su cruce entre el registro documental y los parámetros ficticios permite revelar (aunque con resultados éticamente ambiguos) las relaciones de poder entre el documentalista y sus informantes-personajes, así como el contexto precario y necropolítico en el que se inscriben. Por otro lado, en el plano formal, la narración abiertamente provocadora que se cuenta a través de un montaje fragmentado y una puesta en escena desarticulada consigue sabotear (aunque con consecuencias éticamente debatibles) la identificación entre el espectador y la situación fílmica, evidenciando el antagonismo entre el panorama apocalíptico que se nos muestra y la comodidad cómplice de la mirada espectatorial. Revisaremos esta doble condición ética de la película como medio para desarrollar teóricamente dos conceptos que el realizador y la película nos proponen: la etnoficción y el navajazo.
Ética documental, enunciación fílmica, mirada espectatorial, etnoficción, navajazo.
The ethical dimension of film, be it fiction or documentary, always encompasses a subjective double perspective in relation to the narrated world. From where filmic enunciation takes place, or where the spectators gaze occurs, are fundamental questions for defining the ethical boundaries of film’s discourse, on the one hand, or the ethical boundaries of the critic’s interpretation, on the other hand.
Navajazo (Mexico-France, 2013) is Ricardo Silva’s debut feature film. Its virtue lies in that he makes no effort to conceal the ambiguities of his potential ethical stances. Silva even has his own vocabulary for referring to this double ethical dimension in his film: ethnofiction and the slash («navajazo»).
Ethnofiction (a type of hybrid between documentary and fictional artifice) causes problems for the place of truth in documentary enunciation. While navajazo (the distance between the voices that feature in the film and the spectator) is problematic with regards to the site of identification in the spectators gaze. The proposed aim of this essay is to both theorize and contextualise this double ethical condition in the film. One methodical, the other formal.
The ethnofiction: The enunciation and the place of truth
Navajazo advertises itself as a «revelation imagined through the portraits of characters trying to survive in a hostile environment». Via a discontinuous montage, this footage documenting the subaltern methods of survival employed along Tijuana’s border sketches out a panorama of systematic vulnerability.
In other words, if the dominant condition is apocalyptic (as the film «imagines») it is not due to an unfortunate combination of factors, nor because of an End of History gone wrong, but rather as a logical consequence of the contemporary political-economic system. Navajazo allows us to comprehend this interweaved situation, the relationship between the subjects and their circumstances, between the «characters» and their «hostile environment».
Several of the characters are Mexicans who have been incarcerated in the United States and (under migratory policies) exiled following a budget cut in this countries penal system along the Tijuana border (this is the case for Sally and Happy Face, for example). There is also a settlement of migrants that, although they weren’t incarcerated, have been deported after living in the United States for years for different reasons. Now they survive in the Tijuana River canal, just metres from the border (take the old drug addict and his dancer partner for example).
Furthermore, there’s the sick man with swollen legs who seems to be waiting, to no avail, for the Mexican health system to sympathize with his condition. Or the migrant who dreams of becoming rich and famous through his music. We also encounter El Honduras, who makes his living in Tijuana from Honduran migration to the United States. Or the North American woman, who leaves her country to sell her body as merchandise in Tijuana’s red light district.
At the root of these stories, Foucault would say, lies biopower: that complex modern apparatus made up of technologies and practices that discipline the individual body and regulates the social bodyii. That is to say, through these characters a transnational system of body control and management of population migrations is revealed (at the same time, economically motivated by their marginalization and socially marginalized by deportation).
Expanding on Foucalt’s theoretical legacy, Achille Mbembe has denominated the hidden face of biopower that produces instability and controls death, necropoliticsiii. For Navajazo, necropolitics represents the «wolves that lock the sheep away» or a «father who devours his children»; to whom Silva metaphorically alludes to at the end of the film. Nevertheless, Silva not only makes a record of this social harassment or this political banquet, but also (and perhaps mainly) of the practices that breed necropolitics in day to day life or as a means of survival.
There’s El Honduras; who with his face covered by with a balaclava, implicitly admits having killed as part of his job when he’s asked about it. He limits his response to: «We all make mistakes». Or, to a certain degree we could refer to the violent clash (analysed later on) between Sally and his friend el Chapo with the sole purpose of winning a bet. It’s as Sally’s wife says after the fight is over: «The brawlsreally last a while and there are times when the situation gets violent and ends up being fatal». This omnipresent reference to the death and violence in these individuals is exhibited in the same way as in the B movies montage inserted in the middle of the film.
In short, this necropolitcal management of precariousness and death (whether tolerated or adopted as a means of survival) defines a good amount of the tense atmospheres and ethical dilemmas produced by the film.
Nonetheless, the most peculiar ethical dilemma Navajazo raises is not in the relationship between the characters and their hostile environment (although Silva’s approach is interesting, it is a recurring pattern in documentary cinema), but instead (to explain using Foucault’s words) lies in the relationship between the order of discourse and its production of truth.
Navajazo highlights the artificial techniques employed in documentary discourse. For example, it doesn’t explicitly distinguish between actors and informants, nor between fictitious scenes taken from other films and fictitious scenes filmed for the documentary. Silva positions his subjects during filming, inserts fake credits from a non-existent film in the middle of the documentary, etcetera. He calls ethnofiction this discursive production that emerges from the cross between ethnographic register and fictional artifice.
Nevertheless, ethnofiction shouldn’t be interpreted as cynical technique used to discredit the documentary as fake a priori, but rather as a methodology that aims to expand the possibilities of documentary film. Ethnofiction doesn’t use artificial parameters in order to deconstruct any possible comprehension, but instead to elicit an unexpected interpretation of the situation.
The most illustrative example in Navajazo of this methodological proposal is the casting for the porn movie. A North American actor hired by Silva introduces himself as a pornographic film maker (without the spectator knowing he is an actor). Separately, he interviews a North American prostitute and a Mexican couple. He enthusiastically shares his idea with them of shooting pornography that will exhibit sex as the most authentic and profound expression of love, rather than a staged performance. On his supposed search for genuinely in love couples, the fake pornographer invites the prostitute, along with her boyfriend, and the couple to take part.
The interview with the North American prostitute outlines both her personal and love life, the dark context of her sexual exploitation, her role in the lowly world of prostitution and the network of unequal power relationships in which she operates. Later she upholds that she is genuinely in love with her boyfriend and, when he arrives, they agree to take part in the movie.
The interview with the Mexican couple reveals other problems. The man declines the offer since he received oral sex from his girlfriend before the casting and has already ejaculated. However, the woman accepts and brings a stranger off of the street to replace her boyfriend in the movie. Although her boyfriend doesn’t object, the pornographer refuses to continue, as the improvised couple contradicts his vision of sex being presented as an expression of genuine love. Nevertheless, the movie goes ahead even without him, capturing it all: the sex, the drugs, the gazes, the dialogues, and the unsettling atmosphere.
The pretence of casting for porn as a jump off point for ethnofiction created its own ethnographic reality to be documented and explored. The prostitute’s life story is as much a discursive product of this methodology as the argument about the improvised couple for the movie. The reality to be captured by the documentary is not located in the problem that is enunciated (as generally appears in documentary film) but rather it stems from the relationship between the thing enunciated and the form of enunciation. In this respect, ethnofiction brings to mind on the famous joke analysed by Freud in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious.
Two Jews meet in a railway carriage at a station in Galicia. «Where are you going?», asks one. «To Cracow», replied the other. «What a liar you are! —objects the first— If you say you’re going to Cracow, you want me to believe you’re going to Lemberg. But I know that in fact you’re going to Cracow. So why are you lying to me? ».iv
The genius of the joke is that it reveals that the truth is not in what has been enunciated, but in the relationship between the enunciated and the context of its enunciation. If the Jewish man that heard the answer («To Cracow») had not understood this relation, he wouldn’t have been able to understand that «the other man lies when he tells the truth and tells the truth by means of a lie»v. This quote from Freud could be used to describe ethnofiction in the same way: Navajazo lies when it shows a casting for a porn movie as truthful, and shows true conflicts through a fake porn casting.
The ethical implications of either party failing to understand this juxtaposition are two-fold. On the one hand, the spectator who doesn’t see the lie within the truth will interpret the enunciated situation in a completely different way to somebody who understands the context of the enunciation (this being ethnofiction’s proposed methodology). On the other hand, those interviewed by the phony pornographer (to use the example cited) agree to be filmed whilst they converse, take drugs or have sex believing that they are in a real-life porn casting (and not a documentary).
This last ethical dilemma is the most sensitive. If the filmmakers hide information from their informants, or pay them for sharing their accounts or carrying our actions (from taking hard drugs to indulging in sexual relations or fighting in the street), then the differences between documentary and exploitation filmare blurred.
There is a scene near the middle of the film that is relevant in this respect. Sally, one of the «characters» in Navajazo, has to organize a street fight (whether or not commissioned for the film it is not known)and convinces his friend el Chapo to fight for twenty dollars. Even though Sally mentioned earlier that his days of «brawling in the street» are over, Sally’s wife ignores this and asks him: «So, what? You’re going to fight el Chapo?» Sally says he won’t fight, that el Chapo will get one of «his people», but his wife persists: «But the fight’s going down now, right? Right now. Who are you gonna fight?», she asks. Sally, perhaps feeling pressurized by his wife’s insistence slaps el Chapo across the face and says: «With me, Chapo. Whaddya say?» El Chapo, although hesitant to begin with, accepts the challenge. The fight begins and the film captures the entire thing in a long take until it comes to an end three minutes later with a handshake.
The scene is ethically complex. On the one hand, if the organization of the fight was conceived and financed by the producers of the film, one may ask themselves to what degree does Navajazo collaborate with its informants and to what extent does it commercialize their misery. On the other hand, if it was not planned that Sally would fight, one might ask to what extent was Sally’s decision to fight in the end his own free will and to what degree was he influenced by the camera (as well as his wife’s indirect insistence).
When his methodology is questioned during public appearances or interviews, Ricardo Silva often calls to mind an occasion on which a junkie he was filming injecting drugs passes out in front of the camera. Silva and his photography director stopped filming and checked if he had suffered an overdose. So the junkie opens his eyes and, surprised at their reaction, demands to know why Silva shut off the camera. «What, didn’t you wanna film this?», he asks. For Silva this gesture reflects the junkie’s position of power, and argues that the risk of an overdose or any other sort of problem related to filming, although asymmetrically, are ran by both: the junkie could die, Silva could go to prison.
In the same vein, Silva also recalls a first failed attempt at the pornographic casting in a hotel room. During an interview he commented on the scene: «Everything was ready for the session, but one of our interviewees had a large amount of crystal meth in her bag. The situation culminated in a little raid in which we were incarcerated and made to pay heavy fines». He concludes: «If we are responsible for what goes on whilst we’re there: an overdose, and everything that goes with it…We have to be prepared»vi.
Looking beyond whether or not we agree with Silva’s reasoning, these ethical parameters between the filmmaker’s potential exploitation of his informants, and their capacity for agency are ever present in ethnofiction. However one could also argue that this dialectic is employed in practically all documentary cinema.
On the one hand, the documentary extracts the surplus value from the enunciated (accounts, information and images, either created or captured by the film). Whether to a greater or lesser extent, all documentary cinema is exploitation cinema: it takes the information it can use to serve its own purpose, profits from it, and disposes of the remains. It is in this respect that the stance Navajazo takes, in paying its informants and concealing from them the true intention for recording the material, becomes debateable to say the least.
On the other hand, the accounts, information and images tell us more than the documentary is able to encapsulate. In all documentary cinema, to a greater or lesser extent, the enunciated always exceeds the enunciation. Silva insists on the informant’s capacity for agency when he points out that ethnofiction «stems from being tired of seeing how the subjects of a documentary are being treated (whether they’re socially marginalised people or an ethnic group in the middle of the Amazon): like noble savages, in the name of a supposed impartiality. They are treated like the mentally retarded»vii.
Hence, ethnofiction explicitly details the dialectic between the exploitation of the subject of the enunciation (the documentary maker), and the agency of the subject of the enunciated (the informant). A dialectic that generally remains implicit in documentary cinema. In other words, his methodology consists of making the inherent ethical contradictions of documentary form obvious. Ethnofiction (for better or for worse, for good or for evil, or maybe in a Nietzschean beyond), is the struggle between ethical standpoints within the system of production in documentary film.
The slash: The gaze and the role of identification
Borders, of course, carry spatial significance, but they are also temporal. In contrast to border cinema in general, it is this second element that interests Ricardo Silva. In Navajazo, the border is a metaphor for the characters temporary crossings, a metaphor that allows him to understand the shift between stability and uncertainty, belonging and alienation.
In a context of systematic vulnerability and marginalisation, each of the characters that we meet along the way drift between a troubled past, a displaced present and a blurry future. An internal border cuts across them: the endoborder between presence and absence, between the self and its demons, between the (inevitable) up-rooting and the (unattainable) re-rooting. This border is mostly temporal, a direct product of the hostile environment of the characters. The present coexists with the past-present, as well as with the future-present: Sally’s dream of returning to his village and «to see everything differently»; the apparition of the Virgin during a crystal meth user’s childhood; a deceased lady who speaks through her husband’s ex-centric toycollection (toys that at the same time look like a heap of ghosts from past media); the satanic singer who announces a new era following the end of religion and hypocrisy; or the past in the United States that insists on (re)appearing as a nostalgic memory, a feat to boast about, a memory to erase.
Navajazo manifests the same confusion as Hamlet, when after seeing his father’s ghost he complains: «The time is out of joint». Time is out of joint in Navajazo. Moreover, as Derrida notes, the «time» Hamlet refers to is also history, it is also worldviii. The world is out of joint, and its disjuncture is demonstrated by the presence/absence of spectral time. The spectre’s condition is the «out of joint».
Navajazo is the staging of this disjointed world, it is a journey into that twisted time. Its character’s subjective experiences overlap; and defining where one ends and another begins is more often than not a difficult task. The subjective position of its characters is shown in such a twisted light, that it is as if the song by Albert Pla, featured in the soundtrack, is speaking on behalf of each of them, saying: «If a ghost came along, poor him. He’d crap his pants from the fright that I’d give him».
Sally’s situation is particularly illustrative of this subjective imbalance. Sally now lives in Los Laureles, a marginal, semi-urbanised Tijuana neighbourhood. He has a wife and a daughter who he takes to elementary school. Despite his problems with addiction he endeavours to function within his situation. As a drug addict, his circumstances manifest as a splitting of personalities, one current and present, the other virtual and at the same time present and absent, in other words phantasmatic. For example, when he asserts that without drugs he is somebody else, somebody who (re)appears and he doesn’t recognise. «I don’t know the other guy that doesn’t get high», he says. «That guys scares me»ix.
On the other hand this disjuncture of time disrupts the filmic montage itself. That is how, for example, due to a rundown of B movies starring one of the characters, the aforementioned facade of final credits from a hypothetical film titled Crack Whore Confessions appear in the middle of the montage.
It could be said that Navajazo has fallen heir to the concept theorized by Deleuze, of time-image. Time-image is «the ghost that forever haunts cinema», and that took shape with the montages of modern cinema where «time loses its bearings, showing the pure form»x. Time-image encompasses a montage in which «time is no longer subordinate to movement, but movement is subordinate to time»xi. In this respect, Navajazo cares less about the linking of time-images, than the pure immanence in the montage of a time that has lost its bearings.
It is for this reason that Navajazo sets a representation of a representation. Think back to when El Honduras, repeatedly loads the cartridge into his handgun at the cameraman’s request, or when he goes back to close the door he left open by mistake. Also when the cameraman asks the Honduran singer to come back into the shot, this time a different way. Or perhaps the most memorable of all, is the B movie-style scene produced by Navajazo in which the main featuring couple make love in a rain shower that breaks out suddenly, under a sheltered parking lot! It is in this hall of mirrors where the film shows the spectropoetic condition of its time-image in a clearer light. Navajazo,like mass media in general, and particularly cinema, spectralizesxii.
In general, the film accounts for this mismatch both of the characters and the filming techniques as a consequence of the apocalypse. Navajazo’s opening words are: «No one thought that the end of the world would be like this». The inference being the apocalypse has already occurred. It started as a headache, and progressed to coughing up blood. They wanted to ignore it, resorting to meaningless conversation. However, according to the film, the cancer (a metaphor for this apocalyptic condition) was by this time unavoidable.
So what should be understood by this metaphorical «end of the world»? Silva insists that the religious references (not just to the apocalypse but also references to God, Lucifer, ghosts and the light) are not merely metaphors: «They are direct allusions from which arise a deep sense of deception brought about by the paternalistic idea of a god who promised to care for, love and guide his children», he says in a personal interview. «It is the cry of a bunch of orphans who have realised that there father is an irresponsible drug-addict»xiii.
This epiphany is the essence of the apocalyptical condition Navajazo alludes to. In Christian eschatology the word «apocalypse» means «to reveal», literally to «dis-cover». Nonetheless, the North American philosopher Evan Calder Williams, distancing himself from this definition, offers another interesting interpretation when he states that «apocalypse is not the clarification itself [«a dis-covering»] but a wound of the present that exposes the unseen — but unhidden — from which after-work can begin to dig out all the failed starts, possible histories»xiv.
This wound or, more correctly, this «slash» (or «navajazo») goes unnoticed by society because it manifests as a scab rather than as a scar. A scar implies a wound which has healed, but a scab is «a wound of the present» (to use Williams’ term). The problem is that there is no society without a slash. In other words, there is no society without an unrelenting conflict of interests —because of class, gender, race and other power relationships. «The slash», Silva says in an interview, «is the wound that never heals, and which has no possibility of ever healing. Maybe it could heal, if only we could desist from constantly picking at it»xv.
If there is something that has to be learned from Marx is that history is a class struggle. It is the ever-present wounds of this struggle, never healed, never scarred over, to which this film refers. Society manifests them as scabs, the film peels them away. «All the characters have been wounded in some way —recalls Silva— and the simple fact that they survive and they continue to fight gives you an idea that they have a lot of cuts. All that my camera does is bring back the memory of those cuts. In other words, I pick the scabs so they bleed more»xvi. This critical gesture of the film (in the sense of «criticism», but also of «crisis») is the opening scene of the apocalypse he presents us with.
On the other hand, the metaphor of the scab being peeled away could also refer, paraphrasing Freud, to the «film-work». According to (Lacanian inspired) psychoanalytic film theory, cinema can create the impression that the spectator is immersed, without an intermediary, in the imaginary world being presented to them. This is achieved when the film is presented before the spectators gaze without any gaps. Any reality outside of the film’s imaginary plenitude is inconceivable. Film theory calls «suture» this technique of «stitching» film and the spectators gaze together without any kind of mediation. The North American theorist Robert Stam explains it better. Starting with the possibility of a suture he states:
the image on the screen invites the spectator into an imaginary plenitude, reminiscent of the early childhood experience of looking in the mirror. This satisfaction is immediately ruined however, by the realization that an off-screen space exists, this realization […] causes anxiety. The anxiety is relieved by construction of the counter-shot, which in «response» to the feeling of absence evoked by the empty space […],«sutures» the spectator to the original experience of imaginary satisfaction. […] In any cinematic construction, there is always an invisible discursive agency. In a film «somebody who is looking» is always the representation of somebody who is looking.xvii
Within the documentary genre, the suture technique has a longstanding historical presence due to its ability to evoke an illusionary sense of objectivity, as the discursive agency that produces the representation (the subject of the enunciation) remains invisible, behind the «suture», outside the field of vision and of the discourse. Navajazo takes a critical position with regard to this technique. Using the proposed methodology of ethnofiction (as described in detail above) the image being represented is understood both as a footage documenting true events and an artifice.
This hybrid approach becomes apparent when the film breaks the illusion of the «suture». The clearest example of this is in the fellatio scene involving two junkies. The scene is set in a «ñongo», the name given to the precariously built shacks alongside the Tijuana river canal. Both have been using heroin, the man, by injection; the woman, by smoking it. In this scene the woman has her back to the camera; so the camera man reaches out his hand to gently push her to one side in order to make the image more explicit. This «out-of-field» that Stam was talking about, which cancels the imaginary plenitude of the representation, becomes evident. The films «suture» is sabotaged, or to use Silva’s term, the scab which closes the world being shown, is ripped off.
The same thing happens in the scene shot in the city’s red-light district when the guy being interviewed claps his hands to synchronise the soundtrack with the image, and again when the sound boom equipment, camera man or his silhouette are shown onscreen. This strategy is one of the film’s most radical acts of provocation, as it shakes the very foundations of the site of the spectators: the gaze. Navajazo seeks to sever identification with the characters presented to us in cinema via the gaze using the out of field (among others techniques which will be discussed further on).
But let’s backtrack to the apocalypse, for an unanswered question remains. Certainly the apocalypse leaves the social wound wide open, but then, what follows? Or, to put it another way, what is post-apocalyptic condition? Once again, Williams offers us a clue: «You aren’t post-apocalyptic because the apocalypse happened […].You become post-apocalyptic when you learn to do something better, or at least more morbidly fun, with the apocalyptic remains of the day»xviii.
In this respect, if anyone is post-apocalyptic in the film, it is obviously Balthazar Hernandez, better known as El Muertho de Tijuana, an elderly satanic singer of who always dresses in black and paints his face white. He performs in Tijuana’s public spaces, and backed by the pre-programmed beats on his key-board, he sings ballads about sexual permissiveness, demonic possession, among other things. For El Muertho, society is entering a new age and the new age requires the establishment of new ethical premises. To that end, modesty apart, he announces the «New Commandments of Tijuana for the world of 2012» (or whatever is the present year) where ever he goes. Commandments of course of his own making, not written on two stones brought down from the mountain, but on a white-board with a black marker pen (just in case he needs to make any corrections). His role thus contrasts with that of the pastor who at the start of the film preaches the word of God to the deported people living in the Tijuana River canal. For El Muertho: «This is the end of the world, yes. But not literally, rather it is the end of the hypocritical world». In other words, it is a partial apocalypse which leaves room for a post-apocalyptic possibility.
Thus the apocalyptic condition of the disarticulated, «out of joint» world leaves open the possibility that it can be put right. This, for example, is the intention of the pornographer from the casting who with his «new style» seeks to reconnect sex with love, with sex being «the highest possible expression» of love. The «out of joint» heralds and makes possible the spectres final redemption, as Derrida indicates.
The post-apocalyptic possibility points towards this sublimation, this aufheben. But just as there is no aufheben without a previous dialectical process to sublate, there is no post-apocalypse without an apocalyptic conflict which must be resolved. Thus the post-apocalypse consists also of identifying the enemy in the conflict in an apocalyptic context; in which «[t]he very category of enemy is rendered diffuse, reduced to the bad smell of fear stinking up the place»xix. It is as the translation of the foreign voice at the beginning of the film reads. For Navajazo, the bad smell is clearly that of the old social wound which won’t heal, of an infected slash, of coughed-up blood. The post-apocalyptic challenge then, is to identify the cause of this wound. In other words «to reveal the true hidden-in-plain-view, namely, the deep, permanent antagonisms on which capitalism runs and the untenability of that system’s capacity to still run»xx.
Navajazo assumes this post-apocalyptic position through the voices it both presents us with, and represents. These are disturbing individuals, spectral, who before even seeing us gaze right at us. This is why the strange pseudo-voice (a combination of noises, guttural sounds and breathing) which says to us (according to the translated subtitles): «Here we are, before you. Full of rage». This voice, Silva explains when he is asked about it, represents «all those who appear in the film and their individual way of expressing that they will always be there, migrants, drug addicts, thieves, orphans, prostitutes… They are amongst those voices»xxi. This voice is not, strictly speaking, the subaltern voice theorized by Spivak but it does have its place in enunciation. «We wanted to find a voice which unified everybody, to show that the call for justice is eternal, as is the class struggle»xxii, he explains. In this case, it is a provocative voice which confronts the viewer and spits in their face: «And while the phlegm dribbles slowly down your face, we hold your gaze. We dare you to romance us again».
In that division between a we and a you, the conflict unfolds and alliances and enmities are established. In this boycott of identification, the spectator is directly alluded to as an antagonistic figure. Even though Albert Pla’s lullaby later makes ironic reference to this multiplicity of subalterns like Snow White, Tom Thumb, the Three Little Pigs, Snoopy the dog, Ali Baba or Gulliver, the apocalyptic conflict is still present. The slash is open and spectators are put on the spot so they are able to see their own hand holding the bloody knife, making them to acknowledge their part in this conflict.
Ethical boundries: Navajazo and the double stake
Navajazo is a double ethical bet. Its methodological and formal mechanisms (the ethnoficcion and the slash respectively) are subordinate to it. Ethnofiction readjusts the documentary-makers place of enunciation in front of his informants because it aims for an unexpected truth, whereas the slash calls into question the place of the spectators gaze with regard to the film because it is aiming for an antagonistic identity.
It is hard to know whether the film wins or loses its ethical bets. The implications of both the un-expected truth as well as the antagonistic identity, are in themselves ethically contradictory. Ethnofiction critically explores the necropolitical panorama in which the informants are surviving, but at the same time it uses this panorama to generate the unexpected events it seeks to document. The slash shows the social scabs of a hostile apocalyptic environment with pathos, but it also confronts the empathetic gaze of the spectator as a mere commiseration of the enemy.
What is true is that the Navajazo presents problems concerning the ethical boundaries of both the film maker and spectator. The ethnofiction and the slash allude to the position of power which the subject of the enunciation and the subject of the gaze feel in relation to the subjects of the enunciated and the subjects being gazed at (informants and subalterns respectively). Both concepts suggest, moreover, that this position of power is implicit in documentary format itself. Navajazo, therefore, is not an anti-documentary film, but a work of cinematography which makes the contradictions of its own documentary techniques explicit.
Alfredo González Reynoso
Translation to English: Leopoldo Tobías Brown
iThis article was originally published in the book of the author about border art Choques, rupturas, espectros. Avatares de la frontera en el arte tijuanense, Instituto de Cultura de Baja California, Mexico, 2014, pp. 39-57.
iiCfr. Michel Foucault, Defender la sociedad. Curso en el Collège de France (1975-1976), Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico, 2012.
iiiAchile Mbembe, Necropolítica, seguido deSobre el gobierno privado indirecto, Melusina, Spain, 2011.
ivSigmund Freud, El chiste y su relación con lo inconsciente, Amorrortu, Argentina, 1991, p. 108.
viRicardo Silva in interview, in Alfredo González Reynoso, «‘Navajazo’, documentiras desde la frontera», Vice, México, November 5, 2013, http://www.vice.com/es_mx/read/navajazo-documentiras-desde-la-frontera (consulted on December 23, 2016).
viiiJacques Derrida, Espectros de Marx. El Estado de la deuda, el trabajo de duelo y la nueva Internacional, Trotta, Spain, 2012, p. 32.
ixIn his case, the frustrating process of re-rooting predominantly manifests itself in the relationship he has with his daughter. It is in her that he sees an opportunity to fix his identity, to find secure ground for subjective sedentarization. This opportunity seeks to capitalize her by way of enculturation. «Do you know what zapateo is?», he asks her; then he plays the girls toy xylophone. He can’t get the tune right so he stops playing to dance. Nevertheless the girl prefers to continue playing with the xylophone. «But, look at me!», he protests in a jokey tone. Following the apparent failure to enculturate her, as a desperate measure, he decides to take roots not by means of enculturation but rather emotional blackmail. So Sally asks his daughter if she prefers him or the «other Sally»: «Because, what if you get to know the other one and you don’t like him. What if he’s grumpy and mean», he warns her. The girl responds: «No, I love you», and the father gives her a loving hug.
xGilles Deleuze, La imagen-tiempo. Estudios sobre cine 2, Paidós, Spain, 1987, pp. 64 and 360.
xiOp cit, p. 360.
xiiDerrida, op, cit, pp. 59 and 64.
xiiiRicardo Silva in interview, in González Reynoso, op. cit.
xivEvan Calder Williams, Combined and uneven apocalypse, Zero Books, United States, 2011, p. 6 (our emphasis).
xvRicardo Silva in interview, in González Reynoso, op. cit.
xviiRobert Stam et al., Nuevos conceptos de la teoría de cine. Estructuralismo, semiótica, narratología, psicoanálisis, intertextualidad, Paidós, Spain, 1999, p. 196.
xviiiWilliams, op. cit, pp. 47-48.
xixWilliams, op. cit., p. 55.
xxIbid., p. 56.
xxiRicardo Silva in interview, in González Reynoso, op. cit.