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Equipped with a boom mic, a young woman wanders through a mountainous Australian landscape, trying to catch the sounds of the waves. But instead, an unusual encounter draws her into a new world of fantasy and magical realism. This is the opening scene of Petrol, the second feature film by the Australian-Russian filmmaker Alena Lodkina, which premieres today at the Locarno Film Festival in the the Concorso Cineasti del presente section.
This enigmatic drama is centered on Eva, a student of the film school who is searching for a perfect character for her film and finds the charming Mia. Their friendship, however, quickly evolves into a more complicated interrelation of two women that oscillates between reality and imagination, obsession and ignorance.
Through Petrol, Lodkina depicts what it feels to be a film director, to explore landscape, nature, and flora, as well as human relations between family members, friends, and lovers. Like Alice in wonderland, the curious Eva strolls in the streets in search of stories and adventures; she is not interested in reality, so she creates her own imaginary world which she leaves only for her regular meetings or Zoom calls with her mom. Mia is her creation, a mirage reflecting her desire for a perfect character. Her gothic outfits and hypnotic behavior recall the enchanting heroines of the old poetry books that Eva reads. The young man to whom she becomes attracted to, looks very much like a ghost from a gothic novel as well: handsome, cold, almost transparent, dangerous.
Like the director herself, Eva blends two cultural backgrounds in her very being. This is perfectly translated in the film in the moment when an Australian realism is juxtaposed with elements from Soviet fairytale films: the old lady reading the future through a coffee cup; charming magic tricks of a magically appearing picnic blanket full of food; a change of outfit with a blink of an eye; enchanted forest with disturbing crows… All create an atmosphere of the fairytale in which Eva lives. And sometimes these mystical moments are so short that the viewer begins to hesitate over whether that really happened on the screen or whether the film started to enrich their own imagination too.
Petrol is full of dreams, strange encounters, inexplicable events that at first sight are not connected to each other. Graded in retro colors and embellished with ambient melodies, the film does not give answers to the questions it poses but instead leaves the audience with the feeling of a sweet puzzledness and velvet waves of warmth and melancholy.
Sona Karapoghosyan (Critics Academy)