ARCA Festival: Titles, Highlights, Themes

“Caravaggio’s Shadow,” “Charlotte” and “Goya, Carrière and the Ghost of Buñuel” feature in the 15-film lineup of 2023’s second edition of ARCA Intl. Festival of Films on Arts, 2023, which opens Jan. 2 with the world premiere of “The Children of the Mountain,” a doc-feature portrait of Uruguayan sculptor Pablo Atchugarry from Mercedes Sader, director of ARCA.

“Arts” is understood in the broadest sense. Framing two fiction movies and 14 doc features, the titles range, as programmer Sergio Fant points out, from takes on three of the greatest painters who ever lived – Caravaggio, Goya and Cezanne – to celebrated, unknown or forgotten figures of contemporary art,  such as “Folon.” The movie is the first documentary on Belgian’s Jean-Michel Folon, despite his status as one of Europe’s most important painter-illustrator of the second half of the 20th century, producing and popularising a series of iconic images, such as the bird-man.

Titles, however, also take in Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri and architect and urban planner Le Corbusier as well as arts’ infrastructure, whether its exhibition, as in “Inside the Uffizi,” or artists’ habitat, as in “Dreaming Walls.” Another film, ”The Thief Collector,” even plumbs the outrageous art of art theft. 

The titles, however varied, draw at least two connections. One is the age-old drive of different arts for a greater realism, seen not only in Caravaggio’s break with religious iconography and Goya’s stunning vignettes of madness but Ghirri’s superficially banal photos of houses and gardens around his native Modena, made from the 1970s.

A second is artists’ struggle against oblivion, captured by Atchugarry’s monumentalist works and German-Jewish artist  Charlotte Salomon’s obsessive 769 autobiographical paintings, made between 1941 and 1943 in the south of France as she (rightly) feared deportation by its Nazi authorities. 

Oblivion was the fate of Spain’s Santaló, living out her last years in a cramped flat in Madrid, her existence caught in Irene M. Borrego’s “La Visita y un Jardin Secreto,” which rescues her figure as it portrays her very condition. 

These films boast extraordinary moments, such as Jean-Claude Carrière, Buñuel’s co-screenwriter, capturing the scale of the revolution embodied in the latter-day paintings of Goya, who rebelled not only against a traditionalist eighteenth century but also its own contemporary rebellion, the rationalist Enlightenment. “The opposite of truth is not error.The opposite of truth is not lies. The opposite of truth is reason,” Carrière observes, quoting Spanish writer José Bergamin, and drawing a through-line from Goya to Buñuel, ever the great surrealist, and indeed himself. 

The Children of the Mountain
Courtesy of ARCA

Some of these titles will surface one day on streaming platforms, or may even snag theatrical distribution. Enjoy.            

Opening Night Film:

“The Children of the Mountain,”(“Los Hijos de la Montaña,” Mercedes Sader, Uruguay)

World premiering at ARCA, and opening this year’s festival, an appreciation of the art and life of world-renown sculptor Pablo Atchugarry, who backs ARCA and whose work combines a monolith scale of ancient civilisations, sinuous echoes of nature and a preoccupation with the passage of time. 

“Cézanne,” (Sophie Bruneau, Belgium)

The devil is in the details. This doc feature, from Bruneau (“Rêver sous le capitalisme”), homes in on the French painter, a bridge between Impressionism and Cubism, via details of his workshop in Provence, preserved in time, where he forged a revolution in art. “A highly original viewpoint,” says Sader.

“Charlotte,” (Eric Warin, Tahir Rana, Canada)

Voiced by Keira Knightley and Marion Cotillard in different versions, an animated feature biopic of persecuted German Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon whose semi-autobiographical “Life? Or Theatre?”, made up of 700 multilayered gouaches, she painted to explore her own levels of sanity. Directed by Warin (“Leap!”) and by Rana (“Angry Birds: Summer Madness”). “In the biggest of adverse circumstances, art emerges as the only path to recoup memory,” Sader says.

“Dreaming Walls,” (Amelie Van Elmbt, Maya Duverdier)

Playing Berlin’s Panorama this year, where it was hailed as a crowd-pleaser, a take on the current day inhabitants of the legendary Chelsea Hotel, whose guests included Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. It is now under construction to reopen as a luxury hotel, dislodging its residual and redolently individualist hold-out guests. Maya Duverdier co-writes-directs with Amélie van Elmbt, whose “The Elephant & the Butterfly” was exec produced by Martin Scorsese.

“Folon,” (Gaetan Saint-Remy, Belgium) 

A portrait of Belgium’s Jean-Michel Folon, artist, designer, illustrator, who railed against the increasing inhumanity of modern life. For Sader, “the archive interview threading the whole film is priceless.” Directed by Saint-Remy (“De Nos Mains”).

“Historjà – Stitches For Sápmi,” (Thomas Jackson, Sweden)

Lapland artist Britta Marakatt-Labba, whose work depicting the Sami people, takes a new turn: Set against her homeland’s stunning snowscapes, a battle for her culture against the impact of climate change. Caught at 2022’s Göteborg Festival. “A story of art, political activism and climate change: A not-to-miss cocktail,” Sader says. 

An Imaginary Land
Courtesy of ARCA

“An Imaginary Land,” (“El País Imaginario,” Juan Solanas, Uruguay, France)

From Argentina’s Solanas, director of Cannes Jury Prize winner “L’Homme Sans Tête,” Un Certain Regard player “Nordeste” and topsy-turvy sci-fi love story “Upside Down,” an exploration in a doc feature, which is its own work of art, of the meaning, creation and goals behind 12 contemporary art installations at Uruguay’s Cerró Tito.

“Infinito. L’universo di Luigi Ghirri,” (Matteo Parisini, Italy)

Departing from Ghirri’s writings, a take on the crucial stages of an artist before his time whose ‘70s Italy photographic landscapes championed color photography and the ordinary, creating a body of work unparalleled at that time in Europe. 

“Inside the Uffizi,” (Corrina Belz, Enrique Sánchez Lansch,  Germany)

Eike Schmidt, director of the Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, takes an audience through the delicate balance between conservation and innovation when housing the world’s most significant Renaissance painting collection, including Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and “Spring” and Caravaggio’s “Medusa.” From Belz (“Gerhard Richter Painting”) and Sánchez Lansch (“A Symphony of Noise”). 

“Goya, Carrière and the Ghost of Buñuel,” (José Luis López Linares, Spain)

“You have to think of Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude in the same breath as you do Goya,” says an admiring Julian Schnabel. Best known as Buñuel’s co-scribe. Carrière is caught commenting on many of Goya’s greatest works capturing their essence, the scale of Goya’s modernity and his own life journey in delightfully deft and heartfelt strokes. Staging its Latin American premiere at ARCA, a Cannes Classic standout and work of sheer joy.

“Kobra: Auto-Retrato,” (Lina Chamie, Brazil)

A self portrait by Kobra, the stunning Brazilian graffiti artist and peace activist, directed by Chamie, best known for 2007 Cannes Critics’ Week competitor “The Milky Way.”

Caravaggio’s Shadow
Courtesy of ARCA

“Caravaggio’s Shadow,” (Michele Placido, Italy)

A bigger-budget costume drama depicting Caravaggio’s revolutionary psychological realism, focus on the socially humble and bold use of chiaroscuro. Meanwhile, the Pope ordains an investigation into the licentious Caravaggio, played by Riccardo Scamarcio (“John Wick Chapter 2”), who has already murdered a love rival. Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”) co-stars. Popular actor-writer-director Michele Placido (“Crime Novel”) directs. Produced by Rai Cinema and France’s MACT Productions, staging its Latin American premiere at ARCA and by far the biggest film in its lineup. Wild Bunch handles sales.

“Plan para Buenos Aires,” (Gerardo Panero, Argentina)

The over 20-year battle of Le Corbusier from 1929 to implement a Modern Urban Plan for Buenos Aires, told by Panero who films depict architect Amancio Williams, or day-to-day life at a center for the differently capacitated. “Plan Para Buenos Aires’“ “testimonies record an age of splendour and illusion,” Sader comments. 

“Rubens Gerchman: The King of Kitsch,”(Rubens Gerchman: Rei do Mau Gosto,” Pedro Rossi, Brazil) 

A portrait of Brazilian pop art painter and sculptor Gerchman and a generation of artists which captures the pressures and alienation of a rampantly urbanizing Brazil. Documentarian Rossi (“Depois de Primavera”) directs. 

“The Thief Collector,” (Allison Otto, U.S.)

Emmy Award winner Otto (“The Love Bugs”) directs a fast-paced doc-feature, liked at SXSW, about the couple of school teachers behind the theft of an $160M De Kooning in what’s been described as “one of the greatest art heists of a generation.”

“La Visita y un Jardin Secreto,” (Irene M. Borrego, Spain, Portugal)

The first feature of London Film School alum Borrego. Spanish painter Isabel Santaló was featured in numerous exhibitions. Now she is little remembered. “La Visita” catches up with her at the end of her life. With a heartfelt commentary from Antonio López, the subject of Victor Erice’s “Dream of Light,” a film about memory and oblivion which, says Sader, is “intense and moving,” a “non-orthodox, non-bio doc which directly challenges the audience.”

The Thief Collector
Courtesy of Heist Film LLC

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