Starring Pablo Larraín regular Alfredo Castro, Chilean-Spanish writer-director Theo Court’s “White on White” (“Blanco en Blanco”) has been acquired for distribution in North America by Outsider Pictures.
Brokered by Outsider Pictures’ Paul Hudson and Luis Renart at Spain’s Bendita Film Sales, which is handling international sales to “White on White,” the deal follows on the film’s world premiere this September at the Venice Film Festival’s Horizons sidebar, where Court won a Silver Lion for the section’s best director and a film writers’ Fipresci Prize.
“White on White” was selected earlier this month as Chile’s submission for 2022’s Academy Awards in the international best feature film category.
Starring in Pablo Larrain’s 2008 breakthrough, “Tony Manero,” as well as his 2015 Berlin Grand Jury Prize winner “The Club,” Castro also headed Lorenzo Vigas’ 2015 Venice Golden Lion laureate “From Afar.”
It takes an actor of his stature to tease out the contradictions of his character, Pedro, in “White and White.” Set in the late 19th century, it begins with a portrait photographer, Pedro (Castro) being summoned to the rambling mansion of a powerful landowner, Mr. Porter, to immortalize his wedding.
Pedro is instantly infatuated by the beauty of the maybe pre-teen bride-to-be, Sara, and ends up taking photos of her in an erotic pose.
Beaten by his employer’s brutal hired-hands, he seems the only man on the ranch, however, who does not take part in the rape, hunting and murder of the local Indigenous Selknam people as Chile’s conquest of its South gathers pace.
Shot in a widescreen format by DP José Ayalon, capturing the stunning but bleak expanses of snow-caped landscapes – one reference of the title is to constantly falling snow – “White on White” captures in meticulous detail how Chile’s West – here, its deep South. This took in the systematic displacement, genocide and low-cost employment of indigenous communities in the name, just as in the U.S., of the Western world bringing supposed civilization to savage lands.
Court’s portrait of the white settlers in Chile’s south is a far more realistic depiction than classic Westerns, with ranch-hands dedicating much of their down-time to heavy drinking and non-consensual sex.
The film is inspired in part by Court’s reaction to photographs of the Selknam massacre, perpetrated in 1886 by Julius Popper, Tierra del Fuego’s most powerful landowner, which left 78 Selknam tribes people dead. Popper was photographed after the massacre, standing near the naked body of a dead Selknam, as three of his men training their Winchester rifles on the horizon, as if to shoot attackers.
“When I first saw the photographs of a massacre of the Selknam people perpetrated by Julius Popper in Tierra del Fuego, I was filled with questions: Who took this photograph? Who took part, as an unseen voyeur, in these events?” said Court.
He added: “Absentee landlords who financed the forceable settlement of colonies, the intrinsic barbarity of an organized and legitimatized ‘modern’ society. Within this universe I attempted to create a way of representing this uncomfortable, contradictory, and disturbing grey area.”
’I am a big fan of Alfredo Castro,” said Outsider Pictures founder Paul Hudson. “He’s been in a significant number of the most important and interesting films from Latin America over the last decade, and ‘Blanco en Blanco’ adds to this, introduced me to Theo Court, and illustrates the important voices that are still coming from the region.”
The period drama has won more than 20 awards from more than 70 prominent international festivals, including Rotterdam, Havana, Toulouse’s Cinélatino, Karlovy Vary, Thessaloniki, Shanghai, Sanfic and Lima among others.
“White on White” is produced by Spain’s El Viaje Films, Chile’s Quijote Films, Kundschafter Filmproduktion in Germany) and France’s Pomme Hurlante Films. Principal photography took place, despite immense difficulties, in Tierra de Fuego itself as well as Spain’s subtropical Canary Island of Tenerife.