The Stilts, 1984

A somber, despondent, middle-aged university professor and respected playwright named Ángel (Fernando Fernán Gómez) returns to a large, empty country cottage that has been covered and secured for the season, perhaps the first time that he has returned since the untimely death of his wife and children. Restless in his sleep and haunted by the memories of his lost family, Ángel impulsive decides to burn his manuscripts (whose authorship undoubtedly contributed to his estrangement from his family, even in life) – a figurative act of self-erasure that soon escalates to a suicide attempt. Locking himself in the propane tank storage room at the base of the house and opening the valves of all the cylinders, Ángel prepares to light the fatal match as the room fills with gas when he is caught in the act by his new neighbor, a school teacher named Teresa (Laura del Sol) who has coincidentally stopped by to introduce herself and borrow a bottle of wine. Inviting him over to meet her husband, Alberto (Antonio Banderas), an artist and aspiring actor from a traveling performance art troupe called The Stilts (named after their idiosyncratic use of prop stilts in their performances) who stage commissioned, harlequin, experimental street plays to entertain the public, Ángel is immediately captivated by the genial and attentive Teresa, drawn together by the shared intimacy of her respectful silence over his suicide attempt, and Antonio’s sincere entreaties to author a script for the troupe for an upcoming children’s engagement at a local park. Gradually emerging from his loneliness by a renewed sense of purpose, and deeply touched by their struggling, but seemingly idyllic, bohemian existence, Ángel begins to insinuate himself into the couple’s life in an attempt to win Teresa’s heart, a seemingly impossible, quixotic quest that drives him further into the darkness of his despair. Revisiting the themes of emotional displacement and projected desire of his earlier films, Peppermint Frappé and Carmen, and evoking the generational disconnection and rootlessness of Deprisa, Deprisa, The Stilts is a dreamlike and surreal, yet pensive, articulate, and understatedly resonant portrait of loss, grief, and healing. Juxtaposing the stilt performers’ whimsical, absurdist fantasies with the moribund immediacy of Ángel’s melancholy and isolation, the film becomes a lucid parable for the human imperative to reconnect with its own collective soul in the wake of profound tragedy – a metaphoric shedding of aloof and distancing escapist stilts that inevitably becomes a symbol for Ángel’s own figurative return to the process of life on earth – a spiritual re-engagement with the travails and rapture of an imperfect, but redemptive but existence.

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