Caterina Mona’s debut ‘Semret’ sold by Pluto, Bows at Locarno Fest

Zurich-based Caterina Mona is bringing her directorial debut “Semret” to the 75th Locarno Film Festival, where it will be screened in the city’s Piazza Grande, an outdoor venue traditionally reserved for more popular plays. The film, distributed by German distributor Pluto Film, follows the difficult healing path of the title character Semret: a reclusive immigrant from Eritrea who now lives and works in Zurich. Between her struggles with her daughter’s coming of age and her challenging career in a hospital, Semret must break down her walls to let others in.

Semret stars British newcomer Lula Mebrahtu (alongside Tedros Teclebrhan and Hermela Tekleab), whose understated physicality in the role of Semret deftly belies the violence of the character’s trauma as Semret navigates scenes with a tangible past. The dialogues in «Semret» oscillate between Swiss German and Tigrinya, thus continuing the trend towards multilingual European co-productions. “Semret”, winner of the Le Film Français Award at Locarno Pro’s First Look on Swiss Cinema 2021, a pix-in-post showcase, is produced by Cinédokké Sagl (Michela Pin) and Cineworx (Pascal Trächslin) together with Filmproduktion Basel GmbH and RSI produces Radiotelevisione svizzera.

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Courtesy of Pascal Mora

diversity spoke to Mona ahead of the film’s debut in Locarno.

Can you talk about what inspired the film and what made you want to tell Semret’s story?

What I’m really interested in is: How does trauma affect your life and also the life of your children or the people around you? And what is the best way to overcome trauma? How can you learn to live with trauma? Semret is a woman who has really suffered from struggles and has something really dark in her past. So how can she try to live this normal life or build a normal life for her daughter? I moved to this cooperative building in the center of Zurich and there were two families from Eritrea there and the children went to school with my children. We became friends. I met the parents and began to learn more about the history of the culture and the people who were fleeing the country and coming here to build a better future for themselves and their children.

Was Semret based on someone in real life? How did you choose this unique character to tell such a challenging story?

Yes, it’s based on women I know. One in particular that doesn’t have its own story, but its way of speaking and speaking. Because for me that is character: body and movement. The rhythm and the pitch. And then I found a woman who was very close to the character I had in mind and I would have liked to work with her more, but she had two jobs, sometimes three jobs, so she didn’t have that much time. But like Semret, she really broke away from her own community. She was also a single mother.

The film follows Semret and her daughter, both together and separately. Can you share a bit about how you approached their narratives?

It is always a question of whether it is possible to leave and come back. I think there were moments when it was a lot more everywhere. There were other characters who had their own scenes in different versions of the script, but I think in the end it’s the story of Semret and Joe. So I found it really okay to go with Joe a few times and just be with her and her friends because it adds even more depth to the relationship with her mother.

How did scenes after Semret’s romantic life help with storytelling?

I think the romantic part is very important in this particular case because that’s her trauma. It is not associated with romance but with sexuality. And she’s completely frozen in that part of her life. She kind of closed that chapter in her life. And this man who is just amazing and everyone falls in love with…. So I think that’s the point at the end. It’s not that healing hasn’t happened or isn’t happening in some way, because that’s not the point. The film is not the end, but the first step in the right direction.

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Courtesy of Pascal Mora Caterina Mona’s debut ‘Semret’ sold by Pluto, Bows at Locarno Fest

Charles Jones

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