The unspoken word

Notes, variations and repetitions on «Silences and Hands », by Hernán Khourian.

By Gustavo Galuppo

(Translated from Spanish)


«Silences and Hands » in its essence is a portrait of Telma, a self-appointed healer, nevertheless going far beyond that. What remains engraved in the image are the laid bare traces of a tension in suspense: An indication of a struggle with no possible outcome. One is the other, and the other is one; A portrait and self-portrait in one same movement of writing and erasing. Where within these images does one end, and the other begin? How, in cinema, can one create the image of another? Without exerting a sense of control and/or a hidden selection of the truth? The portrait of Telma, establishes itself as an examination – a questioning - exposed to the elements of that which goes beyond words, the unsolvable, unfathomable even: That which in effect can only begin to take shape in the intimate honesty of an impossibility professed.  

To portray the other, in a certain way, always implies a representation of oneself; to redirect one’s gaze towards oneself like this other that escapes the image, thereby attempting to define the elusive traces of the observed object through the observing subject (or the other way around. In any case the obtained image-body becomes an entity with no precise borders, an « other » body-image which no longer belongs to the subject or the observer. )


“Silences and Hands” is thus - and to a great extent - a matter of proximities and distances, a quest, perhaps irresolute to find the adequate distance to portray the human intensity of an encounter (which goes beyond cinema itself.) A portrait, yes, however set out as an interrogation, rather than an affirmation, which is sketched out in the process of searching for the small imperfections within an intimate diary and the fragility of sincere confessions.


To affirm, in cinema, is to dominate (or at least an intent to grasp control). To doubt, on the other hand, is to hand over power to a certain extent, to then construct a new common territory. “Silences and Hands” continually moves back and forth between the two: Giving in, establishing itself as an image in constant withdrawal, however at times also resisting. In this “back and forth” lies the doubt. The richness.

Cinema exposes its limits and openly declares its weaknesses – its wavering – when faced with a reality. A reality, which surpasses cinema. An image in essence achieves no more than to draw attention to a wound in the texture of its skin - a rupture in its sense of certainty. And it is precisely there, in that very wound, in that crack, that rift where the unknown and the intolerable of reality manage to finally leave a trace in the potency of an image in trance.


It’s also a question of a persistent intent to construct a portrait upon a common territory; find a mutual space within a territory, which often inevitably falls subject to the filmmaker’s control. In “Silences and Hands” this common ground is achieved; not within a false sense of consensus, but on the contrary: within a territory of disensus. (dissent or disaccord). This constructed shared space gives voice to aspects otherwise unheard (unspoken even). By exposing, these disagreements between  the individuals, the “empire of the domination of the spectacle” is rejected.


One and the other. One with the other. One against the other. One within the other.

Configurations within one single process of trial and error. The end result perhaps irresolute.

'Silences and Hands' is above all, a poetic essay about the methods and ethics of a cinematographic portrait.


The image in general, hesitates. It gently (sometimes less so) deviates between symbolism and abstraction; between what is said and the point of view the image finally transmits. The contrast of the white screens (replete, as opposed to the emptiness of the black); the immense contrast, which manages to erase the surrounding space.

Also the movement, which establishes the space and the moment of the hesitant gesture, and with it the surrender of control: the freedom from all affirmation of absolute knowledge.

The territory constructed between image and sound, is in effect geographic and mental at the same time; a real (lived-in) space as much as an imagined one. The tension there is permanent. Image and sound. Image and word. Image and voice. Subject and object. Separate, parallel lines, around which this space of reflection is constructed. Reflection on what is said - what is said, and what is seen in one same gesture, reaffirming its fragility.


Telma presents herself in front of a camera, which questions her. An exchange – an encounter between two beings. The image denies and affirms at the same time. Words quiver and begin to become disfigured. Everything comes and goes, enters and leaves, gets closer and distances itself. Divine declarations break down in the mundaneness of a solitary life.

A date. A fan. A house number. A dog. The remains of a flood.

The spiritual rhetoric begins to falter and loses its meaning, laid bare before human fragility. And Telma distances herself from the camera, leaving all behind, but finally affirming that she too knows of the fragility of the other and that she knew from the very beginning. That she too has power, and knew how to use it. In this interaction nothing has been clear; roles can be interchanged, putting everything in crisis. That maybe, and after all, we are no more than characters in a dance of an ever-changing fiction, constructed in a perpetuous combat of wills.


Fragility. When the visible, cinematographic core appears to be constructed upon the very aspect of creating an image of another, the central theme is displaced. It becomes blurred and amid the ruins of an impossible image, begins to confront the more real and fragile trepidations of ordinary lives and ordinary failures.  The slow, but constantly present threat of a possible rupture to a sustained balance, confronting the complexity of this world. Fragility, a word never uttered, yet embodied within the hesitations of an image, which recognizes its limits.


This possible portrait of Telma establishes itself within an incision, at a junction between two streams which oppose and complement each another alternatively - or which ultimately come together in a third stream, in a sort of dialectic composition.

Two streams or powers connected by a dysfunctional parallelism. The two potencies remaining at an equal distance, yet at times intertwining and even colliding. One of these forces is Telma herself - object of the portrait - a woman who imposes onto the image the potencies of her physical presence and her mystical reflections. The second of these forces, is the filmmaker himself - the subject who is portraying - who through the means of cinema creates an image. Between these two forces an underlying tension prevails throughout. The woman gives in to the image, however also tries to control it by consciously staging her actions. The director tries to set the rules, in an effort, which redirects the camera onto him - putting into question the validity of his actions by laying bare his craft, his presence behind the camera and point of view, consciously exposing the impossibility of finding a balance between these two opposing forces. There, between the images of these two streams a significant rift is produced, an emptiness to be filled by “another” image. This third image (“the dialectic negation of negation”) is the image, which conveys the negotiation inherent in documentary filmmaking. It highlights the failed pact between object and subject. A “failure” which ends up revealing more than a mere image ever could - going beyond it, maybe lying somewhere before the image itself. The pure surface of the screen, now becomes that territory which exhibits its inherent precariousness. Its lacking. Its insufficiency. The territory of dispute where two streams come to an agreement, portrayed in their very conflict.


“Silences and hands” in its fragility, could even propose that cinema – paradoxically - is capable of representing life simply by being aware of its inability of doing so. It could only realize its true intensity (that of life) by means of obstructing the idea of a true or definitive representation - refusing the possibility of a just or even satisfactory image. Cinema, at the end of the day, is a secondary phenomena. That which remains of it - that which can remain of the world within an image – is nothing more than an outline of a determined quest, destined to fail amid the uncertainties of life itself. But it is precisely there, in that uncertain darkness where we stumble and try to grab hold of something - where finally traces of light manifest themselves. Images, capable of representing that which is incommunicable. To the world itself. To the fragility of a story untold.


Finally: Who is Telma? Who is Khourian? Who is one and who is the other? Who am I? What defines me? Where do I situate myself in this world, in front of the other? Portrait / Self-portrait. A lack of negotiation. Asymmetrical. Questions that have no answers. Silences. Hands. Trial and error. Absolute fragility. Cinema cannot attain the truth of the image – a truth, which already becomes distorted in its very apparition. Writing and erasing in one single movement. Cinema is incapable of capturing the world, and cannot (and shouldn’t) try to control it.  


Fragility. The word never uttered, but finally embodied in the indecipherable distance between two bodies; in the temporary clash of two points of view, and in the folds of an image, which is aware of its own inability of uttering that very word. Because naming it, might mean its disappearance.

13 / End note:

“Silences and Hands” could come together with Khourian’s other works “Puna” and “Esplin or to err or nevertheless” (”Esplin o errar o sin embargo”) to form a triptych on the ways in which cinema tries to approach an “other”. In Puna this “other” is the landscape, a specific territory, which resists representation within one definite image. In “Spleen” this “other” is oneself - wandering within the nothingness of constructed solitude in a confined space. In “Silences and Hands”, finally this “other”, is the real other. An other. Portrait/Self-portrait. Fragility. A triptych which in its combinations establishes a reflection about the elusive ways in which cinema relates to the world it represents.