Quirky and invigorating, visual artist Ann Oren’s debut feature, “Piaffe,” defies easy description: Its main character grows a ponytail, for starters. But it rewards the attention of a committed voyeur, which all proper filmmakers and many of our best provocateurs are anyway. The narrow-minded and those without a sense of humor need not bother. Invariably most welcome (one imagines Oren thinking) are those who enjoy having their senses and perspectives open while getting their heads scratched thoroughly.

Although set in Berlin, the true setting of this film is the ever-expanding vision that a shy young woman has of her world and herself. The power of film to reveal, awaken, and unnerve is also very present in Oren’s mind, specifically the eccentric and transformative discipline of Foley artists: sound technicians who transform everyday objects into a new auditory reality. The protagonist of this film, Eva (Simone Bucio) finds himself unexpectedly diving in when his sister Zara (non-binary artist Simon(e) Jaikiriuma Paetau) is suddenly hospitalized, leaving their makeshift studio unused and a drug commercial that must end soon.

The pharmaceutical company’s product, an equine-inspired mood stabilizer called Equili, is sold with images of a dressage horse in various emotional states. Eva’s task is to film a film, filmed inside a sawdust-covered barn, depicting the piaffe: a elegant and lively trot in place. He tries heels on rocks, boots on sand, punches a boxer’s glove, and puts a collar in his mouth to hear the sound of a horse’s bit. But when the commercial’s director criticizes her work by saying “A machine made this,” she embarks on a journey of observation and experience, touching horses at an equestrian center, watching girls on a tram caress their long hair, imitating stomping on their feet. a noisy nightclub. As if she were willing to suffer her own side effects, a ponytail of dark hair begins to sprout from her lower back.

Within the fantastical realm of “Piaffe,” which Oren co-wrote with Thais Guisasola, lies a cheeky nod to the importance of the horse to cinematic history, but also to isolate purgatory Foley artists are known to sometimes experiment. Of course, photographer Eadweard Muybridge pioneered moving images to learn how horses galloped (an experiment also referenced in the reflective cinema of Jordan Peele “No”). So why can’t Eva’s exploratory journey into equine sound effects manifest a new female-driven interspecies consciousness?

A man stands behind a woman with a flower in his mouth.

Sebastian Rudolph and Simone Bucio in the film “Piaffe”.


Naturally, Eva becomes more confident doing Foley. The frontiers of pleasure and role-play are also explored as an emboldened Eva begins a submissive and unbridled (if somewhat restrained) intimacy with an earnest botanist (Sebastian Rudolph). Driven by hybridization (Oren dramatizes his observation of fronds as if it were a peep show), his idea of ​​foreplay speaks to the complex hermaphroditic sexuality of ferns. As for the erotic appeal of his tail in this scenario, all one can say is: different strokes?

Your mileage may vary with the BDSM eroticism of “Piaffe,” but its fluidity and consensuality are assured and well supported by both Bucio’s seductive performance and Oren’s direction, which colors the entire film with sensory curiosity, as if it were essential for self-esteem. discovery, to move through life and appreciate its tensions. You can feel it in the rich foreground of discrete sound, whether in the studio or out in the world, and in the vivid primary colors, fleshy grain and glide of Carlos Vásquez’s exquisite 16mm cinematography, reminiscent of Jacques Rivette in its most elegant and unconventional form.

Although gender issues, sex positivity, mental health and non-normativeness are on Oren’s mind (and yes, animal welfare too), the last thing “Piaffe” feels is a medicinal manifesto. He is a horse of a different color, but fun and morbid. Oren’s playful wink is refreshing, but also elemental. The soundtrack’s occasional flashes of exposition and bursts of sync remind us that this is a movie, but also that we’re seeing what’s raw and possible in art and life, that it’s good to be open to where things take us. images and sounds.


Not qualified

In German and English, with English subtitles.

Execution time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: Landmark Nuart, West Los Angeles


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