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Energetic Italian sales agent Open Reel has closed world sales rights to Valentin Merz’s “De noche los gatos son pardos,” which will world premiere in this year’s Locarno Festival International Competition. 

One of two first features in Locarno’s main competitive section, “De noche los gatos son pardos” (“At Night All Cats Are Black”) returns to Europe’s largest mid-Summer film event after winning the biggest prize last year at its First Look pix-in-post showcase focused on Swiss movies.

That prize went to the section’s boldest entry, a genre mashup of film shoot drama and comedic procedural which proves an ode to sexuality in its multiple manifestations, as well as to love and filmmaking. 

Shot through with a meta conscience, “De noche…” turns on a highly disparate crew and cast shooting a sexually-souped costume drama in wooded hills. Suddenly, its director, Valentin disappears. Clodhopping local cops interview the crew, as Robin, the film’s DP and Valentin’s lover, travels to the Pacific-shore Mexico to fulfil a promise. 

Much of the interest – and fun – of “De noche los gatos son pardos” come from its constant bucking of traditional filmmaking cannons and so audience expectations.  

Taking its cue from “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” the film being shot is period, but an exultation of sexuality, here of the whatever-turns-you-on variety, with Valentin himself a foot and finger fetiche. 

“The boundaries between the film-within-the-film and the narration from a bird’s eye view are intentionally blurred,” Merz has said. “Along with its playful approach to fiction and narration, the film erases the classical boundary between those behind and in front of the camera,” he added.

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De Noche los gatos son pardos Courtesy of The Open Reel

So Merz plays what he claims is a more exciting but not always complimentary version of himself, who, as he notes, takes advantage of his power as a director to have several liaisons outside his life-defining relationship with Robin. 

Often it’s difficult to know whether scenes are shots from the fiction film or on-set horseplay between the actors. Merz also holds takes so that they become non-fiction shots of actors reacting to their own performance in a movie.

Merz worked in Mexico as a typographer over 2007-09 just as Carlos Reygadas was tearing up the rulebook off filmmaking. Like Reygadas, “Todos los gatos” refuses to stick to main characters, suddenly dedicating a good stretch of the movie to two undertakers who seemed destined for just walk-on-roles.

This anti-hierarchy approach, as Merz describes it, also affected the film’s casting. “Todos los Gatos son Pardos,” he says, brings protagonists from different backgrounds together: Farmers from the Limousin region [of France], asylum seekers from Mauritania, actors from the world of ethical pornography, classically trained film and theater actors, as well as Muxhes from the Istmo de Tehuantepec region in Oaxaca, Mexico.

“I wanted to make a film about the big issues in my life: filmmaking, love, sex and death,” Merz says. 

Produced by Marie Lanne-Chesnot and Merz at his Swiss Andrea Film label, “De noche los gatos son pardos’” title quotes a Spanish saying: “At night, all cats are brown,” suggesting how it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish how things really are. The film turns very often on human confusion – though overridden in the final analysis by sentiment. 

For Merz, “the characters are all looking for something – and instead of finding it, they get lost. Valentin and the undertakers get lost in the monotonous, endless fir forest; Robin in the exuberant jungle; the policemen in their investigations….”

“I’ve been impressed watching Valentin’s movie already last year, when it took part in the First Look WIP Festival section,” Open Reel CEO Cosimo Santoro told Variety.

“When I saw the completed version early this year, I did not have any hesitation in wanting to acquire it as I got the confirmation of Valentin’s ability to mix different genres, to use citations and references, at the same time cultured and popular, and to model the artistic matter in an original, as well as personal, creative universe, so that watching ‘De noche los gatos son pardos’ became a tout-court artistic experience.”

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De Noche los gatos son pardos Courtesy of The Open Reel