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LOCARNO 2023 Cineasti del Presente

Review: Negu hurbilak


- The mysterious first feature by the Negu directors collective reveals the ongoing trauma from an ever-present conflict

Review: Negu hurbilak
Jone Laspiur (left) in Negu hurbilak

Radical, obscure and ambitious, this first feature film by the Colectivo Negu - a group of young directors united in their worries, who met while studying at the Escola Superior de Cinema i Audiovisuals de Catalunya - definitely doesn’t leave viewers cold. Despite the persistent silence dominating the entire film which seems aimed at keeping the audience at arm’s length, the magnetism and wonderful melancholy of the landscapes draws us back in like a vortex. A tricky film to understand when interpreted solely from a narrative perspective, Negu hurbilak [+see also:
film profile
- competing in the Locarno Film Festival’s Cineasti del Presente section - only reveals its full, cruel beauty when the audience surrenders itself to its leisurely pace and to the tension enveloping everything like a finely spun web.

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The story, simple and terrifying in equal measures, is about a young woman (played majestically by 2021’s winner of the Goya for Best Female Newcomer Jone Laspiur) who, at the end of the Basque conflict, as announced by the ETA, runs away from home and from political persecution in the hope of successfully crossing the border. Opening in the present-day with the protagonist’s escape, the film doesn’t reveal anything about what she has done, about her involvement in the conflict or who she really is. All we understand is that the place where she currently finds herself, the border village of Zubieta, is totally foreign to her. Trapped in a present revolving solely around waiting, which is reflected in the cold and snowy landscape around her, our protagonist struggles between the hope of soon being able to escape and total resignation to her fate.

While waiting to take flight, this young woman is first taken in by a couple of farmers, who eventually feel too frightened to carry on hiding her, and then by a taciturn shepherd, who would rather not be looking after her. Between these two instances, we witness an unsuccessful escape attempt via a jeep driven by a village inhabitant who’s too frightened to follow through on his mission. Although the network of people willing to help her is vast, her feelings of loneliness and the eternal sense of waiting never leave her, like the snow on the mountains encircling and suffocating her.

Light years away from the dynamism of the many escape films offered up by American productions, Negu hurbilak chooses to concentrate on the worry, fear and thirst for freedom inhabiting the protagonist. Like a ghost among ghosts of a cruel and violent past which still haunts the Basque Country, the border gradually loses consistency, turning into pure desire. Light but also deeply melancholy, the many sequent shots depicting the majestic Zubieta landscape seem to live and breathe all on their own, mimicking the protagonists’ own feelings which fluctuate between desperation and the need to believe in an ever more unlikely escape. Indeed, the words, and the few, banal conversations captured in the film don’t say much about what our lead character is going through – it’s the landscape itself which speaks on her behalf.

The film’s final scene, set in a city during the carnival, shifts the story onto another level, as if all the silence accumulated to this point suddenly shatters in an ancestral, cathartic cry. Cruel, visceral and terribly instinctive, the carnival shows come to embody an even more palpable pain.

Negu hurbilak is a film that raises a number of questions but doesn’t attempt to provide all the answers; a rebellious and mysterious film leaving plenty of room for interpretation.

Negu hurbilak was produced by Catalonian outfit Cornelius Films together with Basque firm Maluta Films. Begin Again Films is managing international sales.

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(Translated from Italian)

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