Life Aquatic By Violeta Kovacsics

in 58th Locarno International Film Festival

by Violeta Kovacsics

In Locarno, somewhere between a road movie and an intimate diary, I found a small surprise: August’s Day (Dies d’agost), the suggestive and gorgeous journey of Marc Recha and his brother through the Catalan countryside.

Presented as a draft film, August’s Day tells the story of the Recha brothers while they are travelling to search for the traces of an old man Marc interviewed once. The family portrait converges with history as they meet different people and landscapes, like a forest that still hides the traces of the Spanish Civil War. However, it is not these encounters what make August’s Day a touching film, capable of transmitting emotion simply through its images. Recha films the river with evocative travelling that reminds me of those of Werner Herzog: drawing an atmosphere full of mystery.

The film gets closer to the two brothers, while they sit down and walk almost without talking, as if it were Gus Van Sant’s Gerry. But in August’s Day there is no tragic ending; it drifts, it goes nowhere, it loses one of its main characters and later finds him without any explanation, as if it were an open diary written day to day.

It was nice to find out, in a festival that takes place in a village next to an imposing lake, that most of the fascinating films took place in countryside landscapes watered by rivers. Another example was Lisandro Alonso’s Los muertos, which contains the same idea of a journey as August’s Day.

As for the competition section, those days of August were transposed to the French countryside through the eyes of a child in Demented (Le dernier des fous), a claustrophobic portrait of a bourgeois family. The river is the setting of one of its best sequences, when the child goes swimming with a girlfriend and she drowns, leaving the child alone and desperate, unable to understand. The atmosphere is as heavy as Lucrecia Martel’s The Swamp (La ciénaga). The film succeeds in describing family secrets through closed doors and hidden gestures. The boy observes as a passive character, almost omnipresent, the veiled violence that ultimately explodes in a final sequence that explains both the title and the definitive fall of the family.

The perfect opposite of Demented and a cheerful exception in a competition section marked mostly by pessimism and drama, was another Belgium co-production: Joachim Lafosse’s What Makes You Happy (Ça rend heureux), a bittersweet portrait of a young filmmaker who is trying to survive both in his second film and in his private life. An urban film with clear reminiscences to Philippe Garrel’s work — the close-ups of a girl the director has fallen in love with, but mostly the fact of filming in first person — but with a twist of humour.

Both What Makes You Happy and August’s Days approach the world of their creator. While Marc Recha makes a work in progress, an open journey with a video camera, Joachim Lafosse gets close to everyday life; while What Makes You Happy suggests a love story through the portrait of a girl’s face, August’s Day seduces through the view of moving seaweeds. Two different exercises that share the fact of being extremely close to their directors.