Switzerland’s Close Up Films, producer of the Participant Media-backed Toronto-premiered “Sing Me a Song” and co-producer of high-profile Cannes title “The Swallows of Kabul,” is developing a new production, “The Gift” (“Faiseuse de Secret”).
Set to be presented on Saturday April 25 as part of an RTS Prize: Documentary Perspectives showcase at Visions du Réel in Nyon, Switzerland, news of “The Gift,” comes as Close Up Films bows its latest film, Michele Pennetta’s “Il Mio Corpo,” in main competition on Visions du Réel’s online platform. It will be made available to 500 viewers over April 25 to May 2. Swiss sales company Sweet Spot Docs has acquired international sales rights to “Il Mio Corpo.”
Produced by Close Up Films’ Flavia Zanon, whose credits also include Karim Sayed’s “My English Cousin” and Locarno-selected “Bird Island,” “The Gift” turns on what seems a remarkable phenomenon for modern-day Switzerland. The Secret is a healing prayer that is believed to cure burns, warts, cuts and other ailments. Belief in it is especially prevalent in the north-west Jura region of Switzerland, bordering France, said Zanon who, although living in Geneva, admits to having had report to a reciter when young.
In the documentary, on the eve of her fifteenth birthday, Aaliyah, an ordinary teen living in rural Switzerland, is informed by great-grandfather André that he has chosen her as his heir, to receive the “Secret,” an ancient healing gift. Set to shoot over 2020-25 and filmed to date with large style by the director if a teaser is anything to go by, “The Gift” will track Aaliyah first years as a secret reciter.
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“In our day and age, where time seems to be a precious commodity and ancient traditions tend to recede, how will Aaliyah cope with her gift?” the film’s synopsis asks. “How will it shape the woman she is becoming? How will she, and her ancestral healing power, fit in our modern world?”
“The Gift” is the first full-length documentary of Pauline Jeanbourquin whose graduate film, “Crépuscule,” won the H.R Giger Award for best film at the Neuchâtel Intl. Fantastic Film Festival. Backed by development moneys from Switzerland’s Federal Office of Culture, she has shot Aaliyah over the last half year.
“Usually the secret reciters are old men. I’ve never heard of a young woman secret-maker. It’s quite fascinating,” Zanon said.
She added: “I’ve been asked what film I’d dream producing The first thing that came to mind was ‘Boyhood.’ The idea of being there for the duration and following someone for many years. There’s no instant gratification but it’s deeper, so emotional and in ‘The Gift’ we have this for five years plus magic. What more could I ask for?”
Set in a desolate Sicily, ”Il Mio Corpo” sets in telling parallel two father-son and Father-son relations, that between a scrap-dealer and his second son Oscar; and between a Sicilian priest and an Africa immigrant, Stanley.
Both teens suffer psychological and especially economic abuse, Oscar slaving free-of-charge for his father, doing the hard physical work of scrap collecting, and Stanley receiving chic accommodation from the priest in return for no pay work cleaning the church. He is then sub-contracted out as extraordinary low-paid labor to work as a a shepherd living in a ruin without electricity or running water.
“Il Mio Corpo” is Italian-born and Switzerland-based Pennetta’s third film shot in Sicily, recording the situation of total abandonment faced by the inhabitants of the central part of the island.
“The first time I travelled to this region, it felt like wandering on the site of an atomic disaster: everything seemed deserted. With ‘Il Mio Corpo,’ I wanted to describe the stigmas following the catastrophe: End of economic activity, endemic unemployment, slow decay of the environment, and the impossibility of integration and the precariousness of Sicilian youth,“ Pennetta told Variety.
Stanley and Oscar are “united by their feeling of being rejected by the world, trapped in a futureless land where decisions were made for them,” he added. “The title, ‘Il Mio Corpo,’ a truncated part of the famous prayer, captures the film’s essence: the sacrifice of two souls, using their bodies as instruments for survival.”