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TORONTO 2023 Discovery

Review: Arthur & Diana


- In her sophomore feature, Sara Summa takes us on a geographical and emotional road trip with her family members

Review: Arthur & Diana

The road is a common metaphor for life. A road trip with family members, especially with a toddler in tow, however, might turn out to be a living hell. One such lengthy road trip, from Berlin to Paris and then on to South Tyrol in Italy, is portrayed in the auto-fictional film Arthur & Diana [+see also:
interview: Sara Summa
film profile
, written, directed and edited by Sara Summa, and which recently had its world premiere in the Discovery programme of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

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Siblings Diana (the filmmaker herself) and Arthur (her real-life brother Robin Summa) travel with the former’s two-year-old son Lupo (the filmmaker’s adorable son Lupo Piero Summa) in an old, rusty Renault Espace. Their starting point is Berlin, where they say their goodbyes to Lupo’s father Patrick (Benjamin Schwimm) who sends them off with a load of junk food. At first, their goal is Paris, where the siblings’ mother Betty (Claire Loiseau) awaits them. The reason for such a travel by car, apart from Arthur’s fear of flying which is mentioned briefly later on, might be the annual technical inspection of the vehicle (with an uncertain outcome). Of course, they stop a few times: to take a hitchhiker (Livia Antonelli), spend the night in a camp, get pulled over by a police officer, take a detour to a lake… Even a forgotten gun goes off at one point, luckily to no consequence.

However, there is something unpleasant in the air between brother and sister, starting with their disagreements on technological progress and the different ways they lead their lives. Things from the past resurface and are discussed, building up to a heated argument. Even the car itself has its story and its secrets. Eventually, all the signs point to Arthur’s and Diana’s late father. Maybe the trip to Italy to attend the funeral of a relative could clear the air, but with families and unspoken resentments between their members, one can never be sure.

Although there are of course pieces from the filmmaker’s own life all over the film, her goal here is not to expose herself and her own family secrets, but rather to capture a certain moment in time that seems both diffuse and turbulent. Sara Summa excels in all four roles she’s assumed, filling the film with authenticity and sincerity throughout. As a writer, she is more than able to convince us that she is the one looking for the answers, along with us in the audience, all the while shifting fluidly and logically between three languages to tell her story. As a director, she is not afraid to take on the difficult task of filming around a toddler, a being that is unable to stay focused for long, while maintaining control over other aspects. As an actress, she gives herself completely and creates a strong chemistry with her brother (his acting experience also helps here) and her son. Finally, as an editor, she controls the rhythm of the film, while her weaving of some purely observational documentary sequences into the fabric of the fiction film is masterful.

Visually, Summa and her cinematographer Faraz Fesharaki aim for the feel of something between a documentary from the 1990s and home video from the same period. Although it was shot on different cameras and with different formats, the idea to finally print everything on 16mm film proved fruitful, since the natural warmth of this format serves the film well. In the end, Arthur & Diana is a sincere, warm, introspective experience that showcases the multitude of Sara Summa’s talents.

Arthur & Diana is a German production by German Film and Television Academy Berlin (DFFB) and Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg. Square Eyes handles the sales.

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