“They say that childhood is the most beautiful part of life,” a father tells his daughter at the beginning of “Unicorn,” the second feature by Brazil’s Eduardo Nunes, which will have its international premiere in Berlinale’s Generation.
His daughter begs to differ, as does “Unicorn,” sold by FiGa Films, a fairy tale set in a cottage in the mountains, shot in an arresting extreme widescreen format and highly-saturated colors and a portrait of the confusion of a 13-year-old girl confronting for the first time her sexuality and that of others.
Variety has had exclusive access to the film’s trailer.
That uncertainty is caught in the film’s story line. In it, a kindly father (Zécarlos Machado), who appears to have been interned in the white-walled cell of a psychiatric ward, tells his daughter (Barbara Luz) a story about her living as a young girl, Maria, in a country cottage with her mother (Patrícia Pillar). As they await the father’s return, their harmony is broken by the arrival of a man (Lee Taylor), a rude but attractive goatherd with whom the mother begins a relationship.
Or the scenes with the father can be seen as imagined by Maria, a lonely child ping for her dad; or happening in some time before or after the mountainside action. Set in what looks like Switzerland (but was really shoot in upstate Rio), the film is spangled by fairy tale tropes: the Unicorn, which wanders in the nearby woods, poisonous fruit, the quaint cottage in the wilds, a mother whom her daughter comes to think evil. “I thought that if I laid my head to her chest, I would hear a disgusting sound in her heart,” she tells her father.
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Valente caught attention with the B & W “Southwest,” a feature debut that screened in competition at the Rotterdam Festival, proved a festival favorite, and won 23 prizes, including two Fipresci and Andrei Tarkovsky awards.
“Unicorn” is equally stylish, hand-painted to accentuate colors which pop out of the screen: Near yellow hillside grass, the contrasting barks of trees, the red fruit of a hilltop tree.
“When I choose a very colorful universe, this is a reference to the world of the ‘fairy tale’; but also maybe to the colors that predominate in the memory of the girl’s character; in the same way, the option to use an extremely horizontal image causes a strangeness that leads to another universe, far from our day-to-day world,” Nunes says in a director’s statement.
“Unicorn” represents Nunes’ “take,” as he calls it, on two stories written by Brazil’s Hilda Hilst, “O Unicornio” and “Matamoros,” stories which deal with desire, frustration, sexual attraction and violence. But she deals with these themes in a particular way where the body’s contact with the world is an important form of knowledge,” says Nunes.
He adds: “The way the character, who is 13-years-old, understands the world is just like any other person her age. There is no certainty about their desires, frustrations and even will to violence. She is discovering the world in a very limited universe, where there is only the strong presence of nature and her mother, who is a parameter for everything: Beauty, behavior, morals.”
Produced by 3 Tabelas Filmes, co-produced by Brazil’s Canal Brasil, and written by Nunes, “Unicorn” will be distributed in Brazil by Vitrine Filmes. It world premiered at last fall’s Rio de Janeiro Festival.