MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — Lucia and Julia’s Meik’s Buenos Aires-based Meikincine, a boutique sales company, has acquired world sales rights to “Al Desierto” (To the Desert), one of the only three Argentine movies in International Competition at this year’s Mar del Plata Festival, which opened Nov. 17.
Cinetren will release “To the Desert” on Nov. 30 in Argentina.
“To the Desert” is also just the third live-action feature from Ulises Rosell, one of the founding fathers of the New Argentine Cinema who, along with Daniel Burman, Israel Adrián Caetano and Lucrecia Martel, was one of the directors of 1996’s “Historias Breves,” a omnibus feature calling card for a new generation of Argentine directorial talent.
Though Rosell won a brace of awards for 2006’s “Sofabed,” his career has been lower-profile to date than these illustrious contemporaries, “To the Desert” marking by far his largest canvas for a theme which has marked some of his finest films, a sympathy for the marginalized, whether the singular snake-hunter, scrap merchant and bank robber hero of “Bonanza” or the Wichi community of North-West Argentina whom anthropologist John Palmer attempts to defend in 2012’s “The Ethnographer,” another docu-feature.
Penned by Rosell and Sergio Bizzi, an Argentine screenwriter-novelist adapted by Argentina’s Lucía Puenzo (“XXY”), Ecuador’s Sebastián Cordero (“Rage”) and Brazil’s Marco Dutra (“Era el cielo”), “To the Desert” is produced by Wanka Cine and Ajimolido Films, two companies behind debutant Emiliano Torre’s “The Winter,” a 2016 San Sebastián Special Jury Prize winner.
World premiering at San Sebastian’s Horizontes Latinos this September, “To the Desert” stars Valentina Bassi (“Common Ground”) and Jorge Sesan (“Ardor”). Enrolling genre, “To the Desert” constantly confounds expectations, kicking off with Julia, a casino waitress (Bassi) in Patagonia’s Comodoro Rivadavia, living on the breadline who accepts a job interview, proposed by casino client Gwynfor for a position at an oil company.
Driven into the depths of the desert, however, she soon realizes she is being kidnapped. But what could have been a stock abduction suspense drama becomes a survival thriller when Julia’s panics, causing Gwynfor to crash his truck, leaving both in a majestically barren Patagonia desert, an ocean of steep buffs and dry water courses swept by sandstorms. Free to run away, but with nowhere to run to nor knowledge of where she is and depending on Gwynfor for elemental protection, Julia begins to develop a kind of love for her captor. “I was interested in working at a relationship between two people isolated from the world as a mere narrative challenge, Rosell said, adding that he supposed that “without the gaze of the daily context and with the pressure for survival, possibilities would open up which would allow the characters to evolve from initial trauma of the abduction to less trodden grounds.”
“To the Desert” also delivers a telling comment on the state of Argentina’s laboring classes in a modern world. It begins with Julia attempting to forge a future for herself, renting a beachside apartment. But her job at a gargantuan, impersonal casino hardly gives her enough to pay the rent at a rickety down-market bedsit. The ranches Gwynfor and she stumbles upon in their trek have hardly changed for centuries: They still draw water from a well. But for both, they seem in some ways preferable to their dehumanized prior existence.
Just how far characters can remain on the margins is another matter. Shot in widescreen, “To the Desert” constantly shows individuals dwarfed by environment, as in the magnificent opening scene where Julia crosses a vast beach on her way to check out a beach-side apartment in Comodoro Rivadavia, her diminutive figure bending into a driving wind.
A family drama/revenge thriller taking place against the background of a lack of a rampant security in Latin America, “Maracaibo” hinges on the murder of the 24-old-Facundo, which leaves an irreparable sense of emptiness in the lives of his parents. Wracked by guilt and unresolved issues with his son, his father is overwhelmed y a deep desire for revenge, seeking out his son’s killer.
Produced by Pensa & Rocca, and picked up for distribution by Argentina’s Distribution Company, “Maracaibo” world premiered at the Shanghai Festival, and has just won the Key to Freedom prize, awarded by the inmates of Huelva’s state penitentiary during Spain’s Huelva Fest.
Lead-produced by Chile’s Storyboard Media and world premiering this year at the Berlinale’s Panorama Documentary Section, “Adriana’s Pact” – about the arrest of the director’s aunt, whom Orozco used to idolize, for human rights crimes under Augusto Pinochet – recently won the top Trfeu Bandeira Paulista Award for best film at Brazil’s 41st Sao Paulo Festival.