Obsession and Liberation Converge in José Cabral’s ‘El Proyeccionista’

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By Andre LaFontant

New York, NY — El Proyeccionista (The Projectionist) embarks on a journey in search of truth in the heart of the Dominican Republic countryside. Although quite different in approach from his previous film, Carpinteros (Woodpeckers), writer-director José María Cabral continues to explore the theme of love. “I think all my movies, in a way, are talking about unconventional love,” begins Cabral. “I think the central theme may not be love, but in the end, it is all about finding connections that lead to the truth and trying to reveal something to the characters. Both films seem quite different because one takes place in prison and the other takes up the entire island. I think Eliseo (Felix German) finds himself in a prison as well. I have a recurring theme of characters being locked [away] and needing to liberate themselves.”

In Eliseo’s case, Cabral traps his protagonist in the past, beholding him to the dying practice of celluloid film. Eliseo found purpose by projecting films out of his father’s old Guagua del Cine (Bus of Cinema) for rural communities throughout the Dominican Republic. Still, he tumbles further into isolating darkness until he meets a mysterious woman, similarly trapped, within his father’s old film reels.

Like the mythological Greek sculptor Pygmalion who falls in love with the statue he carves, Cabral falls in love with the woman on the screen. Ultimately, Eliseo begins to search for her in real life, his only clues to her whereabouts provided by his catalog of homemade films. Troubling and strange, his obsession blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. Cabral’s complex characters and German’s performance arrest the attention of audience members at every turn.

After one of his many showings of 2005’s “The Curse of Father Cardona” goes awry, Eliseo is saddled with the unruly assistant Rubi (Cindy Galán). Like her boss, Rubi is running from the only truth that she knows. Cabral slowly unspools the thread of inner demons between each character and entangles them in a mess of emotions difficult to differentiate from one another. The similarity of their psychological battles, according to Cabral, is why it was important to juxtapose Galán’s mischievous escapism with German’s portrayal of the stodgiest old man.

“When I first met Cindy I knew she was going to be the one. She was so original and organic,” explains Cabral. “Psychologically [Rubi and Eliseo] are the same, but I also wanted to bring attention to how they are so physically different. Rubi brings fresh ideas to this mature, old-school man, beyond the concept of romanticism. She confuses love with sex because that’s what she has been living with since she was a child. She learns that she also has a way of liberating herself.”

Like his characters, Cabral is complex and layered. As a filmmaker, he is not afraid to share those darker layers in order to best tell his stories. El Proyeccionista is shot in traditional widescreen, Cabral’s way of heightening the nostalgic notes struck by Eliseo’s affection for old school celluloid and 35mm film. “It is my most personal film,” explains Cabral. “But I’m not talking quality or passion about making a movie when I say that. I made two distinct trips like my characters. I made a trip through the country and another trip inside myself.”

Check out the film trailer below!