“If we opened up people, we’d find landscapes. If we opened up me, we’d find beaches,” Agnès Varda infamously said in Les Plages d’Agnès (2008). When applied to filmmaker Lois Patiño, one could imagine that we’d find the lingering coastline of his native Galicia, in northern Spain, a place that he has anchored elegantly in his acclaimed Lúa Vermella (2020) and Costa da Morte (2013). In The Sower of Stars, Patiño sails off to the Pacific Ocean, looking out on the skylines of Tokyo, again staying close to the shore, but leaving enough distance for the cityscape to liquefy and continuously reinvent itself into the depths of the night.
It’s been a little over a decade since the emergence of the Novo Cinema Galego, which centers itself around filmmakers from Galicia in the northern part of Spain. Along with Eloy Enciso and Oliver Laxe, amongst others, Lois Patiño is undoubtedly one of the most prominent and internationally appealing voices of this new wave. Films of the Novo Cinema Galego show similarities in the way they blend the borders of (non-)fiction, their treatment of the scenery, converting it into a character in its own right, but also their genesis in the context of auto production. The films attach themselves to the reality of the periphery and are strongly influenced by other art forms, such as the plastic arts and literature, in the case of Patiño.
In The Sower of Stars, the Galician filmmaker takes zen paintings as an aesthetic starting point for a phantasmagoric journey to the end of the night. The disembodied voices reconfigure the dark hours into a kaleidoscope of fragmented and fractured realities, or a collection of many versions of a night without the promise that the sun will rise again tomorrow. By merely drawing from artificial lights—which have their own kind of distant romance inspired by the cyberpunk aesthetics of Blade Runner—against this isolating backdrop of darkness, Patiño drops a spellbinding paradox in our laps. This is not only intensified by the use of superimposition of the images but also by the multiple textual references to synesthesia (“the murmur of colours”) and the soundscape by Xabier Erkizia, with whom Patiño has also teamed up for Samsara which won the Encounters Special Jury Award at this year’s edition of Berlinale.
For his third feature-length film, Patiño turns towards an intense use of vivid colors and rather concrete images and does not resort to voice-overs but opts for visible, transforming characters. In that sense, Samsara is different from his previous short film, but it does feel as if Patiño had already installed in The Sower of Stars the kind of meditative and contemplative investigation he carries out in Samsara, in which he goes on a broader visual and sensory exploration of two different places (Laos and Zanzibar) also using the transition between life and death (and vice versa) as a starting point. In both films, Patiño aims to capture the interconnectedness of spiritual experience by recurring to the superimposition of images and by drawing from meditative practices to bring this transitional state as close to his audience as possible. In both films, there’s this very present urge to use images to transcend “the image” and, with that, send his audience on an inward path. In both cases, the darkness proves to be the perfect ally for such a liminal endeavour.
The Sower of Stars is the kind of film that was almost entirely created in the editing room, a place known for its fundamental darkness. This is no coincidence. As Jun’ichirō Tanizaki puts it In Praise of Shadows: “Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.”11 Tanizaki, J. I. (2001). In praise of shadows. London: Random House. ↩︎ Perhaps it has something to do with the way darkness sweeps away the boundaries between everything and everyone, while also delineating them more sharply in confrontation with the light, making one most susceptible to one’s own overwhelming but also beautiful smallness. In that sense, despite embracing emptiness and its brightly minimal and distant form, the film also manages to inspire a great connection, reminiscent of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Rooms. These rooms—which are fully made out of mirrors and filled with tiny lights that replicate themselves into infinity—interact in a very powerful way with life’s transience and illustrate how small and fragile human beings are in this greater web of meaning. The impression such rooms have on their visitors is similar to what Patiño seeks in his film: the creation of a moment of rest, inner peace, and undisguised self-reflection.
In a powerful attempt to penetrate the essence of life’s fragility, Patiño feeds the protagonists’ conversation with quotes by Samuel Beckett, Chantal Maillard, and Michel Blanchot, but also jisei or farewell poetry, a practice linked to Zen Buddhism, consisting of haikus that were written, in this case, by Japanese prisoners condemned to death. The dialogue should rather be seen as a sequence of aphorisms, denying the conversation of its ordinarily coveted flow—this way being completely grounded in its gravitas and the isolated beauty of each expressed thought. The significance of silence as a resting point is as vital as what is said, not to say a prerequisite for achieving any kind of understanding.
In this sense, the film is strongly evocative of meditative practices in the way that it does not align itself with evasion but rather is “a serene encounter with reality”, as Zen master and father of mindfulness Thích Nhất Hạnh describes it. Patiño’s intended spectatorship and meditation converge in the way they are stark invitations to deep contemplation. Thích makes a striking comparison on that score: “The person who practices mindfulness should be no less awake than the driver of a car; if the practitioner isn’t awake he will be possessed by dispersion and forgetfulness, just as the drowsy driver is likely to cause a grave accident.” 22 Thích, H. N. (1975). The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation. Massachusetts: Beacon Press. ↩︎ In the case of watching a film, there should be no actual danger of physical harm, but the “grave accident” could be provoked by the evasion of fixed meanings or frameworks that are further from the textual interventions (edited) by Patiño, not your own. Because beauty finds you either when you don’t look for it, or overlook it.
As the grieving nature of the conversation comes more to the fore and “invisible hands weave the city”, Tokyo’s nightly silhouette evolves from a gradual abstraction to a complete decomposition. The chosen location, also because of the specific moment in time, can be thought of as a transit point, a limbo where the characters find themselves in their purest state, because of their destiny being revealed to them in a definitive manner. Perhaps one could also think of it as a kind of Styx, a vast body of glittering water, stemming from Greek mythology, that would serve as a passage to bring the dead to the afterlife. In the case of The Sower of Stars, the voices find themselves floating on a river where the toll is not paid for with a coin but rather, with “a few true words”, inspired by Antonio Machado. Patiño’s film is a work of art that requires surrendering in order to drift off to places you didn’t know you had a connection to. Although, one of the voices responds to the other when asking where they are: “Everything is you. You only see yourself. You sail over you, inside you.”