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Review: Far West


- Swiss director and artist Pierre-François Sauter captures the everyday lives of a fisherman and fisherwoman couple who live in harmony with the natural world to which they’re devoted

Review: Far West

Eight years after Calabria [+see also:
film review
film profile
, Pierre-François Sauter is returning to the Visions du Réel Festival, within the International Feature Film Competition, with Far West, a movie that’s low key (in the noblest sense of the term) yet imbued with great poetry, a movie which leaves room for silence and a slow pace, juxtaposing them to the brash, consumerist frenzy invading our everyday lives. Focusing on the perspective of Angela and Jair, a fisherman and fisherwoman couple who live in a small community on the volcanic coast of Cape Verde, the director invites us to think about the enormous economic disparities characterising our world, but also about the relationship we have with nature and its resources. By taking the side of the indigenous peoples who pay tribute to Mother Earth in recognition of the riches she offers, the director makes the greed of predators (who turn up in Cape Verde to take part in “big-game fishing”) even more grotesque and cruel.

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The two worlds observed by Pierre-François Sauter – that of Angela and Jair, the film’s undisputed protagonists, and that of the rich, sport fishermen who turn up on their island determined to capture the biggest blue marlin possible, a legendary fish which even inspired Hemingway – come within touching distance of one another without ever really crossing paths. The superficial “good mornings” they absent-mindedly exchange and those fleeting moments where they share hotel space (where the one side are customers and the other servers) or fishing boats, are the only times where these two realities come into contact. Veering between indifference and suspicion, the two worlds observe one another distractedly and always from a safe distance: one group in their villas surrounded by walls, the other in their modest homes with wide-open doors, sharing the little that they have with the entire community.

It’s undoubtedly the latter in whom the director really takes an interest, making time to foreground the little details punctuating their daily lives. The director observes Angela and Jair empathically and poetically as they travel the long distance which separates them from the ocean, where they fish what they need to survive. Their bodies seem to lose themselves in the majestic and, in some respects, threatening landscape, as if they were morphing into a single organism. The magnificent sequence shots punctuating the movie - like 3D picture postcards coming from a far off land – give nature the space it once had and deserves, exalting its beauty as well as its cruelty. Instead of plundering its riches, like those scores of tourists who seem to think the ocean is a supermarket whose contents they can shamelessly help themselves to, Angela, Jair and those who actually live on the islands of Cape Verde take pleasure in the gifts of nature, aware of the fragility of their reality. The scene where the protagonist lights a small candle beneath a rock near the ocean is particularly beautiful, in this respect.

The intention with this film isn’t to idealise the lifestyle of its protagonists, but to reflect upon what is meaningful in our lives. What value does time really have? Is possessing something really more gratifying than sharing, and theft more gratifying than respect?

The silent meditation running through almost all of the movie and summarising Angela’s viewpoint makes the film’s final minutes, in which the director turns his gaze to technological tourist fishing boats, even more astounding, giving a sense of distorted reality. “We are the winners of the winners”, the rich tourists sing in unison at the end of the film. But the winners of what, we want to ask?

Far West is produced by Swiss firm Le Laboratoire Central together with Portugal’s Terratreme Filmes.

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(Translated from Italian)

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