Golden Leopard Winner Milagros Mumenthaler Returns to Locarno With ‘The Idea of a Lake’

Swiss-Argentine director returns to her themes of intimacy, family identity

Milagros Mumenthaler
Photo by Fernando Sanchez

LOCARNO —  In 2011, it wasn’t just Alpine weather which took Locarno by storm in 2011. “Back to Stay,” an intimate family drama from Milagros Mumenthaler, a then practically-unknown young Swiss-Argentine director, won its top Golden Leopard, best actress and a Fipresci international critics’ award. Five years later, she’s back with her second feature, “The Idea of a Lake,” which says much about the style of film she likes to make as well as her own family past.

Distributed in Italy by Look Now!, “Lake” is freely inspired by “Pozo de aire,” a book of poems and photos by Guadalupe Gaona –also the film’s stills photographer. But there’s a sense of semi-autobiography about it as well. It begins with Ines, an Argentine photographer in her thirties who is pregnant, setting out to publish a book dedicated to the memory of her father. She has only one photo, of a man standing beside a Renault 4, behind him a lake, where she used to play. His character remains unfocused. As the film develops, she struggles with her father’s absence – he disappeared in Argentina’s Dirty War – her mother, who has a completely different take on her father, and her own sense of belonging in southern Argentina.

Born in Argentina in 1977, Mumenthaler moved to Switzerland with her parents at an early age. But, “though political exiles, my parents never gave a sense of rootlessness,” she reflected. That said, Mumenthaler said she felt “a strong connection” with Gaona’s book, beyond the fact that she was a daughter of someone who disappeared under the dictatorship.

Building Ines’ character, she interviewed children of “desaparecidos,” researched their childhood were, their sentiments as adults.

A co-production between Geneva-based Alina Film (“Jean-Gabriel Périot’s “A German Youth”), headed by David Alpinay, and Violeta Bava and Rosa Martínez River at Buenos Aires’ Ruda Cine, which also produced “Home To Stay,” Mumenthaler’s second feature received a Doha Film Institute grant.

“My two pictures are linked by their attempt to explore intimacy, by precise camera work in ‘Back to Stay’ and narrative structure in ‘The Idea of a Lake.’ In my next film, I will keep continue to explore this theme of intimacy,” Mumenthaler announced.