Alejandro Almendras

Czech-spoken dramedy

SAN SEBASTIAN — In a career departure and sign of the growing empowerment of top Latin American filmmakers, Chilean Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Alejandro Fernandez Almendras (“To Kill a Man”) will direct “A Work of Love,” a bittersweet dramedy to be shot in Czech in the Czech Republic.

Almendras leapt to fame with two searing social indictments: “Man” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” which was selected for 2016’s Sundance and Berlin Panorama editions. Set in Almendras’ native Chile and shot in Spanish, both attacked failings in Chile’s justice system.

To shoot in b/w, “A Work of Love” is produced by Chile’s Jirafa Films, the company behind “Much Ado” and Christopher Murray’s Venice competition player “The Blind Christ,” Guillaume de Seille’s Paris-based Arizona Films, a producer on “Man and “Much Ado,” and Veronica Finkova’s Film & Roll in the Czech Republic.

Written by Almendras, “A Work of Love” turns on Petr, a small-town Czech theater director who determines to stage Georges Perec’s “Life: A User’s Manual” to make his name, maybe score a job in Prague. But Perec’s novel is vast, encyclopaedic, and unadaptable. containing 100 or so main stories.

The movie takes in the four-week final rehearsal build-up to the play’s opening, as the theater director battles to stage the unstageable, react to being dumped by his lover, the play’s lead actress who obsesses him, lay off staff, and handle the complaints of his estranged wife who wants to go back to work after having their baby. The opening night is a disaster of sorts: Very few people understand the play or attend its cocktail. But it wins a complement from one of the only people whose opinion Petr values – his father-in-law, a Czech acting legend – and brings him closer again to his baby son and wife, who may be in the process of forgiving him.

“After two very political films, I wanted to do some very personal, a movie made from the heart and soul, about love for people, your partner, your children, the work you do, the love of art and theater,” Almendras told Variety at San Sebastian, where he presented a second project, “Una periodista,” a Chile-set true-event-based political thriller which he plans to shoot after “A Work of Love.”

Almendras added that “A Work of Love” is “also about growing up, accepting the weaknesses of your partner, the complexities of love.” Inspirations include the “emotional, family dramas of Cassavetes and Garrel, though my film will be sweeter,” he said.

Traditionally, European producers would board Latin American films which depict its still hugely-challenged social realities and score overseas arthouse sales playing off an upbeat reception at an A-grade fest. Following in the footsteps of Cuaron, Del Toro and Iñarritu, Latin American directors are, however, increasingly challenging the idea that they should limit their career to observing their own part of the world. “Jackie,” filmed by fellow Chilean Pablo Larrain, is just one example.

Shooting will take place preferably in February-March or October-November 2017, using a small Chilean-Czech crew. Almendras will compose the film’s score. Opening credits will be drawn by Almendras’ six-year-old daughter Julieta, using simple pen on paper.

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