Spanish-Chilean filmmaker Théo Court is prepping the follow-up to his Venice prize-winner “White on White,” which won the Silver Lion for best director in the festival’s Horizons strand in 2019, and was Chile’s submission in the best international feature film Oscar race this year.
Court spoke exclusively to Variety about “Tres Noches Negras,” which he’ll be presenting during the Rotterdam Film Festival’s CineMart co-production market this week.
Set in the Chilean countryside, the film tells the story of a peasant who asks the devil to grant him a wish beneath a full moon. A young Haitian man soon appears dead on the grounds of the mansion that looms over the peasant’s feudal, rural community, setting off an investigation that will unravel the complex social and human fabric of modern-day Chile.
“Tres Noches Negras” is deeply inspired by the central Chilean region where Court was raised after spending the first 15 years of his life in Spain. “It has always been for me a magical place, coming from Madrid, a place where I could learn to cope well with loneliness and find an inner identity,” he said.
A moody, evocative region “of changing seasons, constant rain, mud, deaths, suicides, family, childhood, faces, forgetting,” it is also where Court “grew up artistically.”
“There appeared for me cinema, poetry, art, and also the possibility to look at my own environment as a foreigner and question it,” he said. “And in particular, it is a place for me that is very representative of many of the themes I want to address and that I have already worked on in my two previous feature films.”
Set in 19th-century Chile, Court’s arresting sophomore feature, “White on White,” follows a portrait photographer who is summoned to the mansion of a powerful but absent landowner to photograph his wedding. Forced to accompany the landowner’s men on a brutal mission to hunt and murder the local Indigenous Selk’nam people, the photographer journeys from unwitting witness to complicit chronicler of one of the darkest chapters in Chile’s colonial history.
Echoes of that violent past, said Court, still resonate today. “I feel that there are social and political structures that continue to prevail from the colonial era until today in Chile, and I think that revisiting it from the rural world is important to understand the transition that this country has undergone,” he said. “For me it is important to account for the loss of a way of inhabiting the world, through the landscape and its last inhabitants, loaded with the past memory of a different world, neither worse nor better.”
Inspired by a popular Chilean myth “where Catholic vestiges of patriarchal domination can still be seen through a figure such as the devil,” said Court, “Tres Noches Negras” unspools as a murder mystery, a genre that has interested the filmmaker “from a cinematographic and literary point of view” from an early age.
“I think it is a genre that a priori allows me to enter, to dig through a plausible investigation into the social, political and problematic human layers as a way of uncovering a reality,” he said. “More than discovering an apparent crime, I am always interested in what underlies it, and for that I must find narrative mechanisms that account for it. And I think the detective or mystery genre helps me to catalyze these concerns that I want to expose.”
Produced by Quijote Films in co-production with El Viaje Films, “Tres Noches Negras” is currently in the early development phase. During the co-production market, Court and his producers are searching for potential European and Latin American co-producers as well as an international sales agent.
The Rotterdam Film Festival’s CineMart co-production market takes place online from Jan. 30-Feb. 2.