Venice 2021 review: Dusk Stone (Iván Fund)

“Dusk Stone is a masterful achievement that continues to demonstrate Fund’s gradual ascent to become one of the most interesting voices in contemporary South American cinema.”

A beautiful home stands on the beachfront in the small region of Linda Bay in Argentina. In that home once resided a very happy family that spent many summers there – emphasis on the past tense. This is the starting point for Dusk Stone (Piedra Noche), a fascinating and heart-wrenching drama by acclaimed filmmaker Iván Fund, who weaves together a film about the harrowing experience of losing someone and how the aftermath of such a traumatic incident (especially one as unexpected as losing a child in a shocking accident) can lead an individual to succumb to even the most absurd delusions, since it is often used as a mechanism to process grief. Dusk Stone moves at a measured but meaningful pace, giving us unique insights into the life of a family torn apart by an enormous tragedy. Fund’s distinct visual style contrasts sharply with the brutal realism of the story, creating a varied and unforgettable portrait of life following an event from which many people might never be able to fully recover. Disorienting and peculiar, but constructive in how it carefully pulls apart the various layers of trauma in its pursuit of a moving depiction of the grieving process, the film is a masterful achievement that continues to demonstrate Fund’s gradual ascent to become one of the most interesting voices in contemporary South American cinema.

Grief is a common subject in every artistic medium, since it affords individuals the opportunity to explore the common concept of loss in a variety of different ways. Dusk Stone isn’t much of a deviation in this regard, focusing squarely on the parents of a child who disappeared (presumably drowned in the bay that was the source of many of their happiest days as a family) – but it isn’t so much what the film says as the manner of saying it, by emphasizing the importance of cherishing every moment and capturing it through the lens of a surreal drama. At first the film is quite vague, with a brief preamble followed by a few characters uniting at this beach house under ambiguous circumstances. We only learn the true scope of what provoked this gathering as the film progresses, after several instances of strong but mysterious implication. The details of the event become clear as we travel through numerous transitory but memorable glimpses into the lives of these characters, both through their happy memories and their present psychological states, which gradually unravel as they struggle to deal with their feelings of relentless despair. Dusk Stone is primarily a haunting image of a couple processing grief in their pastoral surroundings, hoping to momentarily escape from a bleak reality and the heartbreaking memories tied inextricably to a place that used to be a source of joy for them in the past.

However, Dusk Stone doesn’t necessarily adhere to what one would normally expect from a drama centred on grief since there is an enigmatic quality that persists throughout the film. Fund creatively blurs the boundaries between mythology and reality by introducing the motif of a monster that resides in the bay – some claim to have seen glimpses of it at night, while others consider it just an urban legend, the kind of frightening anecdote that provides some entertainment to this otherwise tranquil community (who are already considering advertising their quaint hamlet as a tourist destination in the same way as Loch Ness). This theme ties directly into the central exploration of grief, which becomes abundantly clear as the film progresses. Using the looming presence of this creation to peer at the inner life of this family, both before and after the tragedy that shakes their lives, the film offers a unique perspective on the challenges that come in the grieving process. The experience of trauma can often be described as being haunted by some otherworldly being, a perpetual reminder of one’s loss – and we see fragments of this physical embodiment of their son’s death throughout the film, with the full creature being revealed only in the breathtaking final moments. It takes some time for the film to fully allow this idea to manifest, but the constant sense of bewilderment that comes with this supposed creature and its arrival in this idyllic paradise suggests that there is something deeper to the proceedings, which Fund explores with genuine compassion, a stark contrast to the very aloof tone of the film.

The film’s most effective component is also its simplest, with the gorgeously unsettling musical score by Francisco Cerda (both his original compositions and his curation of existing music) reflecting the discordant nature of the film around it. Dusk Stone is quite radical in its portrayal of humanity, looking at the experience of grief from a slightly peculiar perspective, forming it as a gripping, character-driven piece that maintains a steady atmosphere that hints at a sense of disharmony amongst this close-knit community. This eventually manifests into a strange blend of gritty neo-realism and abstract surrealism, where the wordless moments sometimes carry the most meaning, especially when the film ventures into the realm of the vaguely mystical. The sombre tone and offbeat surrealism work in tandem to create a dark and profound drama which is told with a fervent honesty that constantly evokes deep and unsettling emotions within the viewer. It is a striking meditation on the ambiguous space between life and death, and the process of confronting the grim spectre of the past, whether it remains a series of poignant memories or manifests as some grotesque being that follows one around. These characters overcome their fears and embrace the catharsis that comes with surrendering to their own emotions – and it all converges in a spellbinding series of moments between these individuals, who are constantly undergoing a harrowing set of lessons on the brutal reality of life after a heartbreaking tragedy.