U.K.-France-based sales, production, and distribution house Alief (“Matadero”) has taken international sales rights to Locarno First Look winner “Retreat”(“Réduit”), in which Swiss director Leon Schwitter deconstructs the delicate relationship between a father and son.
His debut feature, which won the Kaiju Cinema Diffusion Prize at Locarno’s 2021 First Look showcase, focused of Swiss films, now world premieres at Argentina’s Mar del Plata Film Festival on Nov. 4.
A parallel European bow takes place at the Thessaloniki Festival in Greece.
Variety has had exclusive first-look access to the trailer of the film which is produced by Schwitter’s Exit Filmkollektiv and co-produced by Zürich-based Sabotage Filmkollektiv.
Written by Schwitter alongside Michael Karrer, the film centers on world-weary Michael (Peter Hottinger) and his son Benny (Dorian Heiniger) as they make their way to a remote cabin nestled in the mountains. With all the modern obsessions of a child his age, Benny seems both reluctant to stop playing his video games and quietly happy to be along for the ride.
Shot in the shadow of the Swiss Alps, the film depicts the curative aspects of its surroundings. A visual spectacle of green and earth-toned wilderness pairs with the serene sounds of bubbling brooks and insects and birds that chirp just out of view as wind through the trees casts a symphony of its own over enormous scenery, shrinking the protagonists navigating its sensorial depths.
“The myth of the mountains as a place of retreat is deeply rooted in Swiss history. Even before WWII, work began on hollowing out the Alps and fortifying them with countless bunkers, where a small percentage of society would have retreated in the event of an invasion,” said Schwitter in a statement. “The name of these bunkers was Réduit national. I chose a place near these bunkers to tell the story of a distant father-son relationship.”
“Retreat” is an existential endeavor brought current by the impending doom hinted towards in apocalyptic news cycles. Delicate and revelatory, the film is a brutally tender study of Michael’s troubled relationship with his estranged son and the world at large.
“It isn’t meant to be a classic survival film. There are no extreme disasters to deal with and the character of the father is not an experienced survivalist, but an inexperienced, soft man who doesn’t fit the stereotype of the genre,” stated Schwitter. “We follow father and son as they slowly get closer. They don’t know each other well, yet feel a connection. Their relationship is fragile and much needs to be made up for.”
He went on: “During this time of getting to know each other, the son becomes more aware that his father’s hiding a side from him that’s dominated by fear. Vacation transforms into imprisonment, nature as friend turns into nature as enemy, and love transforms into violence.”
The trailer opens with Benny standing in a navy blue raincoat, in contrast to the nature that engulfs him, surrounded by lush moss that leads up large and tangled tree roots, their trunks and onto their vacant, barren limbs. He plays with a foraged stick, swinging it around in the air. Nobody in sight, isolated. A soothing quiet takes hold of the scene.
He lies down among the greenery and closes his eyes as a score begins to play, it nearly mimics an airhorn, a call back to reality as he rests in the emerald-hued forest.
With an increasingly triumphant tone, Michael leads Benny around the grounds at night. Both wearing headlamps, they’re only able to glimpse what’s illuminated directly in front of them.
Jovial scenes of the pair bonding are then woven into shots of growing defiance as Benny concludes he’s captive to his father’s stifling afflictions rather than privy to a short family getaway.
The silence between bouts of dialogue increases the tension as emotions are wrapped-up in the scenery. Once tranquil, it becomes suffocating as winter gusts and driving snow envelop the cabin. Vivid colors traded for fog, the faded red of the cabin’s exterior like a lighthouse beacon adrift in a sea of snow.
Sitting outside, Michael and Benny share deafening silence and easy conversation, their faces reflecting the orange light of a campfire that’s warmth continues to permeate the screen as the trailer wraps.
In grieving parts of himself long-lost to inhospitable environs, Michael’s on the brink. His plan to shelter Benny from society’s ills, the feigned freedom of life permanently spent off-grid, abruptly challenged by the elements, and Benny’s unwavering desire to live a typical life, despite its perils.
“We’re increasingly confronted with a collapsing planet and have to ask ourselves questions about our lives and the lives of future generations,” Schwitter relayed. “It would take a global paradigm shift to make our society sustainable and future-proof. This cannot be achieved by technological change alone, but also means giving up comfort and privileges.”
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