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Mountain: In denial about losing a loved one

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- VENICE 2015: The highly anticipated first feature-length film by Portuguese director João Salaviza delivers an abundance of mesmerising images at Venice

Review

A male figure lies on a bed. Soft light falls on his naked back while the sound of a fan can be heard, moving from left to right and right to left. The first of many beautifully constructed images from Portuguese director João Salaviza introduces the viewer into the carefully fabricated visual world of Mountain [+see also:
trailer
film focus
interview: João Salaviza
film profile
]
(Montanha).

After making a remarkable entrance onto the film scene by winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2009 with his short film Arena, followed by the Golden Bear for Rafa at the Berlinale in 2012, his first feature is premiering at the Venice Film Festival during the International Critics’ Week. Needless to say, expectations have been high regarding what this promising Portuguese director would present as his first feature-length film. He has teamed up once again with cinematographer Vasco Viana, who was also responsible for his two award-winning short films.

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It is Viana's shots that truly tell the story of David, played by David Mourato, a young teenager in denial about the imminent death of his grandfather. The images already portray the grandfather's absence, as we never get to see the man who initiates all of these actions full of lethargy, best expressed as a kind of “mobility of stagnation” in a long shot of a scene involving bumper cars. David, his best friend Rafael (Rodrigo Perdigão) and their common crush, Paulinha (Cheyenne Domingues), are just killing time, and so is the film. The visuals frame the story, just as they also frame the characters, as most images are composed in one way or another by doorframes obscuring the view, or featuring objects that are rarely shown in their entirety. The same applies to the personal bonds: while conversations taking place within the family or close circle of friends show both parties on screen, the connection to outsiders seems broken, as the teacher, for example, is never visible while appealing to David's conscience.

The bond between the camera and the protagonists is strong and confirms the director's intention: “In Mountain, perhaps more than in all the others, I managed a connection that I felt very deeply between the camera, as a vehicle for observation, and the bodies in front of me that are constantly changing.” Bodies in all forms, half-naked in the heat of the Lisbon summer, move in front of the camera and are frequently found intimately lingering on beds. 

Carloto Cotta, who recently starred in Miguel GomesTabu [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Miguel Gomes
interview: Miguel Gomes
festival scope
film profile
]
, and was also the protagonist of Salaviza’s Palme d’Or-winning short film, takes on the role of the father of David's little sister. He makes a brief appearance as another member of the family with whom the ties are broken, but who is trying to win back their affection. Mentioning an analogy between his own development and David’s adolescence, Salaviza characterises his first feature as the “end of [his] cinematic adolescence”. He battles for the affection of the viewer – but as always, when you want something that bad, it is not sure to happen. 

This Portuguese-French co-production is sold internationally by Pyramide International.

In collaboration with

 

photogallery

international title: Montanha
original title: Montanha
country: Portugal, France
sales agent: Pyramide International
year: 2015
directed by: João Salaviza
screenplay: João Salaviza
cast: David Mourato, Maria João Pinho, Cheyenne Domingues, Rodrigo Perdigão

main awards/selection

Venice 2015
Critics' Week - In Competition
San Sebastián International Film Festival 2015 
Lisbon and Estoril Film Festival 2015 
Premiers Plans Festival d'Angers 2016 
Crossing Europe 2016 
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