20 min, shot on super 16mm, HD and HDV. 2011. Picaresques experiments with documentary and fictional structures, weaving portraits of three seemingly disparate protagonists to ultimately create a film about the act of making something. The filmmaker (Mariah) sets out to make a movie about Catalina de Erauso, a nun-turned conquistador from the 16th century who wrote a memoir. She quickly becomes side-tracked, however, by a relationship she develops with a 10-year old through the process of casting, and the film turns in on itself.
The title evokes the tradition and genre of the Spanish heroic tale that narrates the exploits of sharp-witted vagabonds and their roguish adventures. In this case the vagabonds are less outlaws of society but outlaws within society: the gender ambivalent Phoebe as the young Catalina, and as herself; Mariah, as herself, struggling to define her life as a director and a protagonist within her own film, and Catalina a fictionalized dramatization of the legendary Lieutenant Nun.
The swash-buckling fantastic deeds and exploits of transgendered Catalina/Antonio as he slashes his way through his autobiography are whispered in Basque, interspersed with scenes in which Mariah appears to lose control and direction of her film. The directness of Catalina’s decisions and life are contrasted with the seemingly mundane questions of gender ambiguity (underwear, appearance, behavior) that face Mariah and Phoebe. Mariah’s character in the film is left dangling within her own narrative as Phoebe abruptly departs “Don’t come back”, and Catalina is shown retracting a bloody sword from a lifeless body and striding purposefully away from the camera. Mariah is left to peek over a wire fence to an uncertain future.
Multiple strategies and media are employed to challenge binary notions – of gender, of narrative structure, of documentary convention, of age, time and history. Inspired by bombastic and relatively unbelievable accounts in Catalina de Erauso’s 16th century memoir La Monja Alferez, Picaresques lives in the rupture between truth and fiction. It is humorous, wryly observed, yet tinged with melancholy.
Picaresques has screened at "Upstream" curated by Grela Orihuela, NADA Hudson; and at Human Resources, Los Angeles with Psychic Friend.