Spout Mavens Disc #14, Part 13 of 13: Shorts! Volume 3 - Archipelago (2004)

Director: Leon Siminiani
Spain/Puerto Rico, 18 minutes, color
Cinema 4 Rating: 6

And so, the short film Archipelago, with its triangle of players representing the past that more often than not rubberbands back to snap most of us smack in the face, drifts coolly up to me at a time when I seem to be on the verge of my own inevitable haunting by past. As far as I can make it out, the haunting is not of a malicious nature, but I am definitely getting the feeling of some serious ghosting going on about me.

Recently, coincidentally or not, as I approached my 44th birthday, I began to see the signs. New Facebook friends, forged from old friends, lovers from spurious romances, those we wished to have as lovers in some momentary but glorious lapse of reason, part-time enemies and mild acquaintances of my cruel past – the same cruel past we all share, and a past which grows daily, no matter how we pretend to not care, with each additional tiny, cruel step we take forward every second of every day. Random emails from much of the same lot who have found my blog or discovered through another party that my existence continues unabated to this point somewhere on the same planet.

Funny what the click of a few computer keys can do for human relationships. That which might prove extraordinarily uncomfortable to do face to face -- reconnect with the figures of our past, possibly dredging up old memories that certain parties in the exchange would rather have remain undredged -- is so much easier to do online, where facial tics can't betray our true feelings regarding a bespoken courtesy, and where nearly everyone speaks in a nearly Cro-Magnon form of baby-talk gibberish almost entirely free of nuance or true personality. Is it any wonder that I flee from online boards, where people spend much of their time having to explain and re-explain, again and again, exactly what they meant when they initially slapped down eleven misspelled words and a handful of incorrectly posed punctuation marks? We are slowly being reduced to a set of emoticons representing half-thoughts, and we will suffer for it.

But, in regards to those ghostly reconnections via Facebook (and not so much the horrid MySpace), I welcome them openly, if only because, in that Chex Party Mix of people (many of whom I wonder, "do they really even remember who I am?" or, at least, "... was?"), there are several of whom I am truly glad to hear from again, in whichever of the several categories I mentioned earlier they may fall. There are people in there whom I wish I could hang around with right now, and will not hesitate to keep up contact with them into the future if they are willing to do so on their ends as well. Whatever the distance that the last few years, or even past actions on any of our accounts, have laid down between us, I still feel that I know and miss these people, and wish to continue to know them. Besides, no matter what there might be in our respective cruel pasts lying in wait to spring anew upon us, likely most of it could never compare to the mildly Hitchcockian setup of past betrayal which haunts the trio of romantic combatants in Archipelago, the last of the films I had yet to write about on the Shorts! Volume 3 DVD collection.

Meet Ben and Nina, a dashing 40ish Spaniard and a zaftig Puerto Rican chica, recently married, and enjoying an idyllic honeymoon on the beaches of a seemingly lost area of Puerto Rico called La Esperanza ("The Hope"). They tickle, they flirt, they lounge about, and are increasingly interested in romantic gamesmanship. Nina wishes for Ben to "stop time" for her, whatever that may mean to a person, and I imagine that success in such a game relies more heavily on what Nina might be hoping stopping time involves, and not so much on what Ben thinks it does. However, having already won her heart, and given the state of their current mood, it seems that even the mildest trick with the right intentions will give Nina her deeply desired mood of time stoppage.

And then, time does stop. It creeps in so slowly, the couple doesn't even realize it. But it does stop all the same, and it happens when a third party enters their idyllic scene: Aníbal, who comes forth at first as just a scruffy lost traveler needing water and seeking out La Esperanza on his own, even producing a hastily drawn map upon a napkin which proves remarkably similar to the one that Ben shows him. Ben speaks of happiness to Aníbal, and insists on his staying at La Esperanza, telling him that "there is room for all three of us here" and "what's the use of being happy if you can't share it?"

But we already know that sharing this happiness will not be something that Aníbal will wish to do. When we hear that he is not married, but nearly was, we can already sense that the jig is up. Feigning to depart, Aníbal hands Ben a small jewelry box as a gift, seemingly for the kindness Ben has shown him, which Ben hesitates to take, but soon does. Inside is a single bullet. "I have five more in here," Aníbal states coldly, showing him the pistol tucked into the waistband of his pants. When Nina finally enters the scene and sees Aníbal for the first time, she will run up and slap his face, staring him down.

There is more, but I will leave it at this point for the readers and, hopefully, eventual viewers of this film, to discover the emotional savaging of these characters and to muse on their impact for themselves. Truthfully, the moment of the slap is the moment when the film could have ended for me. Five to seven minutes could have been shaved off the running time, and the movie would have proven just as intriguing. But don't think I am shooting down a couple of fairly gripping plot points in those extra minutes which I also recognize as worthwhile study. I just don't think that I personally got any more out of the film past that slapping point. The rest simply pours over those last few minutes like a mildly tangy though slightly acrid gravy, which partially serves to emphasize the taste of that which had already been fed to us, but also smothers it somewhat in the process. I would have rather been left wondering about the fate of the characters than to have it mostly solved for me.

But we understand that there are serious consequences from similar of trust, breach of romantic contract, or even outright betrayals, however calculated or confusedly innocent in their construction, within each of our pasts. Certainly, Ben now faces the ghosts of Nina's past betrayal of scruffy, timeworn Aníbal, and please feel free to judge for yourself how Ben handles such a devastating revelation directly following his ideal moment of reverie. Does time indeed stop for this couple forever, or will Ben seek a way out of this emotional black hole? And are we stopping time ourselves when the ghosts of our own pasts attempt to reestablish contact with us? Do we find ourselves transported out of our current happiness (assuming that one is happy at the time of the contact), and back into a time to which we would perhaps not prefer to return, even for mild and polite niceties with an acquaintance or old friend?

As much as I dearly love many of my friends from my past days, there was a reason I had to get away. So many reasons, really, but none of them involved any intentional betrayals of feelings or friendships. I just simply needed to make a change in my life before I got sucked deeper into a job that I despised and a depression that I was losing more and more ground to with every passing day. And don't forget that friendships go two (or even multiple) ways. You can go for a very long time without contacting someone, and may start to feel concerned about your lack of energy in committing to such an action, but always remember that there are at least two parties responsible for such a divide, not one (assuming that we are speaking of a friendship that remains on decent or at least OK terms, of course). Either one could have contacted the other at any time -- practically every one has a goddamn phone, letterbox or email) and lack of contact possibly speaks to a general conformity to the same inertia. Past relationships of the more romantic kind are more difficult to confront, especially if said parties are attempting to make a bridge to friendship again, but if I ever hurt or was hurt by someone, both sides must accept that such things were just not meant to be, and move forward to resolution. We have all broken hearts, and we have all had our own heart broken.

To simply chalk all this up to human nature is perhaps to take the coward's way out of the conversation, but there it is. Part of that human nature, though, is to take the devastation that we felt at the height of those despairing moments and to analyze and learn from them to brighten our future relationships. This would not placate the ex-wife, who is surely convinced to this day that I cheated on her with everything that moved, even though I only ever did within the confines of my own brain, and this only after I had given up irrevocably on having a sane relationship with the lass about two hours into our eight-year marriage (which never should have been). I regret that it could not have turned out differently, but there it is. It is now the past, and there is naught I can do to fix it except to leave it in the past. The actions of those days will always haunt me, though, and there is nothing I can do on my end but to throw up my hands, and use the experience to enrich myself psychologically going forward. Knowledge is a powerful thing, and the knowledge gained from past mistakes is an even more powerful usually than that which we learn from a book. And, man, was that a doozy of a mistake.

And so, after years of many such mistakes, only some of them emotional, I ran, much like Nina ran at some point before Archipelago starts, to leave behind that mounting depression, that terrible career choice and a city that held many fond memories for me, but almost equally as much, it held crushing defeat for me as well. I sought to reinvent myself, always careful to remember that I was still the same person that screwed up elsewhere, but to attempt to do things more in line with that which I had originally intended myself to become. Unlike before, where I was trapped in a dank warehouse with bad lighting, unforgiving concrete floors and clouds of paper dust, I now get the opportunity to write occasionally for part of my living, and to work in a far more exciting career setting. I am content in the most successful relationship of my life, and am just settling in after three years into life in a land that is still rather foreign to me in many aspects. Though the body betrays my middle-aged years more and more with each passing day, I am still far happier day to day now than I probably have ever been at any single section of my life.

If the ghosts of my past warrant they must contact me again, then so be it. The beauty of Facebook is that you only have to take part as much as you wish to take part. You can have a thousand "friends" but only contact the few dozen or so that you really appreciate. Not all ghosts are unfriendly, and as long as you watch out for the ones gifting you with bullets, you should be fine.

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