Pedro Harres (Porto Alegre, 1984), director of From the Main Square, the winning film in the Immersive Cinema section of the 63rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival, is a Brazilian multimedia artist based in Berlin, where he works as an animation director and scriptwriter. Since his training in philosophy, which is not at all alien to his work, he has tackled artistic creation in multiple formats, from film to installation. Harres was selected to participate in the Venice Film Festival on two occasions, the first time to present his debut animated short, Castillo y el Armado, which competed in the Orizzonti section; the second, in the last edition, where he was awarded the Grand Jury Prize in Venice Immersive. This first foray into Virtual Reality was also his master’s thesis, in Animation Directing, at Babelsberg Film University, and is entitled From the Main Square.
From the Main Square is the furthest thing from a video game and the most immersive imaginable in this genre of productions, whose dividing line between pure entertainment that explores technical and interactive solutions with more or less brilliance is extraordinarily thin. Redefining the role of the spectator as an active part of the film, whose collaboration is solicited in various ways, and the need imposed by the medium to achieve total surrender to the narrative, the images, and the theme proposed by the director, the films presented in competition in Thessaloniki showed us the promising possibilities with which technique can enrich the cinematic experience. The rejection of the purists who have not approached this kind of proposals beyond prejudice, branding these creations as fairground spectacles, should be transformed into an open-mindedness on the level that the first nickelodeon viewers practiced, to accept talkies or color. Artists like Harres and films like his more than prove that pushing the boundaries of audiovisual creation can only enhance it to the same extent as directors working in a traditional format, always depending on their own talent and how successfully they use the technical resources and options they choose to tell their stories.
Pedro Harres’ film literally places us in the center of the main square, where we see not only a city grow and transform, but also a civilization, the one we have managed to create with greater or lesser success since the beginning of humanity. The values that represent us, the diversity, the ideology, the philosophy, the religion, and the conflicts that confront and destroy us are narrated without words, with the only support of sounds or onomatopoeias and the music composed by Marcus Sander and Justin Robinson, appealing to our action to amplify an image or trigger an event. This crossroads is also a crossroads of wills, where the most ancestral fears and the resources with which people have dealt with the deepest questions of metaphysics and coexistence for as long as we can remember, and we have a record of them.
In From de Main Square, the viewer experiences this immersion literally and metaphorically. Enveloped in a 360º vision, you can’t help but feel that the story being told is your own. The exposition of small, accumulating events provokes reactions that, added together, draw a painfully recognizable evolutionary line. Harres makes us protagonists and witnesses at the same time, to witness the decline of a civilization that was born a virgin only to succumb to its own contradictions.
The director has stated that for four years, he had Berlin in his sights, but also Brazil in his mind. The visual style of the schematic line drawings by Daniel Eizirik and Paulo Lange and the 2D animations by Samuel Patthey, Sofia Schönborn, and André Correia form a visual identity that drives a script that is at times humorous, bordering on the black, absurd, but no less so than the reality it describes. The magnitude of the undertaking led Harres to confess that he would not have undertaken it if he had known beforehand the difficulties he was going to face in his VR debut.
Throughout 19′, the director unveils the landscape, leaving us free to observe and direct our attention, which is called upon by a sound or a movement, until its final climax. We interact freely, we choose to follow a thread and its transformation or we turn to find out what has happened to a group of characters. The magnifying glass that we can activate transforms the image into a close-up, we choose whether to enlarge it or not, and as if we were in the middle of the real square, the sounds startle us or the movement guides our gaze. We smile, we appreciate the humour without dialogue, we enter into the suggestive paradoxes and we explore, surrendered to the elegant complexity of a discourse that is only apparently simple, due to its lack of self-awareness. The spectator is grateful for the absence of solemnity with which other works clothe their films in hollow grandiloquence, underestimating the spectator’s capacity to judge for himself what he is experiencing, and in this sense those voice-overs that warn us of the importance of what we are about to contemplate, so frequent in this type of film, are particularly irritating.
From the Main Square is not a game with possibilities that fork off again and again, it does not lead us by the hand with paternalism, but it interpellates us in a process that acquires intensity as its discourse gains in depth. As argued by the jury that awarded Pedro Harres’ film, of which I was a member together with filmmaker Alexis Alexiou and Dimitris Xaritos, Professor of Communication and Media Studies at the Kapodistrian University of Athens, the film masterfully combines a new formal expression with traditional animation techniques to achieve an immersive, multilevel, non-linear work that proposes a hybrid aesthetic. History and politics are intertwined through humour and tragedy in a powerful narrative that reflects fundamental concerns and threats to our civilisation.