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Review: Pas de deux


- Elie Aufseesser’s first feature film explores the complex relationship binding together two brothers with very different temperaments and ambitions

Review: Pas de deux

For his first feature film Pas de deux, which was presented in a world premiere in this year’s Solothurn Film Festival and eventually walked away with the First Work Award, young Swiss director Elie Aufseesser has pointed his lens at two brothers who are barely twenty years old and who are wrestling with the first real challenges of “adult life”. Practically polar opposites in terms of their personalities and objectives, Jon(athan) and Peter (Pan) approach life with two very different philosophies: one of them, a diving champion and model student, is focused on his imminent departure to the US where he will join Columbia University’s prestigious diving team, while the other, a globe-trotting artist with a marked preference for artificial paradises, is already imagining his next trip, with no particular destination in mind.

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Despite their many differences, it’s immediately clear that Jon and Peter have a strong attachment to one another, which transcends the verbal confrontations which inevitably unfold whenever the family discusses the future. Ahead of their departure – Jon to New York and Peter to Jordan - the director takes the time to introduce us to the Suckow family, which is also composed of a sister (the middle child), a mum, a dad (who rarely appears on screen) and two grandparents. What’s striking from the outset is how freely the family members discuss their aspirations: security and deep reflection on the meaning of things vis-a-vis Jon, and hedonistic enjoyment of each and every minute for Peter. Although their mum and grandparents don’t hesitate to offer their opinions, each of the children are free to live their lives as they think best, without having their choices compared to their siblings’.

In a multicultural and multilingual context (at home they speak French, English and Chinese) which has shaped each family member in their own way and has provided them with an incredibly vast shared pool of resources, Jon and Peter argue without ever really understanding each other. How do you explain these two very different life outlooks when they’ve both had the same parents and lived in the same city?

What the film shows us is that, sometimes, Peter’s bluster conceals deep-seated uneasiness, a desire to escape a form of approval which seems to be outpacing him: is it not, perhaps, too easy to say you want to escape the town you were born in, whatever it takes, knowing that you can return whenever you need to? Even though - as Jon admits to the camera - his brother doesn’t seem at all interested in his life (which he no doubt finds unbearably predictable), perhaps their bond is the only thing (alongside the close relationship he enjoys with his grandad) which keeps Peter’s feet on the ground. Similarly, it’s the latter’s bravery and instinctiveness which gives Jon the courage to overcome his fears. It’s an intense yet slightly clumsy pas de deux which Elie Aufseesser is offering up here, spotlighting the closeness of bonds which go beyond words. Once separated, Jon and Peter enjoy some powerful experiences, but it’s their sharing of them which makes them great, and it’s the combination of their worlds which makes their twosome particularly intense.

Pas de deux is produced by the Swiss director himself, alongside Joshua R. Troxler of ToïToï and ToïToï US.

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(Translated from Italian)

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