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TIFF (Short Cuts): PILAR

9 September 2020

The animal within

In Pilar a young woman undertakes a profound transformation in a ravaged post-apocalyptic village set deep within a hostile terrain.

Is it real, or is it a dream, or is it a hallucination brought on by heat or trauma? At the core of Pilar, directed by Yngwie Boley, Diana van Houten and J.J. Epping, is a physical transformation, a reversion to primal form, that gives the film the type of psychological undertow that one usually encounters in mythology.

In the animated film, produced by il Luster (NL) and S.O.I.L. (BE), and supported by the Netherlands Film Fund and VAF, two people, a man and a woman, must protect a deserted village in the wilderness. There has once been habitation there, as evidenced by the cupboards (empty) and the detailed maps on the walls. A sense of previous order is suggested by the regular lines of perspective within the rooms that the pair walk through.

But outside, matters are different. There is a sense of menace beyond the village walls. Here, the colours are vibrant, designed to inflame the retina. The inhabitants carry guns as there is the constant threat of attack by someone, or something. Despite this, the titular Pilar is as much consumed by curiosity as fear about what is out there.

Pilar is an androgynous young woman, and the beast that she continually sees in her dreams and encounters in the flesh is the one she eventually chooses to be subsumed by, both in mind and flesh.

"We came to two characters that are quite opposite of one another," explains co-director Van Houten. "The anxious man wants to keep with the traditions, and tries to keep everything that is new or might be dangerous out of a village that may have been flourishing years ago. Pilar thinks it is more important to look at her inner self and try and find a way to move forward and explore the world, and find what can be helpful."

"The film is quite complex, the story grew organically and we were thinking about folklore and myths which inspired us," Van Houten continues, citing the works of neuroscientist and science communicator David Eagleman as inspirations throughout the five years that the three directors worked on the film.

"In the story we are looking at the relation between men and animals and beasts, and also reincarnation. Of course there is a transformation in our story, and there are stories of the afterlife which really caught our attention, in which there is the question of what it means to be human, or what if we choose to be an animal."

The beast of the film, with which Pilar connects, is modelled on the majestic markhor, a large masculine goat found in the Himalayas. "We actually like that sense of ambiguity, which plays a role throughout the whole film. There is something inside the androgynous Pilar that is really something else. That is something we are playing with throughout the whole film."

Van Houten says that another inspiration for the film was Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth which also features a beast similar to a markhor. Incidentally, the Oscar-winning set decorator on del Toro's film was also called Pilar (Revuelta), she points out.

How did the production work with three directors? "Yes, good question," Van Houten responds. "I think we have lots of respect for each other and we are always willing to develop ourselves and our stories together. So it was very easy to give three heads enough space to create one story. It was quite an organic way of making a film in terms changing storyboards again and again. It took us a lot of time but we found that we can actually function as one head."

Pilar trailer: www.vimeo.com/452529695


For more information:

Prod: il Luster Films (NL), S.O.I.L. (BE)
Sales: Square Eyes
TIFF Press & Industry screening: Fri 11 Sept, 11:00 am, TIFF Digital Cinema Pro (digitalpro.tiff.net)


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