Review: De noche los gatos son pardos
- Valentin Merz’s captivating debut feature film is a destabilising portrait of an alternative society dominated by instincts
After studying film direction at Geneva’s HEAD, Valentin Merz took his first steps in the world of the seventh art with two short films tackling intimacy head-on and offering up a potent mix of violence and tenderness: Brothers: A Family Film and Dreaming like Louis, which were both released in 2020. His first feature film De noche los gatos son pardos [+see also:
interview: Valentin Merz
film profile], presented in the Locarno Film Festival’s competition section, follows in the same vein as his previous movies, painting a poetic and violently surreal portrait of a film crew gripped by a vortex of passions which appear to drag them towards the abyss.
From its very first images, De noche los gatos son pardos shows the bodies of the actors/actresses who are part of the crew in question. They’re shooting an unspecified historical film, dominated by scenes of intimacy steeped in a heavy dose of eroticism. The majestic and mysterious forest envelops them, welcomes them and caresses them as if they were fragile and ambiguous creatures requiring protection. In spite of this reassuring embrace, an imminent danger can be felt, something or someone hiding in the shadows, ready to launch an attack. The director in the film, Valentin (played by Merz himself), suddenly disappears without a trace. While the police investigate his vanishing, the film shoot continues, but it takes an ambiguous turn. Robin, the director’s cameraman and lover, decides to make good on the promise he made to the man in his life, and travels to Istmo de Tehuantepec in Mexico.
The director of the libertine film - Merz’s alter ego and protagonist – acts as the guiding thread in a film which investigates the limits of imagination and explores the ghosts (as well as the obsessions) inhabiting the mind of every artist. Despite its intentionally meagre story, the micro stories which feed into this improbable human puzzle - accompanied, at times, by a kitsch, retro soundtrack which turns them into delightful vintage music videos - interact with one another and dialogue through the continual presence of the actors/actresses’ bodies. It doesn’t matter whether they’re film professionals, friends, lovers or Merz’s long-term collaborators, what counts is the spontaneity and sincerity with which they reveal themselves in front of the camera. There aren’t any fixed or hierarchically predetermined roles, no-one can watch in silence without taking part in the action, because the creative process in progress requires everyone’s involvement and constant dedication.
As stated by Marie Lanne-Chesnot who produced the film with Valentin Merz, De noche los gatos son pardos is a film whose communicative power extends beyond the film’s narration: it captures the audience by way of destabilising atmospheres which are both sensual and violent, and dominated by the actors/actresses’ physical presence. Just like the film’s protagonists, in order to fully enjoy the film experience audiences must open themselves up to the movie’s destabilising immediacy and to the power of its images which have been stripped bare of the reassuring narrative thread which normally surrounds them. Naturally, it requires a certain effort, but it’s nonetheless essential in order to enjoy the magic of a movie which slowly facilitates a collective catharsis.
Valentin Merz urges us to think about the very idea of cinema, the power of images as vectors of transformation and windows onto the world. Its representation of sexualities - gay, lesbian, associated with bondage or objectophilia – which depart from the dominant heterosexual model, show how intimacy is a mirror which must be understood and represented in all its resplendent diversity. Never pretentious, albeit deliberately “anti” narrative (in the traditional sense of the word), De noche los gatos son pardos helps us to rethink our understanding of cinema, as well as our concept of normality.
(Translated from Italian)
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