First-Time Locarno Contender Leonor Teles Questions Home and Love in ‘Baan’: ‘Sometimes We Need to Run Away to Come Back’

One belongs in two places: in love and at home. With her sophomore feature, Golden Leopard contender Leonor Teles questions the stability of both. “Baan” (Thai for home) reimagines the world of a lovelorn person coming to terms with her own loneliness through a quasi-magical shift between Bangkok and Lisbon.

Part of Locarno’s main competition, “Baan” follows a young woman named L. (Carolina Miragaia) on her emotional journey, as she meets, falls for, and recovers from a serendipitous encounter with the elusive K. (Meghna Lall). 

L. is an architect, but she is not bound to any place or home in particular. Instead, she sublimates the now-lost intimacy wandering through the city at sunrise, on the road to self-discovery.

With its idiosyncrasies, “Baan” fits well within the catalog of its production company, Uma Pedra no Sapato, and its support for the brazen voices of Portuguese cinema, old and new, such as Filipa Reis and Monica Lima. Paris-based Totem Films (“We”, “Saturn Bowling”) handle the film’s world sales.

In her acclaimed documentary debut, “Ashore”, Teles anchored herself in a physical space — her hometown Vila Franca de Xira, just outside of Lisbon. Now, for her sophomore feature, she uses jump cuts, musical transitions, and fiction to bring an interior world to the big screen. “Baan”’s boldest formal gambit has to do with splicing and spatiality: One second, L is in a club in Thailand, the next, she steps out on her street in Lisbon; she speaks Portuguese in a Thai corner shop and inconsistencies conjure up a third space. Talking to Variety in Locarno, the director points out that “it doesn’t matter if it’s Lisbon, or if it’s Bangkok. It’s a cinematic space.”

Elaborating on what inspired her to overlap different times and spaces, Teles says: “When you’re brokenhearted, you experience time differently.” When emotions influence one’s selective memory, a straightforward narrative becomes impossible to sustain. Instead of fighting it, the filmmaker used this to its own advantage. “You may remember certain things very well because you are stuck with that in your head, and then also forget what you ate that day,” she adds. “With the editing, I tried to make this emotional memory visible.” 

“Baan” found its beginning in a certain feeling of homelessness, of interrogating what home is for young people today. The answers were not easy to digest. “Sometimes we need to run away to come back. Sometimes we need to find someone to feel at home,” says Teles. This state of placelessness, to yearn for belonging in times where everything is in flux, finds a representation in “Baan.” Vibrant colors, neons and rosy dawns bathe in the warmth of the 16mm film stock Teles uses to shoot the film herself, in addition to directing and writing it.

The curiosity of a rising star is showcased in Teles ever-changing aesthetic. In only two features and three short films, including the 2016 Berlinale short film Golden Bear winner “Batrachian’s Ballad,” this zigzag between different pace and rhythms encapsulates the director’s artistic sensibility. 

She is open about the influence of the documentary part of our lives in the way “Baan” borrowed from reality. The fact that Lall is half-Thai ultimately led the director to choose Bangkok as a counterpart to the Portuguese capital. In addition, Miragaia, as a musician, could set her character’s pace tuned to singing and songwriting. By picking up the guitar and making a demo, L works through her sorrow in a way we all can relate to. In the words of Teles, that’s how this film was born as well. “In a way, I needed to do something with my own pain,” she adds.

“Baan” shows the world through the eyes of a woman first in the blossoming of her love, and then in the struggle of solitude. In the end, the lesson is endurance. “At a certain age, almost everyone has experienced a broken heart and survived,” Teles concludes. “We all go through that. L. and K. are both survivors. At the end of the day, that’s the thing: the growing process is to accept that truth.”

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