Staggering narration

Jens Haaning

In a fascinating and complex way, Bamboleho balances between a surrealistic, associative kind of narrative and a more realistic, coherent storyline. Because the film constantly moves on the edge of logic and coherence, the viewer is left with at least one significant gap, concerning the narrative's causality as well as its temporality. The gap which the viewer has to bridge in order to reconstruct the main character Migue's story occurs in the second chase scene on the roof: does Migue make the jump to the other rooftop or does he fall down to his death? In other words, which of the two jump scenes is real and which is imaginary? Or are we actually supposed to see them as two different events in the story, equally real? An attempt to answer these questions requires a more thorough analysis of the narrative structure to see if the sjuzet and style form some kind of pattern that can explain what actually happens.

Reality and illusion
The sjuzet seems to be based on a figure that can be described as the constant deconstruction of what seems to be real and the replacement of that reality with a more disillusioned image of the world.

In the first scene we are told how as a child Migue runs away from home after having been chased around by his stepfather who wants Migue to eat snails. Migue is on the run from the beginning of the film, a condition which turns out to be his destiny. In the following scene located on the rooftop, we see a close-up of Migue and his girlfriend Mara as teenagers, and the opening scene is revealed as being Migue's own childhood memory. When Mara asks him what he's thinking of, he says he doesn't remember, and as spectators we are left with a feeling of uncertainty about the status of the childhood scene - is it a memory or a neutral flash-back? There simply is a lack of causality and coherence in Migue's life, both for him and for the viewer.

Apparently Migue and Mara have a beautiful view from their position on the roof. The saturated, blue colour matches the colour of the childhood scene, but when the camera tracks back, the view turns out to be a poster on the wall, and the idyllic background is replaced by an image of a poor, colourless neighbourhood in the city. However, the revelation of the background as mere illusion does not affect the impression of happiness and true love between Migue and Mara as we see them kiss and make love. The long camera movement which brings us away from Migue and Mara and down to Ahmed in the street can be said to form a stylistic anticipation of Migue's final attempt to escape and his tragic fall from the roof. Maybe this very noticeable stylistic technique indicates that Migue's unsuccessful jump at the end of the film is already predestined. Shortly after he actually jumps, again the camera movement seems to foreshadow the fall: we see a very short point-of-view shot moving down towards the ground. But then there is a cut back to Migue, who lands safely on the other side and manages to escape from his pursuer. This point-of-view shot doesn't serve the story but breaks away from the sjuzet and momentarily confuses the viewer. In this way our difficulties in distinguishing between reality and illusion are mirrored in the momentarily dysfunctional relationship between the narration's sjuzet and style.

The third scene presents yet another non-causal flash-back in the story. Apparently we are told what happened earlier the same day, i.e. the events that led up to Migue's jump. However, this scene may take place after the first chase, but given the sjuzet's generally fragmented structure and the similarities between the two chase scenes, the only thing that would make chronological sense would be to place the third scene a few hours earlier than the second scene. When Migue and Ahmed have stolen the camera and the marihuana from the mafioso, the sjuzet varies the already established figure of deconstruction and "de-enchanted" reality: seeing the world through the camcorder makes Migue and Ahmed wonder why reality doesn't live up to their expectations. Ahmed has never seen a lion even though he is from Africa; there is no money, no work and there are no naked women in Spain; and neither of the two boys seems to know his father. They are disappointed with life in general, and only when they smoke marihuana does the world change into what it is supposed to be. Migue sees a big cat, and Ahmed sees a beautiful, naked woman, but of course these are all hallucinations, and just like the idyllic view behind Mara and Migue, the naked woman disappears and the puma turns out to be a domestic cat. There is an obvious discrepancy between the boys' reality and their ideal image of it. The roof is their sanctuary, a place where they are above reality in both a literal and a figurative sense, a place of dreams and hallucinations. Being there they can throw themselves on top of one another in a moment of bliss and harmony. But reality catches up with them shortly afterward when Ahmed leaves the rooftop and goes down to the street where reality is waiting.

This takes us to the chase scene again, and this time it is presented more elliptically in just a few repeated shots from the first version. The repetition ends when Migue faces the big jump. This time we see him take off, a short point-of-view shot and then a full shot of Migue falling down between the two houses. Two more point-of-view shots illustrate his fall to the ground while Mara cries out his name. The scream forms a sound-bridge back to the childhood scene when Migue's mother called out his name as she did in the opening scene when Migue was running away. The situations are completely similar: Migue is on the run, and the person who loves him is desperately calling him - and getting no response. The transition indicates that the sound of Mara's call makes Migue remember the day when he ran away and his mother called out his name. Understood as Migue's subjective flash-back, the childhood scene adds to the tragic element of the story. We now understand that Migue probably never returned home after he had run away, and that his destiny would have been different if only he had gone back and eaten the snails. Instead we see Migue balancing on a wall almost identical to the one he jumps from at the end. The shot is not directly connected to the story but gains symbolic significance as an illustration of what shapes Migue's life in general after he runs away: a constant balancing act that puts Migue's existence in danger for every step he takes. The title Bamboleho, which indicates something like "staggering" or "stumbling", supports this interpretation.

Back to the initial question: how are we supposed to interpret the ambiguous presentation of Migue's jump from the roof? Looking at the structure of the sjuzet, it doesn't seem that illogical to show the same jump twice. Other story elements such as the background in the kissing scene, the big cat and the naked woman have the same ambiguous nature: first we see the subjective, illusory, ideal presentation and afterwards the same elements in the disillusioned, but objective and real presentation. Given that this is the pattern of the sjuzet and keeping in mind the stylistic anticipations of the fall, it seems logical to understand the first jump scene as Migue's subjective, illusory experience of the event and the second jump scene as the objective, disillusioned account of what really happened from the moment they stole the bag from the mafioso. Thus the film's point of enunciation is the exact moment when Migue is suspended in the air between the two roofs. From this point the narration can evaluate Migue's tragic destiny and give the non-psychological, non-sociological but very ironic conclusion: and he said no to a plate of snails.

With this interpretation, the temporal and causal gaps of the narrative seem to be bridged, but still the interpretation is not completely satisfactory. A few elements still seem not to cohere, elements which mystify the viewer. For instance the TV-set that appears at the beginning and the end of the story as a kind of self-conscious (and, in my opinion, superfluous) entry and exit for the film, the additional genre-definition "a love story" to the end title and finally, after the credits, the close-up of Migue smiling to the camera while holding on to the wall on which he had been balancing. These elements seem difficult to fit into the logic of the plotline as I've analysed it, but nevertheless they make the story less tragic and maybe even offer some hope. The final close-up of Migue, however, can only be understood on a hypothetical level as an illusion similar to the shots of Migue's first jump. Seeing Migue smiling to us at the end of the film while we know about his tragic destiny, does not bring any hope to the story, but rather intensifies the feeling of pathos: Life has been unjust to Migue. Whether the filmmaker's intention with that shot and the other mystifying elements is to offer hope or to create pathos, is not in fact an important question. The film contains both possibilities, and this ambiguity only makes the story stronger.

The final conclusion must be that as viewers, in our attempt to reconstruct the whole story, to assemble the fragmented scenes and impressions from Migue's life, we are staggering just like Migue himself. All we know for sure is that he jumps off a roof because he once said no to a plate of snails.

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