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Review: Loving Highsmith


- Based on Patricia Highsmith’s diaries and notes, as well as touching testimonials from friends, lovers and relatives, Eva Vitija’s documentary is a deeply moving work

Review: Loving Highsmith

Chosen as the opening film of the 57th Solothurn Film Festival, Eva Vitija’s healthily (but necessarily) provocative Loving Highsmith bravely portrays the complex, tortured but always love-filled life (“love” in the wider and more profound sense of the word) of a writer, Patricia Highsmith, who became, over the years, a model of freedom and struggle against the discrimination meted out by a suffocating and bigoted society.

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Thanks to accurate and enthusiastic work on documents held in the Swiss Literary Archive (Highsmith spent the last years of her life in Ticino) and on priceless testimonials from those lucky enough to have met and loved Patricia Highsmith, Eva Vitija reveals a far lesser known side of the American author: one relating to her painstaking and vital search for love, for physical and emotional closeness with that special someone who often failed to accept her in all her disconcerting and fascinating complexity. Patricia Highsmith was a serial lover, of this there is no doubt, but she was first and foremost an artist who defied convention within a heteronormative, patriarchal society which saw "women" as nothing but wives and mothers; meek and predictable life partners, lacking in free will. Despite coming from a protestant, Texan, “Southerner” family, Highsmith never gave in to the "easiness" of a life revolving around conventions and around safeguarding a grotesque façade built upon lies. Her passion, for writing but primarily for life in all its heart-breaking diversity and complexity (Highsmith was an avid traveller), took her far away from her native Texas and off in search of her true inner self. Highsmith has never conformed to any (binary) gender role, her identity has always been intentionally ambiguous, elusive, malleable and constantly evolving, as Paul B. Preciado would say. Her true essence eluded others but it also eluded her, an indomitable river of magma which seethed and crackled inside of her. In this latest film, Vitija has managed to capture and make tangible the countless nuances of a being who was constantly battling her own demons, but it also conveys a society which viewed diversity as a dangerous abnormality rather than a creative force.

Even though Highsmith was forced to lead a double life, hiding her countless, intense relationships from the general public and her family, love was always the driving force and central theme of her artistic world. The voiceover delivered by Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) accompanies the audience through Highsmith’s universe, reconstructed by way of archive documents, unseen photos and intense, touchingly sincere testimonials from those who knew, lived and venerated the writer. Loving Highsmith is a beautiful tribute to love between women, to lesbian identity (to borrow Monique Wittig’s words) and to the battles fought by those who have suffered violence at the hands of a society which saw them as "persone non grate". In this respect, the testimonials given by Highsmith’s lovers and friends, Marijane Maeker, Monique Buffet and Tabea Blumenschein, are touching and courageous in equal measure.

Vitija’s latest work is an intense and emotional, multiform voyage through the artistic and human world of one of the most fascinating writers in the global literary landscape, a world made up of obsessions, secrets and passion; an intentionally complex universe where ambiguity becomes a strength rather than a weakness.

Loving Highsmith is produced by Ensemble Film (Zurich), Lichtblick Film- und Fernsehproduktion (Cologne), ZDF/Arte, RSI (Swiss Radio and TV) and SRF (Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen). International rights are held by Autlook Filmsales (Vienna).

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(Translated from Italian)

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