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LOCARNO 2022 Competition

Review: Piaffe

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- The first feature film by contemporary artist and director Ann Oren explores a physical mutation which becomes a proud and contemptuous identity claim

Review: Piaffe
Simone Bucio in Piaffe

Ann Oren, an artist and director born in Tel-Aviv but since adopted by Berlin, is presenting her first fascinating feature film Piaffe [+see also:
trailer
interview: Ann Oren
film profile
]
in competition at the Locarno Film Festival. Staying true to the mysterious and attractive settings of her previous works (at times reminiscent of the eccentric world of Amalia Ulman), which were inhabited by hybrid part-human, part-plant and part-animal beings, Ann Oren captures the audience’s imagination by way of an elegant and poetic work which urges us to take a critical look at our relationship with “normality”.

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What does it mean to be “human” in a society which is submerged, if not suffocated, by digital culture? What kind of space do we want/are we able to set aside for concepts of identity, intimacy and empathy? Ann Oren depicts the fluidity of human beings, revealing the beauty of frontier zones, the poetry that hides within the process of mutation as we move towards something voluntarily indefinite.

After tackling themes such as gender (as seen from a resolutely non-binary viewpoint), fictosexuality, animality and other hybridized forms in her previous works, Ann Oren is now urging us, by way of Piaffe, to observe a body as it radically changes its skin, a body which deviates from the “norm” and opens itself up to a luminous vagueness which is (at last) imposing its own rules.

When her sister (the captivating performer Simon(e) Jaikiriuma Paetau) is committed to a psychiatric facility following a sudden and devastating nervous breakdown, the mysterious Eva (the elegant and ambiguous Simone Bucio) is forced to replace her as a Foley artist. It’s work which requires nigh-on religious concentration and dedication, a demanding endeavour which seems to consume her very being, making it impossible for her to give up on a particular task which acquires veritable mission status. Despite a difficult start (her relationship with her supervisor is tense, to say the least), which sees her working obsessively on an enigmatic horse advert, her new job proves to be cathartic. The symbiosis she feels with the horses to whom she lends a voice, lead her, quite literally, to embody an animality which subsequently becomes a part of her daily life.

This metamorphosis expresses itself physically, by way of a tail, which grows as if an extension of her spine. Like some sort of graft which hungrily takes over her body, this horse’s tail makes Eva stronger, aware of an intrinsic ambiguity in her being which she has held back for too long. Fascinated by this sensual and frightening physical mutation, a mysterious botanist (Sebastian Rudolph) establishes a relationship of domination with her, reminiscent of horse dressage. A “piaffe” is a movement which is both artificial and natural for a horse, consisting of a majestic trot on the spot. The efforts required to achieve this motion, the horse’s embodiment of strength and flexibility, transform a piaffe into the perfect expression of equestrian balance. And this perfection, considered to be virile, takes over Eva, laying claim to gender and species fluidity, kept under tight control by our society. In this respect, the scene where Eva moves her feet (as if she’s piaffing) in time with the film’s insistent techno soundtrack, while wearing white Buffalo shoes which transform her into a hybrid part-human, part-animal being, is magnificent.

Piaffe is a deep, intense and instinctive journey which urges us to question concepts of sexuality, gender identity, control and artificiality, whilst looking for new paradigms capable of undermining a heteronormative patriarchal system which sees itself as immutable. In this sense, it’s impossible not to make the connection with Donna Haraway’s cyborgs. A love letter to film artists who often work in the shadows (in this case, Foley artists) and a liberating celebration of an otherness which is experienced as a gift and an opportunity to experiment with new ways of being and to interact with nature, Piaffe helps us to see the world with reinvigorated wonder.

Piaffe is produced by German firm Schuldenberg Films, with international sales in the hands of Rediance (China).

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(Translated from Italian)

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