This 26th FICValdivia edition, Gala, one of the most highly anticipated sections at the festival, will feature the latest works by Corneliu Porumboiu, Martín Rejtman, Nicolás Pereda, and Federico Veiroj, among others, filmmakers who synthesize present-day’s creative weather, both in aesthetics terms, and in the social-political arena.
One of the novelties that Gala brings this 26th FICValdivia edition is the inclusion of short films to the program. Until this year, and not counting the competitive sections, those films of shorter lengths had been focused on the opening and closing ceremonies. In this logic, in 2018, the films that screened, respectively, were Blue (2018), by Thai director Apichatpong Wheerasethakul, and Sobre Cosas que me han Pasado (2018), by José Luis Torres Leiva, both celebrating their Latin American premieres.
Gala is one of the most important non-competitive sections at the festival, because it connects the cinephile audience with some of the key works by great contemporary filmmakers. This year, it will devote space for short films, an instance that will also serve to reunite with old acquaintances of the festival, such as Argentine author Martín Rejtman, and Mexican director Nicolás Pereda, who will present here their brief, recent pieces.
Rejtman has already been the object of a focus here at Valdivia in 2008, and in 2014, his latest full-length Dos Disparos (2014), was also part of the Gala section. This year, one of the most original and unclassifiable pillars of the New Argentine Cinema returns with Shakti (2019), a piece of only 19 minutes, about the crisis of a young Jewish man who faces his grandmother’s death. This blow will make him break up with his girlfriend, and initiate a process of searching that will progressively become more cumbersome and stunted.
Nicolás Pereda had a focus around his work in 2010, the same year in which Verano de Goliat (2010) obtained the award for Best Picture, here at the Festival. A couple of versions later, he returned with his short film Los Mejores Temas (2012). This year, Pereda arrives in Valdivia with Mi Piel, Luminosa (2019), a 40-minute work he codirects together with actor Gabino Rodríguez, one of his habitual collaborators. The film, which debuted this year at the Locarno festival, is presented as the result of a commission by the Secretaría de Educación Pública de México (Mexico’s Public Education Secretariat), to research the use of State resources in an improvement program for primary education. Soon, however, the narrative takes on another dimension, and its images deviate toward the subjective record of the stories collected in those rural schools, where statistical rigor turns into a ghostly, mysterious and sometimes-perturbing approximation.
Gala Feature-Length Films
In terms of features, the section will include three premiers by Chilean directors: Nunca Subí el Provincia (2019), the new documentary by Ignacio Agüero, which received this year the Grand Prix at the 30th FIDMarseille; Vendrá la Muerte y Tendrá tus Ojos (2019), a drama directed by José Luis Torres Leiva, and HRA (The Play) (2019), the new production by Alejandro Fernández Almendras, which is shot in the Czech Republic.
In terms of foreign films, the section stays true to the approach the festival has taken in previous years, in regards to the importance of updating knowledge and dissemination of the works by filmmakers that, because of the rigor of their formal explorations, have little space in the usual exhibition billboards.
Such is the case of Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu, spearhead of the new cinema in his country – together with Radu Muntean (One Floor Below), Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mister Lazarescu), and Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days). In a career that spans almost two decades, people have only been able to see Police, Adjective (2009), and When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (2013) at local festivals. His new picture, The Whistlers (La Gomera, 2019), premiered in the official competition at Cannes 2019; here, he returns to his observation of the inefficient administrative structures described in Police, Adjective, but this time, based on the noir genre. The movie narrates from different points of view – each one in independent episodes – an intrigue that revolves around organized crime, where the main narrative line centers on Cristi, a corrupt cop, and his linkages to the ineffective hierarchy in the police, and the networks that lie underground, in Spain. The film is a hybrid of cinephile references, and it not only pays homage to historic film noir, with its icons and twists; it creates bridges with musicals, and in general, with the classic aesthetics of the Hollywood matrix.
Así Habló el Cambista (2019), by Uruguayan filmmaker Federico Veiroj, is the welcome reunion with the director’s artwork, almost ten years after the gorgeous La Vida Útil (2010), which premiered in the international competition at FICValdivia 17. Like Porumboiu, Veiroj’s return, after El Apóstata (2015), and Belmonte (2018), is connected to the codes of criminal cinema, and from there, it builds a tale set in Montevideo, in the mid-seventies, during the military dictatorship headed by Juan María Bordaberry, around the time economic disorganization, and the elimination of currency exchange controls had turned Uruguay into a haven for speculators in South America. The film narrates the rise and fall of Humberto Brause, a financier that, at one time in his life, sees in the administrative chaos, the chance to get rich. In terms of rhythm and tone, the film approaches the work of directors such as Don Siegel, and John Boorman, renovators of the police genre, but keeping that sense of observation, and character analysis that has been his artistic seal since Acne (2008) intact.
In 2010, the Gala section at FICValdivia 17 included Orly (2010), by German author Angela Schanelec, a picture that wove together several encounters among characters at the Paris airport. That picture was the first time audiences at the festival witnessed the careful formal craft that is the director’s style, constructed around fixed, long shots that, far from becoming anchored in classic realism, favor ambivalence in the shapes and events they narrate, with an emphasis that is not in what’s evident, but in the in-between.
Almost 10 years after, Schanelec returns to the festival with I Was at Home, But (2019), a fascinating family drama – a territory the author has delved into often, in the course of her filmography – about the crisis a woman suffers when one of her children mysteriously disappears, while mourning his father’s death, and then reappears a week later. The pause inflicted by those days of anguish has an impact on the mother, and on the boy’s surroundings. However, his return does not seem to make things better, because the boy has also changed during his absence. Schanalec makes use of these subtleties without emphasizing, preferring a sideways approach to face the existential diaspora the family must face. The movie had its international premiere in February, in the official competition at Berlinale, and the director’s precise work made her deserving of the Golden Bear for Best Direction.
Other voices in contemporary cinema
Closing the list of filmmakers that will debut with their new feature films in this section at FICValdivia are Israeli director Nadav Lapid, and Frenchman Damien Manivel. The latter is a dancer and circus performer that has combined his dance practice with filmmaking, generating great interest after two of his first shorts had a successful run in festivals, and after his first full-length Un Jeune Poète (2014), obtained a special mention in Locarno.
Les Enfants d’Isadora (2019), his most recent feature, evidently combines his great artistic passions, and out of them, elaborates a drama that refers to the choreographic piece Madre, conceived in 1931, by legendary modernist dancer Isadora Duncan, after the death of her two children. The dance piece will be the obsession of four women, which the narrative will structure in three parts, with a fine staging centered on physical effort, and the body’s details, as a medium to observe a certain free and luminous transcendence.
Synonymes (2019), the sixth feature-length by Nadav Lapid, received the Golden Lion to the Best Picture, and the FIPRESCI Award at the recent Berlin International Film Festival. Nevertheless, due to his critical view on ideological obsequiousness in his country, his work had already acquired international notoriety with Policeman (2011), based on the tale of an egocentric, and nationalistic police officer, and his offensive against a radical leftist group that plans to kidnap a millionaire. In Synonymes, Lapid builds the delirious narrative of Yoav, an Israeli that, after his experience in the army, migrates to France, with the intention of becoming a citizen of that country, absorbing their culture, and become dissolved in a new way of life. His only intermediary with this new reality will be the dictionary, with which he will almost ritualistically organize this objective. In that precarious, almost unreal project, the movie becomes manifest as an ironic analysis on atavistic violence in Israeli culture.
Attendees to FICValdivia 2019 will be able to enjoy this broad perspective on contemporary cinema, and the filmmakers that have been creating buzz at the most important festivals in the globe, with pictures that are called to become the classics of tomorrow, next October 7 to the 13, in Valdivia.