Foremost by Night (2023) Venice Film Festival 2023

September 2nd, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Victor Iriarte | Cast: Lola Duenas, Manuel Egozkue, Ana Torrent | Spain/Portugal/France Drama 95′

Set in San Sebastián, Madrid, Porto and Paris Victor Iriate’s first feature offers an inspirational way for two women to come to terms with past trauma. Billed as a violent murder story with a political background, the crime here is ‘much greater than anyone could ever imagine’ (according to the lead character Vera and harks back to a terrible child trafficking episode in Spain’s not so distant past.

The film’s enticing early scenes give way to a less satisfying denouement. The idea of framing the story as neo-noir thriller is a clever one but the execution, though poetic, is rather overwrought. We already know what’s going to happen, it’s just a question of how and when.

In the opening scene a menacing score accompanies a woman’s hand tracing over the pages of an atlas of Spain and Argentina. This hand belongs to Vera (Lola Duenas, unforgettable for her performance in Alleluia) and we don’t trust her for a minute. And for good reason: forced to give up her child Egoz for adoption, she is a bitter woman. And the pain and rancour is with her everyday. A collage of pictures and archive clips follows in silence, shedding light on Spain’s social and political past and that unfortunate trafficking episode and the perpetrators. Vera imagines killing them all. Desperate for revenge the lonely woman spends all her spare time searching in vain for the documentation relating to her child’s whereabouts. But nothing comes to light.

Vera, a court stenographer, lives in the Basque capital but has always spent her summers on the Douro where her aunt lived. On the way to Porto she will eventually meet Cora (Ana Torrent) who has brought up Egoz (Manuel Egozkue, who has an uncanny resemblance to his adoptive screen mother). The two women have one thing in common, they are both highly dexterous: Vera types all day, Cora is a talented pianist, and their abilities are showcased as one of the film’s recurring motifs. The three of them play a dangerous together, and seem to get on like a house on fire. But this is all part of the quite obvious deception. Iriarte and his two co-writers capture the spirit of William Congreve: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. MT


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