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STRANGE RIVER / ESTRANY RIU / featurefilm / development
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Two brothers, Dídac (14) and Biel (12), travel by bicycle along the Danube in Germany and Austria with their family. The two are inseparable and together they share their sexual discovery. But everything changes when they meet mysterious Alexander (16), who appears and disappears like a ghost. Dídac feels a strong desire for Alexander and Biel notices that his brother begins to change and to distance himself from him.
Project title Estrany Riu International title Strange River Stage Development Director Jaume Claret Muxart Screenplay Jaume Claret Muxart Genre Fiction / Drama / Romantic / Coming of age / Roadmovie Duration 100 minutes Format 16mm Ratio 1.66:1 Projection Format DCP color Languages Catalan (principal), English, German. Locations Germany, Austria. (Donaueschingen to Linz)
SINOPSIS Dídac (14) travels by bicycle along the upper Danube with his family. The first days on the road in Germany, when the river is a stream, he looks after his brother Biel (12) with affection, the two are inseparable. Dídac introduces him to sexual discovery and Biel discovers how his brother’s body begins to change. The family also travels with one purpose in mind: to find the house where Monika, their mother, spent her childhood.
But everything changes when Dídac begins to see a strange figure in the river’s waters. It is Alexander (16), who appears and disappears during stormy days as if he were a ghost or an undine. Dídac, like the Danube, is growing by leaps and bounds and begins to feel a strong desire for Alexander. Biel, who senses Dídac’s attraction, tries to keep him by his side, but the rift between the two brothers grows deeper and the Danube becomes the wide, fast-flowing river that it is.
On the last evening, when the family has found Monika’s house, Dídac discovers that Alexander lives there. It is at that moment that the two lovers see the perfect opportunity to escape and set off up the river in a boat. Dídac betrays and leaves Biel on the shore. But in the twilight of the day, when everything becomes more bitter and Dídac regrets his escape, he feels that he is not as old as he thought. Then Alexander disappears into the water. And the currents of the Danube take Dídac to the drift.
SEARCHING STRANGE RIVER
I recommend watching the following VIDEO-EDIT for a closer look at the tone of the film:
DIRECTOR’S NOTE Every summer I travelled with my family by bicycle along a different river. These ri vers determined the passage of my childhood and that of my siblings into youth. The first and the last of them was the Danube, and it fascinated me the most.
During the trips it was very common to cycle forty kilometres, sometimes sixty; to climb hills; to rest; to bathe; to arrive at the campsite: to set up and dismantle the tent where we slept; to have dinner in the dark and many other rituals. Out of this mo notony, this rhythm characteristic of those days, unrepeatable moments were born: moments of rain, of crying and crisis; architectural visits, unbearably warm nights, boats that appear and people you don’t know whom you cross paths with several ti mes during the trip.
On one of the late routes, I became obsessed with the idea of finding an unknown boy swimming through the waters of the river. That happened during the years of sexual awakening and first desires, but that boy was just a projection, like cinema. With this film I want to delve into that feeling of desire and daze, the vital moment when time seems to stand still. I have always loved this sentence by Ermanno Olmi:
In a zone of calm created by the flow of the water itself, the two characters coincide, they look at each other.
When I make films, I concentrate on relationships, on that space between two peo ple, known or unknown, and what happens when they come together.
Also one of the reasons why I started writing Strange River was because of the need to see the relationship between two young brothers represented on screen from a sexual and fraternal point of view, with a universal vocation that many people can empathise with. It is customary in cinema for this representation to be directed towards perversion and taboo. On the contrary, with Strange River I want to show in a natural way the common relationship between brothers who discover their bodies together in an environment of trust. The tragedy that occurs is to see how your older brother’s body begins to transform when yours has not yet. It is the incomprehension and the fascination. For me it’s important to tell this story from that approach that is very linked to my generation and the education I received and to bring that perspective on the subject that is not usual in today’s cinema.
The approach to these bodies is not sensual, but physical. That is to say, in favour of the short shot, hand-held camera, but against an image that gets too close and goes beyond intimacy. On the other hand, the way of filming the encounters between Dídac and Alexander is different. It’s an aquatic relationship and that’s why my main interest is to investigate the relationship between the moving image and water. Therefore, the scenes will be filmed from long undulating and fluid camera movements, like the swirls and meanders of water, with a device of travellings and dollys to physically represent the emotion of desire and seduction.
In this relationship with water, Alexander can be seen as an undine, the mermaid of the river, the mythological being recovered by German romanticism, partly written in the Upper Danube where Dídac and his family travel. I am interested in being able to develop a rereading of the tragic myth of the Undine under a male body and to alter some of the preconceived ideas of Romanticism, as well as to play with gender.
At the same time, the shape of the river is a key element in the film to explain the process of change that Dídac is undergoing. The river, which at first is no more than a stream, widens as Dídac changes. It is not symbolism, it is something physical. We see Didac growing at the same time as the Upper Danube. It is no coincidence that it is this river and no other, because Strange River is built on the locations, many of them already confirmed and photographed, of the Upper Danube. For example, last February I was shooting a short film in the same landscapes of the river, so there already is a cinematic approach of the river. The river is a place of refuge where time stands still. This phrase could also sum up the type of cinema I make, where time and context are undefined. It is cinematographic time and my way of approaching it is through spaces and architecture. Discovering a story in those places that I once passed through is my way of reconnecting with them.
The development period of Strange River is long, as it requires a lot of travelling around the Danube and a lot of refining. Right now I’m working on a sixth version of the script, which I’m finishing at the Ikusmira Berriak residency at the San Sebastian Festival in Tabakalera, and preparing the next trips along the river with part of the film’s team.
On the other hand, I’m going to try to make sure that the actors who play Dídac and Biel are brothers in real life. I find it dramatic and evocative that the two brothers are physically very similar. That the spectator perceives that one is the mirror of the other, a few years older. On the other hand, the actors playing Monika and Albert must be professionals to work from the acting dynamics.
I would like to make the project an unrepeatable journey along the Danube.