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The Autumn of the Ceibo Tree

About this film

Nothing remains. Everything around us is temporary. Time, just like the calm waves of the sea which gradually, almost invisibly grind our beaches and coasts, renders our existence transitory. The Ceibo tree, which had played an essential role in Mayan culture, is the protagonist of Alejandro Mouján's short film from 2016, in which the director observes the passing of time, this transitory state that is so precious, and yet goes almost unnoticed. The Ceibo tree, a beautiful natural creation, becomes a symbol, a mirror of ourselves. Weathering the storm, facing perpetual change, it resists death, and therefore its return to the elements. Infused with personal notes of the director, written in a diary that we see in several close-ups, Alejandro Mouján creates an intimate portrait of time and space, of the ordinariness that surrounds us, which is so precious and so fragile at the same time.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
Aléjandro, welcome to tao films. I think before we speak about the film itself, it would be nice to speak about the protagonist of your film; the Ceibo tree. It’s not just any tree, but had been part of ancient Mayan culture, for example. Can you tell us more of the tree’s cultural importance and its mythical presence?

The Ceibo is a tree very typical of Argentina and the region. Its flower is the national flower of Argentina and Uruguay. The trunk of ceibo, if hollowed out, is used among other things to make a fundamental instrument of Argentine folklore called bombo, a kind of drum. The tree grows on the banks of rivers.

Your film is quiet, almost meditative. There is no dialogue, which disrupts the calm. On the contrary, it seems as though the film follows the soothing waves of water. How has this film developed? Have you planned it as a meditative piece, or did it turn into one once you began filming?

I am a lover of the coast of the Rio de la Plata river. I go there frequently, and with some friends we have a little house close by. I started filming a personal diary of this place during periodic visits. As a filmmaker, I always carry a camera and a notebook with me, without them I do not feel complete. At least a small notebook and a pencil I should always have, even if I go to a vigil or if I do the shopping. Once I went to shoot at the coast, and when I returned to my house I felt the need to write something about this tree, its resistance to being taken by the river and I also needed to draw it. I think that the film was born at that moment.

It is not only the absence of a voice-over, of a dialogue, which renders the film peaceful and quiet. Your frames have been emptied of distracting colour. A soft grayscale defines your frames. Have you shot the film in grayscale, or is this the result of the post-production process?

It was decided in the post-production process. I think it has to do with the black-and-white of the drawing and the writing, it is in that tone. I really like black-and-white photography, and more so in the meditative tone that the film finally has.

“…the river incorporates it, it slowly takes it away.” - These are words in a notebook, which you show in close-ups. Your camera shifts across the pages. You don’t allow us more than brief glances of those words, perhaps a poem, perhaps simply a description of a tree in its natural surrounding. But what those words make clear is what is called Vergänglichkeit in German. Nothing ever remains, everything passes.

Yeah that's right, I'll remember that word Vergänglichkeit. It is also the intention of taking the text not only as a text itself but as an image, the stroke of the pencil, the texture of the paper, how the light plays on the elements.

The Autumn of the Ceibo Tree is an observation. It’s a contemplative film that seeks to uncover something, I believe. How would you yourself describe the film. Would you say that it’s a document? An essay? Could one even say that it was a look into the future, with its focus on the passing of things?

It seeks to record the passage of time, signs of the passage of time, running water, light on paper, the curtain that moves very slightly by the wind, the tree that will finally be carried away by the river but that also resists. I also like to think that from the first take of the stream that flows into the river, there are signs that the light inscribes in the water, signs in the branches of the tree, in the sand, in the paper.

You are the first director from Argentina on board the tao boat, and I’m very happy about this. I’d like to invite you to tell us a bit about the situation of cinema in Argentina, especially of arthouse cinema. Is it a flourishing and supported genre?

It's an honour to be the first to get on your boat, I'm glad you chose my work. The situation of cinema is going through a critical moment despite the fact that many films are produced. Our cinema does not work without public support and that support has been gradually withdrawn in the last three years. It is the filmmakers who keep the cinema alive, there is a lot of auteur cinema.

The new year is almost there, so the question begs: what are your plans for 2019?

I have been working for a long time on a new documentary project. I hope 2019 is the year for this feature film. It takes place in a small rural town and it's about someone I met and about whom I have a lot of footage filmed and who died in a fight.

Thank you very much for this interview.