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LOCARNO 2018 Out of Competition

Review: Islander

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- LOCARNO 2018: Stéphane Goël, a founding member of Lausanne collective Climage, unveils his latest feature out of competition at the Locarno Film Festival

Review: Islander

Three years after the profound and near-meditative About Heaven [+see also:
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Stéphane Goël is returning to the Locarno Festival to present Islander [+see also:
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, a film-canvas on which he traces countless tiny fragments of life, which link together to tell a story that is as improbable as it is enchanting.

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With Islander, Stéphane Goël appears to be picking up on an unfinished conversation from his earlier film, About Heaven,as he examines a (Swiss) people who are mysterious, in many ways, and whose character is mired by unavoidable stereotypes which mask the complexity and contradictions of their true identity. 

What lies behind the apparent tranquillity of this people, and the stability they enjoy that is so rarely encountered elsewhere? Goël doesn’t look to the Swiss territory to answer these questions. Instead, he turns to his very own island laboratory on the coast of a Chilean archipelago, a world that doesn’t appear to have a great deal in common with the mountainous landscape of Switzerland.

And yet, as the filmadvances, the similarities between these two Eden types become increasingly apparent. Although they’re incredibly far apart in distance, the two are united in their shared experience of one person in particular: the Bernese baron, Alfred Von Rodt. A confirmed optimist, a tireless explorer and an indisputable rebel, Von Rodt propelled himself as far as possible from the land of his birth, to land on a minuscule, almost invisible Chilean island, renamed (not by chance) Robinson Crusoe Island.

Through the clear and precise writing of Antoine Jaccoud (the unfailing partner in crime of Ursula Meier: Shock Waves – Diary of My Mind [+see also:
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, Sister [+see also:
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Home [+see also:
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interview: Thierry Spicher
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) which comes to us sotto voce, through the hypnotic tones of Mathieu Amalric, we dream, we despair, and we dream once again, anchored to the dogged and crazed conviction that we have finally found our very own Eden. A conviction that has remained intact since the distant days of 1877 and which intoxicates the “islander” descendants of Von Rodt, the unwanted son of a 19th century Switzerland which was in no way inclined towards flickers of madness.

Paradoxically, despite the endless attempts made by Von Rodt to distance himself from his compatriots, embracing the infinite riches of his new island-home with gusto, the concerns expressed by his descendants on the archipelago are remarkably similar to those in circulation back in Switzerland today. Namely, there is a fear that opening up the area to others (“los plasticos”, as they call non-islanders) would lead to the erosion of their identity (and, ergo, of their privileges). What if Eden were nothing but a state of mind, capable of rapidly veering towards fear? What if exclusion wasn’t a key factor in the construction of a people’s identity? What Islander seems to suggest is that, ultimately, the self-centredness of which these peoples are seemingly guilty, and which is considered by many to form a key part of Swiss identity, is quite simply the by-product of an increasingly exclusive sense of well-being. Fear, meanwhile, is common to all those who live a dream-like life, whether enjoyed among the mountains or in the midst of the ocean. Undoubtedly, the danger remains that self-centred attitudes and a complex of walls will replace the dreamlike décor of Robinson Crusoe Island. At which point, could we still speak of an Eden as such? Or would its beauty be replaced by a grotesque veneer, loved by an elite who are lost in a dreamworld? 

Islander was produced by Climage, which is also managing the international sales of the film.

(Translated from Italian)

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