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Locarno: First Look Highlights ’Stasis,’ ‘Portugal,’ ‘The Mover’

‘El Padre Medico,’ ‘The Little Comrade,’ ‘Paradise 89’ complete a line-up from a building European film region

Mantas Kvedaravicius’ “Stasis,” Lauri Lagle’s “Portugal” and Davis Siamanis Jr.’s “The Mover” feature in the Locarno Festival’s 2017 First Look, which focuses on Baltic cinema. “El Padre Medico,” “The Little Comrade,’ and “Paradise 89” complete the line-up.

A competitive showcase highlighting movies in post-production, First Look traditionally marks one of Locarno’s industry highlights.

Designed by First Look project manager Markus Duffner, First Look also represents an opportunity this year to take in the Baltic States, a region which is growing in production volume, artistic ambition and international production reach. Two cases to point: Four of the six Baltic movies showcased are international co-productions; celebrating its film centenary, Latvia has 16 new features to show to international markets, said Latvia Film Center Dita Rietuma. Estonia produced 20 movies in 2016; Lithuania enjoyed a 19% local market share.

The main challenge – and it’s symptomatic of many emerging film industries – is international distribution. Producers of all six movies, from some of the Baltic States’ highest-profile companies, hit Locarno looking for sales agents. Securing them is of course one of the objectives of First Look.

Outside the Cannes and Berlin Festivals, Locarno indeed has one of the biggest industry attendances of any festival in Europe.

The latest film from Estonia’s Allfilm – which backed 2013 Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominated “Tangerines,” and 2015 “The Fencer,” another Golden Globe shortlist title, “Portugal” is billed as an “adventurous love story with comical elements.” Marking the feature film debut of Estonian actor-theater director Lauri Lagle, it turns on a well-off couple who begin to change. A dentist, he worries about middle-age; she is convinced he’s having an affair. One day, she hits the road in the family trailer, looking for new happiness. Co-starring is Mirtel Pohla, seen last year in Vallo Toomla’s well-reviewed “The Pretenders,” another feature debut about marital relationship implosion.

“Portugal” “dissects the paradox of how to love a person for who they were and who they’re becoming,” its makers say. Apart from a contemporary sense of disillusionment in work satisfaction, it could happen anywhere in the last few decades.

Otherwise, the brute force of history sweeps through Locarno’s First Look, whose other five titles are heavily grounded in reality, – contemporary, past decade, 1989 or World War II – exposing life on the margins in Eastern Europe, neo-imperialist exploitation of Latin America, the dawn of freedom in 1989, the curse of Stalinism, and the Holocaust in Latvia.

Wrenching change is often registered by children, whose natural affections are challenged and warped. The first feature from Estonia’s Moonika Siimets, for instance, family drama “The Little Comrade,” which is set in 1950, plumbs the impact of Stalinism on six-year-old Leelo whose mother, a school principal, is deported to a labor camp. The little girl is haunted by her mother’s last words to be a good kid. Just what that means in Stalinist Estonia is another matter. “The Little Comrade” is produced by Tallin’s Amrion which was launched in 2003 to make auteur-driven international co-productions.

Directed and written by Latvia’s Madara Dišlere, and another feature debut, “Paradise 89’ turns on a nine-year-old who, in the late ‘80s, discovers new freedoms at her cousins’ house. This is the paradise of the film’s title. But it is steadily eclipsed by her parents’ divorce. The experience teaches her that “no matter what the future of her country might bring, family values are of greater significance than anything,” the synopsis runs. Riga’s Tasse Film produces with Germany’s Bastei Media.

In First Look’s broadest international co-production, “Stasis” re-teams its lead producer, Uljana Kim at Lithuania’s Studio Uljana Kim – the company behind Ignas Jonynas’ San Sebastian New Directors hit “The Gambler” – with France’s Rouge Intl. and Lithuania’s Extimacy Films. The Ukraine’s Esse Production House also produces.

Kvedaravicius’ third feature and first incursion into fiction narrative, though this is mixed with documentary techniques, “Stasis” is based on three years of anthropological research among marginal communities in Odessa, Istanbul, and Athens. It is described as the love and crime story of Mehdi, a Sudanese coffee shop owner, Garip, a Kurdish gangster, and two Ukrainian friends: Sofia, an icon painter, and Anna, who works in a brothel.

“The Mover,” from Latvia’s Simanis, recounts the true story of two unlikely heroes, Zanis and Johanna Lipke, Latvia’s Oskar Schindlers, who used Zanis’ position as a contractor to the Luftwaffe to become a black-marketer,which became a front for his moving Jews across Riga to a poky basement beneath his barn. The Lipkes are credited with saving some 40 of the 200 Jews in Latvia who survived World War II.

“The Mover” is produced by Riga-based Mistrus Media, which has specialized in fiction films offering remembrance of human fortitude during Latvia’s ghastly World War II, such as “The Chronicles of Melanie,” directed by Viesturs Kairišs. Luxembourg’s Amour Fou (“Egon Schiele,” “Hannah Arendt”) co-produces.

A documentary, and director Vytautas Puidokas’ feature debut, “EL Padre Medico” profiles Alexander Ferdinand Bendoraitis, a European missionary, philanthropist and a doctor who, settling in the Amazon from the early 1960s, set up a boat-clinic network, its first jungle radio, and most modern hospital. Investigation into Bendoraitis’ life, however, reveals that he created “countless fake narratives,” said producer Paulius Juočeris.

He added: “Furthermore, the interactions with his closest surrounding – indigenous tribesmen, European sponsors, Brazilian and Bolivian colleagues and Padre’s family members in Lithuania – reveals a shocking reality reaching far more than just Padre himself.”

Lithuania’s Ironcat produces  in domestic co-production with Dansu Films and in international co-production with Brazil’s Lente Viva Filmes.

Cannes Critics’ Week’s Charles Tesson, SXSW’s Janet Pierson and Venice Days’ Sylvain Auzou comprise this year’s First Look Jury. First Look runs Aug. 4-6 at Switzerland’s 70th Locarno Festival.

2017 LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL FIRST LOOK SHOWCASE

“The Little Comrade,” (Moonika Siimets, Estonia)

“The Mover,” Davis Simanis Jr., Latvia, Luxembourg)

“El Padre Medico,” (Vytautas Puidokas, Lithuania, Brazil)

“Paradise 89,” (Madara Dišlere, Latvia, Germany)

“Portugal,” (Lauri Lagle, Estonia)

“Stasis,” (Mantas Kvedaravicius, Lithuania, Ukraine, France)

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