Updated: Feb 3
Directed by: #MateoVega
Written by: #MateoVega
As one of the shorts to be screened this year at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Mateo Vega creates a mix of mourning and activism, surging club visuals blaring besides vacuous ghost-cities. His short film There Is a Ghost of Me (2021) is only six minutes long, but it contains more power and nuance than most short films. Non-narrative, the film is a set of impressions that slide and traject and collide in defiant memory of ghosts: ghosts of the past that range from fascism, urban ruins, and the artist himself, who throughout the film reminds us that ‘There is a ghost of me’, one who ‘never looks back’.
The opening image presents a face subsumed in darkness - only momentarily lit-up by a passing light, like a train moving in front of him. This very same sequence reappears near the end of the film, framing the work as a delirium of memories passing over both the artist and the viewer. Memories so intricately tied to hauntings, to ghosts. Footage (taken from Washington, Lima and Amsterdam) includes political demonstrations and mixed-media metaphors, such as slides which look like they’ve been taken from a dentist’s journal; teeth rotting and torn from the roots, which the artist in voice-over likens to the resurgence of fascism in an age where we thought fascism was long gone, the promises of neoliberalism driving the West towards a white, pearly smile of progress. Such a smile is rotting, cavity-ridden; the film then melds into nocturnal city streets, tunnels, abandoned houses which are said to ‘whisper about the past’ - cut to a set of derelict construction sites, modern ruins that resonate with the central image of ghosts; construction sites are likewise buildings in-between being bodied and spectral, only half-made. The footage is beautifully sourced from Vega himself and his cinematographer Ravi Breukers; both compel the short film with an incredible momentum that is trance-like but also dynamic, building in pace and rhythm through masterful editing; culminating with a dizzying drive through the cityscapes, accelerated until the landscape rushes past in sepia red like a world on fire.
Sometimes filmmakers can over-play the look of celluloid; its scratches become part of a nostalgic fetish. But There Is a Ghost of Me is all the more powerful due to the fragility of the medium, the ephemerality of chemical film itself so prone to fading over the years; images scratched and inscribed by time. In fact Vega has even scribbled over some of the faces in his film, a whirling white ball of anonymity like a cloud robbing these urban inhabitants of identity, masking their faces, transforming them into living ghosts, helpless and passive in the wreckage of lost futures. The last scene, a calm after the storm; a man examining a pile of debris on the street, trying to figure out how to sort through and deal with this heap of broken images. Vega’s film deserves attention, short but visceral; preoccupied with a past that is painful to look at, as well as a future that may or may not arrive.