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  • Of Machines and Routines:Mundane Rhythms and Sounds in Whisky (2004) and Blue Eyelids (2007)
  • Tom Whittaker (bio)

It is the flattest and dullest moments that have in the end the most life.

Robert Bresson (qtd. in Butler 163)

The everyday escapes.

Maurice Blanchot (14)

the recent latin american films Whisky and Blue Eyelids (Párpados azules) examine the fine grain of everyday life. Made in Uruguay in 2004, Whisky was directed by Pablo Stoll and the late Juan Pablo Rebella, and Blue Eyelids was directed by Ernesto Contreras in Mexico in 2007. The films are strikingly similar in tone and theme: both are offbeat comedies in which minute gestures speak more eloquently than words and which share something of the visual austerity of Jim Jarmusch and the dour absurdity of Aki Kaurismäki. In their unrelenting focus on the mundane and dull, the films examine the overlooked and unnoticed surfaces of everyday life, a realm that George Perec has famously described as “background noise” (21) and the “infraordinary” (50). Indeed, the films’ characters spend their days commuting, working, waiting, and generally being bored, vividly bearing out Franco Moretti’s claim that “the great novelty of urban life . . . does not consist in having thrown people into the street, but in having them raked up and shut them into offices and houses” (127). Marked by formal patterns of habit, routine, and repetition, Whisky and Blue Eyelids illuminate the ways in which everyday life is, above all, a temporal medium. These patterns endow the films with a particular rhythmic shape, which is most clearly orchestrated through their distinctive use of sound design and mise-en-scène. And it is their rhythm, both sonic and visual, that I wish to explore further in this article. Rhythm illuminates the mundane musicality of everyday life: it throws into relief the place and sound of its taken-for-granted objects and the rituals and routines of its laboring bodies. If, as Rita Felski has written, the concept of everyday life is as elusive as it is taken for granted, and it “resists our understanding and escapes our grasp” (15), an exploration of rhythm can cast light on its manifold mysteries and expose its overlooked contours and textures. As this article ultimately shows, rhythm in film can expose the complex relationship between sound and image, the body and society, and the material and the human. In doing so, it demonstrates that rhythm can be a crucial, but most often neglected, interpretative framework for teasing out the meanings of film.

The Sonic Stuff of Everyday Life

Whisky and Blue Eyelids, set in the densely populated cities of Montevideo and Mexico City, respectively, were met with great critical acclaim on their release, and both films enjoyed widespread international distribution. Much of their narratives take place within the arena of unskilled work. In Whisky, the protagonists [End Page 35] Jacobo (Andrés Pazos) and his assistant Marta (Mirella Pascual) silently work in a down-at-the-heels sock factory; in Blue Eyelids, Marina (Cecilia Suárez) and Victor (Enrique Arreola) work in a uniform factory and the back office of a faceless insurance company. A palpable sense of loneliness pervades both films, and much of their delicate sadness and dark humor reside in the characters’ inability to communicate their feelings to one another. In Blue Eyelids, described by Contreras in a DVD-extra interview as an “anti-romantic comedy,” Marina wins a romantic holiday for two to Playa Salamandra but has no one to take with her. When she is approached by her old classmate Victor in a bar, she fails to recall who he is; nevertheless, she pretends to remember him soon after and invites him to share the holiday tickets with her. After the death of his mother, Whisky’s Jacobo receives an unexpected visit from his wealthy brother, Herman (Jorge Bolani), who now lives in Brazil. Embarrassed of his bachelor status, Jacobo asks his ever-faithful assistant Marta to pretend to be his wife. Herman invites them on a trip to the seaside resort of Piriápolis, where the facade begins to crumble as Marta begins to fall for Herman.

Both films marked a departure from...


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