Announced at Locarno, Vicente Alves do Ó’s “Sunburn,” (“A golpe de sol”) participating at this year’s Portugal-focused Works in Progress event, is to be sold by international sales, distribution and production company The Open Reel, with Portuguese distribution handled by NOS.
Shot in a 2:35 widescreen format, “Sunburn” is a deeply personal examination by Alves do Ó of the way in which people from our past can stick with us, and an experiment in what can happen when they re-enter our lives. It also works hard to combat gay stereotypes that often weigh down other similarly-themed stories.
In it, four friends enjoy a weekend in a luxurious cabin in the dry Portuguese countryside. As the sun beats down on their well-maintained, now middle-aged bodies, each receives a call from the same former lover David. It seems that after years away in Brazil, he is back, and will be making an appearance at the vacation spot, forcing the group to dredge up untold stories and not entirely-healed wounds.
The film is produced by Ukbar Filmes’ Pandora da Cunha Telles and Pablo Iraola, whose movies range from the auteur to A-fest banner titles, and crossover movies, mixing art and narrative drive.
A relatively young company, The Open Reel was founded in 2012 and is based in Turin Italy. Focused on supporting and developing cinema on an international level, the company has a strong reputation for representing LGBTQ films.
The director talked with Variety about the film’s autobiographic elements, demystifying stereotypes of the gay community and what’s next for the work in progress.
Where did the idea for the story come from?
The concept for “Sunburn” came from a time and a period of my life where a lot of past stories and past loves suddenly reappeared, out of the blue, when I wasn’t expecting them anymore. I realized it’s the kind of thing that a lot of people go through, so I thought it was a good idea to focus on those moments and discuss them – especially at a time when emotions and love stories seem to be disposable, people throw them away very quickly.
Is the part of the screenwriter autobiographical?
Yes, the screenwriter (Simão) is me. It’s true, especially when you see him typing and deleting the script – of course I didn’t delete this one.
As much as this is a story about untold secrets and past traumas, there are other universal themes addressing ageing and acceptance. Is this a story you think you could have told five, 10 or 15 years ago?
I wrote it almost 10 years ago thinking that I would come to believe or be something that I ended up becoming. I knew, somehow, that was my path. It’s not all about ageing and acceptance, it’s trying to demystify the idea that the gay community is always worried about the same issues and I wanted to deconstruct that. I wanted to talk about relationships and bringing the gay element to give it a more vast perspective, not just the sexual part of it. For me, the most important part of the film is to realize that, at the end of the day, these four people just want to be loved, have a family, maybe even children, just like everybody else.
Was there ever a temptation to show David?
I have an image of David, but I never wanted to show it. I want everyone who watches the film to build their own David, the same way the four characters do, when they are talking about him. You can tell there are so many sides to him. We are different people every time when we fall in love. I would maybe consider showing David if there was a sequel to the film…
What is the intended audience for “Sunburn”? What do you want them to get out of seeing the film?
The idea has a lot to do with how we build ourselves as emotional beings through our lives. At the same time, I think that everybody had that crush or sad story that makes us wonder what our lives would be like if that person came back. I believe that everyone who watches this film will leave the cinema remembering their own experience and that one story buried in the past.
You have written and directed for both film and TV. Do you have a preference, and can you talk about how the two platforms are different to you?
Working on TV and cinema has been a great experience, but cinema gives me more freedom to choose and express whatever I want. When it comes to television, there are preconceived rules. When you are not afraid of life, you will always choose cinema. Television, somehow, gives me comfort. I think that’s why people are so drawn to television.
What are your goals for Locarno?
The main goals would be getting feedback on this cut of the film, since it’s a work in progress, and find investment to work on the post-production elements mentioned above. We also see this as an excellent opportunity to showcase “Sunburn” and find future opportunities.