Directed by Elene Naveriani and written alongside brother Sandro Naveriani, “Wet Sand” world premieres today in the Cineasti del Presente competition at Switzerland’s Locarno Festival.

Very much in line with the section’s mission statement, the Swiss-Georgian co-production is a vibrant example of emerging talent that has quickly grown into versatile auteurs with a striking control of their craft.

“Wet Sand” is Naveriani’s second feature and, beyond its craft and structure, playfully blends genres without losing a a clear auteurist voice.

Sold by Maximage, which produces with Takes Film, the feature is set in a small Georgian town on the Black Sea coast. Its inhabitants’ peaceful id mundane existence is broken when one of the locals is found hanged. His granddaughter, Moe, returns for his burial lifting the heavy veil with which her grandfather guarded his life, and casting light on the town’s entrenched bigotry.

Distributed in Switzerland by Sister Distribution the movie is full of comedic touches that tip their hat to Karismaki’s deadpan humor while delivering a sincere song of love amidst the brutish noises of judgment.

Variety talked with Naveriani in the buildup to her film’s debut.

The sound design is spangled with little details that raise very interesting questions about point of view, giving the sense that you tell the story as not only an omniscient narrator but also from the characters’ POV. When designing the sound, what were your core ideas? What interested you?

Sound design is one of my preferred parts in filmmaking. Basically, from the minute I start working on the film, sound is fundamental to creating rhythm, tone, atmosphere, movements and feelings of the characters. That’s also how most soundtracks were born and selected for the film, they contributed to the writing process and stayed in the film.

For “Wet Sand,” the sound design that constructed with Philippe Ciompi was to bring closer the elements that were off-camera or in the distance in the image. To play with the details of the textures, textiles, drops, moves, to create the off-spaces which were contributing to the storytelling and suggest the omnipresence of the humans.  We paid attention to sonar elements which are unheard in reality, the touch of the skin, rustling of the clothes, body moves, footsteps, breath, all these elements that bring characters closer and make them visceral and present.

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‘Wet Sand’ Credit: Maximage

The film’s montage cut scenes with a surprising softness:  rarely are any cuts in the middle of a scene felt. What was your design for camera movement, and how did that interact with the editing?

Already while writing the screenplay, I was thinking about how it would be shot and edited. Every scene has many details. The film is a slow peel process, if you cut too quickly layers can get lost. While working on editing with Aghesh Pakozdi, my cinematographer for the last five films, we decided to shoot the story with as few cuts as possible. The cinematography unfolds the story in a cautious, attentive and sensitive way. The camera takes a distanced position with its characters, showing them in relation to their environment and it rarely goes closer.

Camera movements are minimal, motivated by emotion and character action.

In general I’m not fond of moving shots, somehow it’s too fancy for my taste and often doesn’t fit the grammar of my films. The editing process aimed at focusing on and finding the right rhythm and atmosphere in the material that we delivered.

Some of your films tells stories with a clear interest in their Georgian background.  As in this film, they portray  not just main characters but a society. Could you comment? 

All my works are portraits of people in society. That’s how I construct or see the world around me. There is no individual without relation to the world, direct or indirect. In ‘Wet Sand’ the village is much present visually, it’s a direct antagonist, whereas in other films society is less displayed visually but always present, either in the background with details or in the sound.

The story manages to do so many things at the same time, it is both a love story and a sort of mystery film, with its plot twists, a portrait of a community and its prejudices. What were the challenges when structuring it? 

Sandro Naveriani, my brother,  is the co-writer of the screenplay and the initiator of the project. When we were kids we watched all kinds of films together, regardless of genre and quality. That’s how we formed our storytelling. When he writes, he likes to mix genres and he developed a more rigorous, structured way of writing and I enjoy adding into that structure internal chaos, deconstruct and destruct.  The challenges were how to create a context where our characters would co-habit and live together with prejudice, bigotry, fear, dreams and hopes, surrounded by social and political issues and tell this in a subtle way, with images and not with words.

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Elene Naveriani Credit: Maximage