„I wanted to film everything”, the Argentinian filmmaker Ignacio Ceroi recalls during an extended visit to his girlfriend in the southern French city of Toulouse at the end of 2019. But then he finds some footage in the used camera that he bought on eBay from a French pensioner. Ceroi is fascinated; it’s almost as if the material has chosen him. The diary-like narrative morphs into a new life, entering an alter ego.
Ceroi contacts the camera’s former owner and asks whether he can do something „cinema related” with the footage. More concretely, a playful imagining of another life. A man named Charles answers and says that he loves the cinema, agreeing to write up his memories of the videos and the experiences they captured. He also confesses that these might be somewhat blurred. A pleasant correspondence begins, providing the basis for the film’s screenplay. Off camera, Ceroi reads Charles’ letters about the footage and supplements it with his own reflections. He also adds his own footage of his stay in southern France.
The found footage is substantial and delightfully unspectacular: Charles can be seen barbecuing in his front garden or on a walk with his three dogs, Tití, Jamón and Queso. There’s his wife in the kitchen, his mother, family gatherings and the two colleagues of his small shipping company, which goes bankrupt, pushing his life in a different direction. Then there are Charles’ memories: of the initial difficulties after a long career as a factory worker at Airbus, the precarious economic situation of a pensioner, the growing alienation and silence in his marriage and of a family friend who found him a job as a driver at the French embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon. That’s where a whole new film begins.
Albeit terse and unadorned in tone, QUÉ SERÁ DEL VERANO (WHAT WILL SUMMER BRING) is intricate and expansive in its narrative movements. Elements of the home movie, found footage film and amateur cinema on the one hand and elements of the research-based essay film on the other combine to create a dual-track autobiography, in which is inscribed a slight doubt about the truth of the narrative. Unlike in „Recycled Cinema”, Ceroi is not interested in putting the found footage in context or taking it apart dismantling it to produce new configurations. Indeed, he comes across as very touched by the frankness and sincerity of the images. He forms a story „out of the raw material of his own undisguised being” (Vivian Gornick).
In Un amour de soi (1982), the French writer Serge Doubrovsky, who is credited with coining the phrase „autofiction”, writes: „Since I started transforming my life into sentences, I have found myself interesting. To the extent that I become a character in my novel, I can be enthusiastic about myself.” Ceroi, the narrator and protagonist of the frame story, also transforms Charles’ life into „sentences” and makes him interesting. He gives him a novelistic form, with Charles as the main character and first-person narrator.
Thus, QUÉ SERÁ DEL VERANO finds itself, within the flourishing field of „first person cinema“ of recent years, in the company of those films that directly conflate the authorial self with fiction. Instead of concealing the double position inherent in every autobiographical statement - that is, the fact that filmmakers are always at once authors and characters of their films – it is rendered productive by way of critical self-reflections, dramatizations and even moments that put into question whether the first person is a reliable source of the text.
In QUÉ SERÁ DEL VERANO devices of autofiction are subtly woven into the text-image montage, as, for example, when the two narrator-characters refer to each other in mirror images. Just as Ceroi declares at the beginning that he wants to film everything, Charles declares after his arrival in Cameroon that he wants to see everything: „I thought to myself, I'll watch everything I can.“ He has fully assumed the role of narrator.
In France, the Yellow Vest protests come to a head and Ceroi turns his camera to confrontations between demonstrators and police in the fog of tear gas. Meanwhile Charles – more and more – becomes an active participant observer of the political upheavals in Cameroon.
As the setting changes from France to Cameroon, the narrative material begins to swell. Charles, who once was a casual recorder of his domestic environment, becomes the documentary filmmaker of a world that is alien to him. His gaze, which is initially directed at the confusing hustle and bustle of the streets of Yaoundé (filmed mostly from within a car), combines the interest of a tourist with an almost ethnographic perspective. At first, his position as a white man from the former colonial power is an irritating blind spot. At evening receptions at the embassy or when a French evangelical priest sends his congregation into raptures, the camera is so close to its subjects and shows so little sense of self-awareness that the filmmaker wonders: „How come he can film so freely in a country which hates the French colonizers? How come he has the nerve? How come he films with such freedom in a country that hates the colonizing French? How come he is so boldly getting into those places being the only white man around? Isn’t that an evolved form of colonialism?” This question of how a white man positions himself in the post-colonial present extends well beyond the figure of Charles. It opens a space of resonance rather than demanding answers.
While in France, the Yellow Vest protests come to a head and Ceroi turns his camera to confrontations between demonstrators and police in the fog of tear gas. Meanwhile in the footage Charles – more and more – becomes an active participant observer of the political upheavals in Cameroon. He is increasingly worried about the threat of civil war between the separatists and government security forces. He also makes the acquaintance of a woman who tours southern Cameroon giving talks about nature and personal growth.
Charles not only begins to film her lectures but also goes deep into the jungle to search for her son who has joined a militia, leading him to ask himself if he hasn’t become a „pathetic and fat Indiana Jones”. When he suddenly breaks off the correspondence after his adventure, he in turn disappears from the film.
Narratives flow into one another
How exactly QUÉ SERÁ DEL VERANO relates to the „game with the imagination of another life” that Ceroi announced at the beginning of the film remains intentionally ambivalent. The film’s two narratives are in constant communication with one another, and their borders are porous. In fact, more than grabbing this unknown man’s life with an obvious gesture of appropriation, the film slides into it. The shared camera and the sharing of images join the two characters and their narratives together as if with a thread. The two narrative flow into one another visually too. At some point, one has the feeling that Ceroi is making Charles' aesthetic his own, literally appropriating the alien material. His style, or rather the seemingly complete absence of style, is also a major factor as to why the effect is so difficult to describe. No-one has made any effort here to shoot attractive home-movie scenes; the camera often appears to have been left and forgotten, the perspectives are sometimes skewed. The carelessness, with which Charles simply sold the camera without deleting the material is also palpable in the images, while at the same time they speak of interest and empathy – and a slight melancholy. The lingering effect of Charles’ gaze remains ghostly in his absence. At the end, Ceroi films a cat, just like Charles repeatedly filmed his dogs. He literally becomes a ghost-writer.
Esther Buss lives in Berlin and works as a film critic.
Translation: Anne Thomas