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LOCARNO 2015 Competition

The Sky Trembles…, a tragic yet cathartic spiritual journey


- LOCARNO 2015: Ben Rivers' film, which was screened in its global premiere in competition at Locarno, is a delicate and cutting object to be handled with care

The Sky Trembles…, a tragic yet cathartic spiritual journey

British film The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers [+see also:
making of
film profile
by experimental artist and filmmaker Ben Rivers, one of the films battling it out for the Golden Leopard at this year’s Locarno Film Festival, moves away from pure experimentation to bring us a mysterious and metafilmic piece of narration. A personal, disorientating and cruelly pessimistic reflection on the profession of filmmaker and the search for freedom at all costs. 

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The film is essentially divided into two parts. The first is dedicated to the young French director of Spanish origin Oliver Laxe, a director (both on and off-screen) who intends to shoot his latest film in Morocco; the second part, which is purely fictitious, tells the story, based on the story A Distant Episode by Paul Bowls (who is most famous for his novel The Sheltering Sky, brought to the big screen by Bernardo Bertolucci), of a linguist (in the film, Laxe, who escapes from his film) who is kidnapped, maimed (his tongue is cut out) and sold on as a ‘court jester’, a sad dancer forced to wear an outfit made from shiny tin cans. Right from the start The Sky Trembles… challenges us. The images that populate it are almost hypnotically beautiful, yet there is something poisonous about them. The mysterious atmosphere is strengthened by the lack of dialogue, most of which is left un-translated, with the exception of the instructions that the director/protagonist gives his ‘actors’ (who are actually local people playing themselves). 

We are soon made to see the metaphysical dimension of the film: Ben Rivers films Oliver Laxe shooting his latest film without really understanding what the director’s aim is. Curious yet distant, almost dreamlike, Rivers’ gaze passes over the film set without ever really dwelling on anyone or anything, as if reality is slipping away from him or better yet, as if he himself is trying to escape reality, a limited and cruel filmic construction. The film’s shift from pseudo-documentary to a more narrative style transforms The Sky Trembles… into something much more ambiguous. Laxe becomes the projection of Rivers who abandons the set, escapes, in a way, from the conventions of film to allow himself to escape spiritually, in search of a utopic freedom tinged with poison. Suddenly, as if by magic, the words of the characters on the screen are translated, finally allowing us access to their world, not the one presented to us through the filter of film (like on Laxe’s film set) but the real, ruthless world they live in.

Made into a prisoner and deprived of speech, Laxe/Rivers loses his power over a reality which he had, in some way, control over up until then, becoming a jester with no will of his own. “You’ve found what you were looking for” one of his kidnappers shouts at him. What if freedom were actually this, a distorted and grotesque image of self? A hypnotic and unforgiving film that takes us far far away.

The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers was produced by London-based production company Artangel.

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(Translated from Italian)

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