by David Katz
- CANNES 2023: Metamorphoses, mud and madness abound in Lisandro Alonso’s latest, an exploration of links between global indigenous groups
Global consciousness, mysticism, metaphysics, the earth and the land. This is the terrain traversed by Lisandro Alonso in his long-awaited Eureka [+see also:
interview: Lisandro Alonso
film profile], marking only the second feature in two decades from the Argentinian filmmaker, following 2014’s Jauja [+see also:
film profile]. Manifesting an experimental spirit – especially in its determination to try things for the sake of themselves, unafraid they won’t fully come off – Eureka is a heady, thought-provoking and often beautiful experience, artistic minimalism at its most elasticated and textured. Showing in Cannes Première, it was expected by many to be Alonso’s debut competition bow, but this less pressurised launch is suited to its aura of pensive, disruptive quiet.
As a description, rather than a point of criticism, Eureka is also perhaps a film of surfaces, rather than deep exposition or clarity on its subject matter. Apart from a brief Western-pastiche prologue, its main aim is to contrast and dually invoke indigenous life in the United States and Brazil, and how each terrain has forced a rejection or a tentative embrace of modernity. But despite this, we don’t especially come away from the film, which Alonso co-wrote with Martín Caamaño and Fabian Casas, as richly informed as we might like to be on customs, causes and effects. Truly, and likely intentionally, a sense of mystery is preserved: here, the non-native viewer of the film is granted the chance to be perplexed and estranged, for a change.
Viggo Mortensen’s revenger Murphy, riding into an unnamed, rickety 19th-century mining town in the prologue, seems deceptively to take the lead role, but soon cedes the foreground to the native characters. Alonso’s is a cinema of movement and transient ground, and despite their profound connection to the land, the indigenous people are always moving, transcending the bounds of their physical state, but never crucially being displaced or cleansed from their home and hearth. The second main section fascinatingly incarnates this in the figure of Alaina (Alaina Clifford), a patrol cop on a North Dakota reservation, and we follow her duties in patiently realistic detail. The social disarray of modern Native Americans is sorrily evoked – the alcoholism, poverty and suicide attempts – and Alonso lets us gauge how Alaina is afforded a stable, middle-class life and salary by being the stiff arm of law enforcement against her own community.
There is hope, however, in her daughter Sadie (Sadie Lapointe), a basketball coach at a local high school, who looks to her grandfather (whose small role at the start of the prologue is just one indication of the time slippage and dream logic that Alonso employs) to enrich her sense of her heritage. A brilliant coup de cinéma then occurs, providing an uncanny bridge into the Amazonia-set narrative strand, where near-group therapy sessions by the Brazilian indigenous characters allow them to recount their recent dreams, and which indicate what we’re watching could be very much that. This community hasn’t been subject to displacement in the same way as those of other “first nations”, yet opportunities to mine for gold sow discord, exploitation and a kind of existential curse for those tempted from the traditional settlements. An echo is also created from occurrences at the beginning, as this scenario closes with the exaction of cathartic revenge.
With David Lynch seemingly serving as a happy inspiration for Alonso’s panorama of native life, Eureka can be seen as a narrative Möbius strip, where ancestral beliefs and mysticism reclaim the way in which European settlers shattered indigenous people’s equilibrium with the world. And the director knows he can’t be privy to every word of their buried secrets.
Eureka is a co-production by France, Germany, Portugal, Mexico and Argentina, staged by Slot Machine, Komplizen Film, Rosa Filmes, Woo Films, 4L, Luxbox and Arte France Cinéma. International sales are by Le Pacte.
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