A bedeviling, blithe Spanish meta-film shot entirely in the dunes and cliff villages of Mali, The Double Steps begins with the tale of painter-author François Augiéras (Bokar Dembele), who lived from 1925 to 1971 and whose disheveled wandering culminated, legend has it, in an abandoned bunker in the Sahara, where he painted his masterpiece on its walls and then sealed the entrance and hid it forever. Keeping faith with ideas of impermanence and fluidity, director Isaki Lacuesta's film follows several pilgrims and Augiéras avatars through the desert, some contemporary while others are lost in time, but all caught up in quixotic pursuits (searching for the bunker, among others) and pursuing ephemeral truths. But for all of that, it couldn't be a more tactile movie — the visual scheme is never less than provocative — and the all-African, all-amateur cast is entirely committed to the fantasies. Best of all, Lacuesta cuts together his nutty threads (including the discovery of a secretive albino tribe) without emphasis or agenda; it has the unpressured flow and good humor of a slow river ride. In the end, we glimpse footage of the real Augiéras, but by then, the film wanders off into its own set of suggested Cagean possibilities, and what you get feels closer to a fable-essay about the meaning of art than a narrative. Sweet stuff.
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