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Review: Las toreras


- In her debut feature film, Jackie Brutsche delves into her painful family past in search of answers which might help her understand the extreme act carried out by her mother

Review: Las toreras

Previously selected for the Locarno Film Festival’s 2021 First Look line-up dedicated to films in post-production, and recently honoured at the Zurich Film Festival with the Emerging Swiss Talent Award and the Zurich Church Film Award, Las toreras [+see also:
film profile
uses the medium of film to explore the unthinkable and to try to heal deep wounds.

Jackie Brutsche, born in Zurich to a Swiss father and a Spanish mother, is an all-round artist, at once a filmmaker, visual artist, performer and musician. This multi-disciplinarity informs her documentary, which takes a bold and refreshing approach to blend photographs of her childhood which was marked by all kinds of grey zones, contrasting family testimonies, fragments of letters and diaries belonging to her mother and fictitious images of a distinctly Dadaist flavour. In the latter, the director homes in on Jack Torera, her artistic alter ego, as she wanders through the deserted streets of a town inhabited solely by a girl wearing a troubling white mask, and as she faces up to a papier mâché monster which lives in the desert dunes. The two universes – that of her mother, who suffered with mental illness for many years, and which needs to be wholly reconstructed, and the fictional world of a strong female bullfighter who’s nonetheless frightened by what she discovers during her pilgrimage – coexist in the film in a surprisingly coherent way.

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Both a daughter and an artist, a character within the story she’s telling and a keen investigator, Jackie Brutsche allows the truths of each individual to coexist in her film so as to piece together a puzzle which is as complex as the illness her mother suffered from. Whilst her uncles and aunts who now live in Spain attribute the cause of her suicide to her husband/Jackie’s father and to the austerity of Switzerland where she seemed to have felt imprisoned, the latter, a psychoanalyst, sees his wife’s illness as the sole cause of her pain. Listening to everyone’s viewpoints - those who experienced the situation from afar (her family in Spain) and those who experienced it first-hand (her father, brother and uncles) - but first and foremost lending a voice to her mother, her malaise and pain, by way of her letters, diaries and drawings, the director courageously faces up to a past which her family members have always tried to bury, to avoid suffering and feelings of guilt. In this sense, the white mask worn by the mysterious character in the film represents the effort made by people suffering with mental illness to play a social role which they don’t feel is theirs, a role which suffocates them. And this malaise is even greater for those who identify as women and are only allocated secondary roles.

Art, far more than words, which have proven futile, helps the director to clear up the misunderstandings dividing the two families since her mother’s death. Listening patiently without casting judgement, Jack Torera gives Jackie the Director the strength to ask uncomfortable questions which might jeopardise a still-fragile family equilibrium. Cathartic, sensitive but also totally rock, Las toreras highlights art’s capacity to cure even the deepest of wounds.

Las toreras is produced by Recycled TV AG, Reck Filmproduktion and SRF Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen.

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(Translated from Italian)

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