From ‘Alba’ Director, San Sebastian Title ‘La Piel Pulpo’ Bows Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

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Ecuador’s Ana Cristina Barragán, an alum of San Sebastian’s post-graduate film school Elias Querejeta Zine Eskola (EQZE), has come full circle with her second feature “La Piel Pulpo” (“Octopus Skin”) as it competes at the San Sebastian Festival’s Horizontes Latinos, a year after it participated in the festival’s Work in Progress strand (WIP Latam).

A coming-of-age family drama “La Piel Pulpo” turns on twins Iris and Ariel who live with their mother and younger sister on a remote island. Having grown up in this rarified environment with only the mollusks, birds and reptiles for company, the teens are inseparable and have formed a near transcendental connection with nature. Curious about the world beyond their island, Iris hitches a boat ride with a rare visitor to explore the mainland and search for their estranged father. The act of physically separating from her twin brother puts a strain on their relationship.

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In the trailer, shared exclusively with Variety, a series of haunting images unfold against a backdrop of evocative music. Snippets of dialogue reveal the tension in the family as the twins rebel against the mother’s orders to stay away from other people and Iris sets off on her own to the mainland.

You won’t see an octopus in “La Piel Pulpo” (“Octopus Skin”). Barragán sees the title as a metaphor for Iris, who in her visit to the city adroitly learns to adapt to her new environment but remains mysterious, transparent, tactile.

Just as in her previous short films and her career-launching debut feature “Alba,” “La Piel Pulpo” explores the world of adolescents, their budding awareness of their sexuality and their primal innocence.

“Beyond the story of a film, I search for an aroma, a bodily language where characters interact with their world in a non-verbal way,” Barragán told Variety.

Her non-pro teen actors, selected out of 1,500 aspirants, were not only given acting classes but were taught how to move and be more in tune with their bodies, even training in parkour.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the world of twins, the unique language they form, and what the rupture that comes from growing up and separating implies,” she said. “In this film, the breakup of the twin universe is tied to the rupture of the humans with nature,” she pointed out.

Barragán is in post on a docushort “Soñé que era Piedra” and hopes to shoot her next feature “La Hiedra” (“The Ivy”) in March or April next year in Ecuador. Delving into the theme of family ties once more, “La Hiedra” is led by “How To Get Away With Murder” star Karla Souza who plays 31-year-old Azucena who seeks the son she gave birth to at age 13 and abandoned. She decides that 18-year-old Julio, who is about to age out of the orphanage he grew up in, is that son.  “The tension between mother and son who physically seem almost the same age opens up a space to explore instinct, the Oedipus Complex and anger,” Barragán told Variety.

Later next year, Barragán follows “La Hiedra” with “Amapola,” based on an earlier short, “Sopor y Ave.”  This follows a group of sex trafficking teen victims who live temporarily in a shelter. Abigail, age 14, likes visiting the babies the abused girls gave birth to, feeding and playing with them as if they were dolls. When she returns home, it is the sea and a new friend that help her heal.

The sea plays an important role in most of her films. “I spent much of my childhood on the beach where my father resides,” Barragán related. In fact, most of “La Piel Pulpo” was shot on that seashore where she worked on her still photography project called “space-infancy.” “Photographing spaces and beings at the beach where my father lives and which I know microscopically was the seed to create an imaginary island, full of birds and mollusks.”

She has a busy schedule but Barragán, who is only 35, feels she needs to make up for lost time. “It took me six years to get ‘Alba’ off the ground; I have so much to say and feel an urgency to express so many things that I have to work on several projects at once.”

Düsseldorf-based Patra Spanou Film handles international sales of the multi-country co-production produced by Caleidoscopio Cine (Ecuador), Graal Films (Greece), Desenlace Films (Mexico), Unafilm (Germany) and Promenades Films (France).

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