When the Miami-based film collective Borscht invited the award-winning Chilean director Sebastián Silva to shoot a short film, Silva decided to experiment in the form of a film essay based on his funny childhood dream of swimming with dolphins. Selected this year at the Sundance Film Festival, Dolfun — as Silva tells us — is an “irresponsible, playful, humorous essay on the most common moral conflict that we all go through.”
Swimming with dolphins in a tank may appear to be a vulgar desire, or at least a politically and environmentally incorrect desire — certainly not a very classy activity. But how often are we confronted with wanting to do something that is morally wrong? Or wanting to do something that isn’t good for one’s self? These were questions on Silva’s mind when he set off to illustrate this recurrent human conflict through a free-minded film in which he swims with “weird alien-like creatures.” The script is a philosophical reflection that the filmmaker wrote with his sister, a philosophy student. And after reaching out to Werner Herzog to narrate the film — Herzog refused, bewildered at the concept — Silva asked his friend Ben Harper, whose voice-over took on a neutral, documentary-like tone at the request of the director.
The genius of Dolfun is the film’s confusing tone. Silva, the lead actor in the film, stares into landscapes so sincerely that it’s corny — and the action is already made into something of a farce when Michael Jackson’s Free Willy theme song sets in. It is impossible to take Silva seriously, but is he making fun of himself? Or is he expressing a genuine and personal moral conflict as he maintains his rather serious manner until the film’s end? And what should the audience make of it all?
“Tonally I tried to make is as confusing as possible, you really never know what the intention of the film is and that was the tone that I wanted to find — a tone that nobody could pinpoint.” SEBASTIÁN SILVA
This is the tone Silva wanted to achieve — a tone that would confuse the viewer, a tone that no one would quite understand. In a way, this level of experimentation and invention, the smashing together of different genres and tones, is the directorial signature of the wonderfully talented and prolific filmmaker, whose eclectic filmography includes: The Maid, Magic Magic, Crystal Fairy, and Nasty Baby.
Silva has two projects in active development: a family drama/comedy/thriller that would shoot in the fall, about a family that travels to an island in the Caribbean on a Christmas holiday, and what happens when the father has a breakdown in front of his family. The director is also working on a French-language project that he hopes to shoot straight after, where the homosexual desires of an eight-year old boy are restrained by his family: in the words of Silva, a child is brought back into the closet.
If the film makes you think that swimming with dolphins is wonderful, the director begs to differ. In discussing the film, Sebastián Silva recounts the terrifying experience of swimming in murky waters full of the animal’s excrement, burning his eyes with seven grown-up dolphins glaring suspiciously at him, disappearing into darkness and suddenly appearing in front of his face as hostile creatures. At one point, they even poked his ribs.
- Credits for
- Sebastián Silva & Daniel Harper
- written by
- Sebastián Silva, Trinidad Silva & Carlos Rossi
- produced by
- Jason Fitzroy Jeffers
- Daniel Fernandez
- Sofia Subercaseaux