40TH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ROTTERDAM #10 SATURDAY 5 FEBRUARy 2011
NEDERLANDSE EDITIE Z.O.Z
Twelve Tigers (from left to right): Sivaroj Kongsakul (Eternity); Park Jung-Bum ( The Journals of Musan); Majid Barzegar (Rainy Seasons); Sanjeewa Pushpakumara (Flying Fish); Yoon Sung-Hyun (Bleak Night); Argyris Papadimitropoulos & Jan Vogel ( Wasted Youth); Elisa Miler (Alicia, Go Yonder); Carlos Moreno (All Your Dead Ones); Sergio Caballero (Finisterrae); Sérgio Borges ( The Sky Above); Uchida Nobuteru (Love Addiction). photo: Ruud Jonkers
WHERE THE ACTION IS Friday lunchtime and IFFR Director Rutger Wolfson is listening to an impromtu concert by hip-hop singersongwriter Gery Mendes in the festival offices. Wolfson may not have managed to visit quite all 40 new venues set up to mark the Festival’s XL edition, but he has been at the heart of events over the last ten days. “That’s the nice thing about my job,” he tells Geoffrey Macnab. “I get to be at the place where the action is.”
He talks about introducing films in a “rock concert”like atmosphere with a full house and a nervous director in attendance, and name checks some of the 40th edition highlights: the Metropole Orchestra performing at the opening of Red Westerns; the opening of the Out Of Fashion Exhibition; the Water Tiger Inn. CHALLENGES
The festival has been a blur of energy and activity. However, Wolfson acknowledges the scale of the challenges facing Rotterdam at a time of government culture cuts. Ten days ago, in his opening speech, he announced the launch of the Tiger Film Mecenaat (Tiger Film Patrons’ Fund) in collaboration with the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds. The aim is to raise €300,000 a year, some of which Wolfson would like to see invested in the Hubert Bals Fund. (The HBF, he notes, is under pressure on two fronts, from cuts both in cultural spending and development aid). “We’ve made a start, but it is nowhere as big as we would like,” Wolfson says of the number of patrons signed up so far. The festival director is predicting that the “lobbying and outrage of the cultural field as a whole, from museums to orchestras, to the film sector will be … massive” as the government makes its controversial and much-trumpeted cuts to art budgets. However, the government is not entirely deaf to the sector’s case. Halbe Zijlstra, State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science, attended the Festival opening. “He
was very impressed by the initiative of the [Patrons’] Fund,” Wolfson says. One way or another, the Patrons’ Fund will be very revealing. “The results either way will say something,” Wolfson says. “If we manage to raise money, then hooray for us. If it isn’t as successful as we hope, it also shows that – if we as a big cultural event working with an accessible medium like film can’t do it – then it is not realistic to expect that there will be such a change of culture in the Netherlands on a very short term basis, nor that the public will take over the role of the government in the funding of the arts.” TWIN HUB
Audience admissions appear stable. Wolfson expects the overall figures to be roughly similar to those of last year. He will look hard at the data as he and his team assess the scale of the festival. Is the IFFR director thinking about downsizing? “We consider it every year but we never manage it,” he says. On one point, Wolfson is firm: he wants the festival to stay in the centre of the city. At the same time, the festival is considering further developing the area around the new Lantaren Venster. In this case, the festival could have two main hubs. As for the Pathé on the Schouwbergplein, which has been the Festival’s main venue for so many years, there are no plans to leave. “We renew the rental every year, but the relationship is very good,” Wolfson says. “The projection is excellent and in terms of capacity, it’s a very crucial cinema for us – so most likely we will continue using this Pathé.” A third of the Festival’s €7.2m overall budget is generated through its own income – of which box-office revenue is a key part. Wolfson hopes that some of the new venues used for the XL edition might be kept next year. “It gives all the more reason to come to Rotterdam and stay longer. It’s good to have a lot on offer and we know from research that people like to go to films and then afterwards go to a talkshow or live music event.”
Over the past week, four previous IFFR directors – Emile Fallaux, Marco Muller, Sandra Den Hamer and Simon Field – have been in town. Has it been like having the ghosts of Christmas past at your party? Wolfson says not. “There is nothing uncomfortable. They were supportive, which was nice. They know what it is like to be in the ‘hot seat,’ as Simon puts it.” One area in which Wolfson feels the Festival can improve is in its approach to diversity. “We’re not very good at it,” he says of the festival’s failure to engage with different communities and ethnic groups. “We’re still pretty white – white and affluent. The most international part is the guests coming to the festival … would we like a more diverse audience? Yes. Do we make a specific marketing effort to reach that goal? Not yet.” Energy
Over the last ten days in Rotterdam, Wolfson has noted an optimism and vigour on the industry side of the festival that wasn’t always apparent two years ago, during the worst point of the economic downturn when “people were worried and didn’t quite know what was going to happen.” This year, by contrast, “there has been incredible energy, with young producers and young filmmakers. It’s not that the crisis has gone away, but people know better what the effects are and there is a lot of energy.” As the film industry undergoes seismic change, the IFFR is continuing to pioneer new distribution initiatives like its YouTube Channel and its “affiliate construction” through which some festival titles are shown on the Cinemalink.TV VOD platform run by ABC/Cinemien. What lies in store for Wolfson once this year’s edition ends? As a father of young children, he isn’t expecting to take it easy. “Rest is not exactly the word! It’s a change … and sometimes that is as good as a rest.”
Tiger winners announced The 2011 Tiger Awards went to three feature debuts at a ceremony in the Oude Luxor Theater last night. The winning films were: The Journals of Musan by Park Jung-Bum (South Korea), Finisterrae by Sergio Caballero (Spain) and Eternity by Sivaroj Kongsakul (Thailand). The jury: filmmaker Lucrecia Martel (Argentina); director of the EYE Film Institute Netherlands Sandra den Hamer (the Netherlands); filmmaker Andrei Ujica (Romania); filmmaker Wisit Sasanatieng (Thailand) and musician Lee Ranaldo (USA), watched 14 first or second-time features in the festival’s competition strand. In their statement, the jury praised Finisterrae as “edgy” and “offbeat”. Hubert Bals Fund-supported Eternity was commended as “a beautiful and delicate love story”. The jury described The Journals of Musan as “a mature debut film from a new director”. Each film receives a prize of €15,000 for the filmmaker. In a one-off award (to mark the IFFR’s 40th anniversary), the Return of the Tiger Award was shared between Oki’s Movie by Hong Sang-Soo (South Korea) and Club Zeus by David Verbeek (the Netherlands/China). The Return of the Tiger competition – films by directors who had an early involvement with the IFFR – and the winners were selected by this year’s Tiger directors. Other awards announced were the NETPAC Award for the Best Asian Film at IFFR 2011, which was shared by the Hubert Bals-supported Black Blood by Zhang Miaoyan (China/France) and The Day I Disappeared by Atousa Bandeh Ghiasabadi (Netherlands/Iran); and the FIPRESCI Award, which went to The Journals of Musan. The KNF award, given by the circle of Dutch film journalists, went to Winter Vacation by Li Hongqi (China).
Food for thought: YourSpace
photo: Corinne de Korver
Child’s play “This was the prototype of a kind of programme we usually don’t do in Rotterdam”, Not Kidding curator Edwin Carels tells Nick Cunningham.
The programme, based at the new festival location YourSpace, has the published aim of providing “a location for children, young people, parents and everyone who appreciates a playful approach to film culture”. Activities kicked off with a mass pillow fight on January 26. “I’m fond of exploring things and trying things out at the festival. Last year I had a shop, which was a great experience, and this has the same fantastic vibe.” Despite a slow start – “nobody knew the place or whether the programme was just for kids or for the inner child of everybody” – the programme has, Carels claims, offered a series of memorable moments. He describes sessions when six 16mm projectors were provided, along with ribbons of 16mm film, onto which kids could draw and scratch and manipulate before immediately seeing their work projected onto a screen. “It was fantastic, it was playful, it was radical and beautiful”, Carels says. “These sorts of moments have been happening throughout the festival.” He also described a free
jazz improvisation session with shadow puppets, and a baby brunch hosted in a plastic ball-filled space to which kids brought along their parents before being “mesmerised” by a three-hour programme of films. “My idea was on one hand to infuse the kids with cinema, without really being pedantic or saying this is really educational, and on the other to create an environment where the Rotterdam microbe might enter their veins.” The Not Kidding programme was obviously of direct benefit to its target audience, but Carels also speculated on the effect such events will have on the festival itself and on cinema in general. “The average festival-goer is over 30, so I think it is good to invest in the future and definitely not to lose touch with upcoming audiences,” he says. “The other thing we did with this programme was to return to cinema’s infancy, to offer this open, non-formatted, ‘don’t sit down in the dark’ way of watching films. The conventionalised and disciplined form of viewing is completely opened up here. It’s the early days of cinema again, it’s a kind of rebooting of the cinema medium and saying that cinema can be a lot of things. A lot of the Not Kidding ingredients blended naturally. I’m really happy.”
Todos tus muertos
Getting Industrious 2011 Film Office stats show a hike in the levels of activity across all disciplines designed to facilitate interaction between attending filmmakers and industry professionals. Seven panels were organised this year (up from four in 2010), all of which were very well attended. The ‘Film Festivals: who needs them?’ panel drew more than 70 attendees. “We find these informal panels are necessary, as the film landscape is changing constantly; not all information can be found online and the human factor is crucial here,” says Film Office chief Jolinde den Haas. As reported yesterday, the streamlined Video Library is registering very high levels of viewings of IFFR selections. As of yesterday, the specific number of press and industry screenings had reached 5,890. Sales activity began even before the festival opening, in great part as a result of the information sent out to the industry about the IFFR selections. Tiger title Todos tus muertos was picked up for international sales by Shoreline Entertainment, while Bright Future titles A Little Closer and You Are Here will be sold by
Coach 14 and Insomnia World Sales (both France), respectively. The Film Office’s five industry consultants conducted 225 meetings between them. “The opportunity that is given to the filmmakers by the festival, to have a consultant, is priceless and I think how, in the past three years, filmmakers and producers really have needed the advice we can give,” comments consultant Hayet Benkara. “The business has changed a lot, and I think it is becoming very difficult not just to find money but also to know who is who and who to talk to, and when, and to find both festival and distribution strategies. Everything is becoming so blurry. Many sales companies are now doing production and distribution, and distributors are doing production. There is a lot of new information out there that these people are not aware of when they come to a big festival like Rotterdam. They know they have the opportunity to meet the industry, especially as CineMart is happening, so we try to help them connect with these people.” Nick Cunningham
Talking in advance of the screening of The Fighter, which closes this year’s IFFR, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema admits to being unusually nervous. Van Hoytema, who shot the film, is actually from Rotterdam, and his family will be in the screening. “It’s nice,” he says on returning to the city, “but the toughest audiences are always your closest relatives.” A gutsy true-life drama portraying the tense relationship between Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a talented Massachusetts boxer, and his wayward brother Dickie (Christian Bale), The Fighter marks Van Hoytema’s first Hollywood picture after a career mostly in Sweden. Best known for shooting the stylized Let the Right One In, Van Hoytema opted for a grittier, more realist approach to The Fighter. “I had a very good relationship with the production designer, who was a very visual person and we both knew what was required of us,” Van Hoytema remarks, “And we both looked at American documentary photographs – Willliam Eggleson, Nan Goldin were some of the first people we researched.” A striking example of this documentary impulse was Van Hoytema’s decision to shoot Micky’s titleshot fights in the early 1990s with the same HBO video cameras that were used in the real-life matches: “Boxing movies are a whole genre in themselves; they try to get closer to the fight in various cinematic ways. At some point you think, jeez, how are we going to approach our fights?” He continues: “We didn’t have a huge budget, and we couldn’t even think about competing with, for instance, the way Scorsese filmed the fight scenes in Raging Bull or how Michael Mann did it in Ali. Plus, Wahlberg had been training for four years and he really could do the fights. Which gave us the possibility of authenticity, we didn’t have to fool our
way into it, the only thing we had to do was find a way to register this in as realistic a way as possible. The texture of the video is very unforgiving and raw and present. It was lit in the way it would have been lit.” Van Hoytema is enthusiastic about working with The Fighter’s director, David O’Russell: “I love his energy, he has a lot of power, like a locomotive – he just keeps going! He’s a very intuitive director. I work with directors who have a very calm, intellectual approach to the storyline. He has an intuitive approach, it’s all about feeling.” While he’s positive about his first Hollywood experience, Van Hoytema wouldn’t rule out returning to the Netherlands. “Yeah, I might,” he says. “I must say most scripts I get to read aren’t Dutch: they are British or American. So I think it’s most likely that the next thing I’ll do will be something in Britain or the US. I’d love to work in Holland, but I would hate to get sidetracked into a very small, no-money production where people have a lot of ideas but there’s just no way achieve them.” Edward Lawrenson The Fighter – David O’Russell Sat 05 21:00 DGZ
Facing up In December, Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof were each sentenced by a Revolutionary Court to six years imprisonment and a 20-year filmmaking ban. Rotterdam has joined the international chorus of protest with a project running throughout IFFR 2011, in which festival-goers are photographed holding policestyle identification cards bearing the directors’ names. So far, more than 830 people have participated, and organisers hope to reach 1,000 by the festival’s end. By Ben Walters.
IFFR programmer Ludmila Cvikova, one of the originators of the scheme, has been following Panahi’s case on her blog since 2009, when his passport was confiscated. She was also engaged with the worldwide day of protest against his treatment last spring. “Thanks to Facebook, there were free screenings all over the world,” she recalls. “It took time and energy to get America and Hollywood involved, but now the whole film community is aware of the danger. Panahi has been on the jury here at Rotterdam, he’s been to CineMart. We love and respect him and it’s very painful. When we heard he’d been sentenced to jail and a ban – being alive but dead – the response was very quick.” Berlin invited Panahi, whose films include The White Balloon, Offside and The Circle, to be on the jury despite his conviction making it impossible. “We didn’t want to repeat that gesture,” says Cvikova, “so we thought of a protest using not words but pictures, which have a strong impact and a lasting effect.” “A visual approach has more impact,” agrees Daily Tiger photographer Lucia Gugglietmetti, who has spent several hours each day photographing sub-
jects. “It’s like a petition but with faces, not just signatures. The expressions are sad, serious or angry and I ask people to remove their badges so the only names are the filmmakers’.” The various photo locations have included the café at De Doelen, the press desk, CineMart and the Pathé cinema. The general reaction has been very positive, Gugglietmetti says, especially from professional and industry delegates. “We didn’t have to explain anything to them. The public often didn’t know or maybe had only heard of Panahi but when I explained the situation almost everybody was happy to participate. Perhaps a few have been more reluctant the past couple of days at the Pathé.” The cinema has also been host to free screenings of both directors’ work, accompanied by contextualizing introductions. Panahi’s The White Balloon screened yesterday and Rasoulof’s White Meadows screens at 17:15 this afternoon in Pathé 3. “I could see it was very emotional for lots of people from the region,” Gugglietmetti adds. “Some really wanted to be in the pictures but were too concerned; some did it anyway; some did it but changed their appearance.” Cvikova is adamant that continued pressure can make a difference. “We must confront them and remind them all the time that it’s a sick thing to sentence artists for their work. All society should be protesting, especially politicians. It’s not just relevant at an art level, but at a human level.” Gugglietmetti also believes it can make a difference. “I heard Panahi was aware of the project and liked it and had a link to it on his Facebook account,” she says. “A Belgian director was saying he was hoping to do the same back in Belgium and several others have suggested adding to the project in their own country or festival as well. Perhaps they can continue it in Berlin…”
Up Close and Personal Kitao Sakurai talks about the blurring between real life and fiction in his striking drama Aardvark. By Edward Lawrenson.
“Not everyone would be open to people making a film about their life in the way he was.” So says director Kitao Sakurai about Larry L. Lewis Jr, the Cleveland-based businessman who is the inspiration – and lead actor – of US indie drama Aardvark, which screens today. Much of the film, Sakurai explains, sticks closely to the real events of Lewis’ life. With a visual style that combines a watchful, almost documentary restraint with moments of striking formal assurance, Aardvark starts out as a sympathetic and fascinating portrait of Lewis’ life. Blind since birth, recovering alcoholic Lewis enrolls in a jujitsu class, taught by Darren Branch (who plays himself), with whom he develops a close friendship. “I knew Darren and I’d made a couple of shorts about him in the past. It was through him that I met Larry, and so I had the idea to do a film about him.” “Larry is enacting his own life,” says Sakurai: “He has been blind since birth, he is a recovering alcoholic, we shot the film in his home, and in the real jujitsu studio where they practice. The trappings of reality are all there.” And yet as the film develops, Sakurai introduces entirely fictional elements: to reveal more would be to risk spoiling the film’s unfolding surprises (which are handled with cool control), except to say that what starts as a beautifully observed study of male friendship turns into a gripping revenge drama and atmospheric thriller. “The idea of the story is that it starts with the relationship between Larry and Darren, then goes into this other place. There are many fictional things in
it, but to me, when I was conceiving it, they had a spiritual truth to them: the people who are involved in the story would behave in exactly the same way if the events in the film really happened, I believe.” “One of my favourite films is Kiarostami’s Closeup,” Sakurai says of the Iranian director’s groundbreaking neo-realist drama. “It was a huge point of inspiration for me: there’s a tension when you stage something that is real, that you don’t get through pure documentary work and you don’t get through pure fiction work.” Given the film’s blurring of real life and fiction, Sakurai is especially thankful for Lewis’ involvement: “He’s never acted before. He was very ready and willing and excited about digging into his own psyche and persona.” He admits to being initially nervous about showing the film to Lewis: “Before I started working with Larry, I worried about the ethical ramifications of making a film starring a blind person who could never ‘see’ the film. Once I started working with Larry and understood how he relates to the world, I realized that my initial instinct didn’t acknowledge that Larry’s relationship to his life and the world around him is as richly visual as our own: he just happens to not have the capacity for physical sight, but to say that he cannot ‘see’ is a gross misrepresentation of how people actually interact with the world.” Larry, Sakurai continues, is “very happy with and very supportive of” the results. “He does a lot of consulting and used to travel with his job. A few years ago he was consulting for a company in Rotterdam. Only last week he asked me for 20 tickets for his friends who live here!” Aardvark – Kitao Sakurai
Sat 05 22:15 CI6
photo: Ruud Jonkers
photo: Nadine Maas
Love is the drug Following on from her multi-awardwinning documentary Shakespeare and Victor Hugo’s Intimacies, which told the story of the filmmaker’s grandmother and her relationship with a mysterious lodger in her house, Mexican director Yulene Olaizola presented the world premiere of her beautifully shot, contemplative fiction debut at the IFFR. By Mark Baker.
Taking its title from a Baudelaire anthology, Artificial Paradises: on hashish and wine as means of expanding individuality, Paraísos artificiales is set exclusively in a small coastal resort on the Gulf of Mexico, where two characters meet, each with a different, but intimate, relationship with narcotics. The drug angle is not the sole focus of the film, however, Olaizola is keen to stress. “The drugs is not the only important issue. It’s more about the relationship between two people who use drugs. It is more like a love story, but set against the background of drug use.” Though fiction, the film stays close to real life. In one of the lead roles, Salomon Hernandez effectively plays himself. Olaizola met him while researching another project with actress Luisa Pardo, who in Paraísos artificiales plays Luisa, a character based on a friend of the director. “It actually started because one of my best friends became a heroin addict,” Olaizola says. “This is actually really unusual in Mexico City, we don’t have much heroin in the south of the country. So this was really weird for me, and for her family. That took me to do some research about addiction and recovery in Mexico, and this led me to Salomon. He is a real guy, he’s
not an actor. He lives in the village where I shot the film. I met him, and decided to cross the two stories, his and my friend’s.” Salomon’s performance is remarkably assured – at times, he even talks direct to the camera. “That was kind of an accident, really,” the director explains. “When I was writing the script, I had thought about making some interviews in the middle of the fiction, also with some other characters. I had this idea to mix the documentary style into the fiction. In the end this didn’t work, it didn’t have anything to do with the story between Salomon and Luisa. One of the characters who is in the story, Juan, is a little bit crazy. After we did the first two shots with him, he didn’t want to appear in the film any more. We had a scene in the script where he and Salomon are talking about Luisa. Salomon had to talk about Luisa, but now he didn’t have anyone to talk to. So we just decided to do it with Salomon alone. I decided during the shooting to do it like this, and I think it works really well.” The issue of drugs also crops up, in a much starker form, in Carlos Moreno’s Columbian Tiger contender Todos tus meurtos. “I have heard about it,” Olaizola says, “but I haven’t seen it yet. Obviously this is a very big issue now in Latin America, especially in Mexico. It is in the news every day, because the drug cartels are taking control of the country, really. My film is not about that aspect of the drug problem, but it is something that is in our minds all the time of course.” Paraísos artificiales – Yulene Olaizola
Sat 05 09:30 LV3
A bigger bang In his latest film, Koen Mortier explores his fascination with the consequences of bad timing. He speaks to Geoffrey Macnab. Flemish director Koen Mortier provoked shock and revulsion – and also won plenty of glowing plaudits – when he showed his debut feature, Ex Drummer, in the Tiger Competition in 2007. Adapted from a
novel by Herman Brusselmans, the film was about a famous but cynical novelist, living in an expensive tower block apartment in Ostend. He joins together three would-be rock musicians – all with slight handicaps – and together they try to “latch on to the life of losers ... descend into the depths of stupidity, ugliness.” Now Mortier is back, in the Return Of The Tiger sidebar, with his latest feature, 22 May (22 mei).
The film begins in deceptive fashion, with a downbeat sequence shot in real time. In a single shot lasting several minutes, we see security guard Sam wake up, wash, dress, make himself a sandwich and a thermos of coffee and head out of his apartment. This humdrum beginning belies the explosive events to come, later in the movie. Sam (played by Sam Louwyck, who was also in Ex Drummer) is a security guard who isn’t able to intervene when a suicide bomber with a rucksack blows himself up in a shopping centre. Sam is standing idly by in the street when the blast goes off. The soundtrack is as eerie as the images. There is that piercing ringing that you hear in your ears after a very loud noise, as well as muffled screams and groans. All is confusion. Mortier has described the film as being about “guilt and redemption”. Surely Sam could have done more, couldn’t he? The writer-director admits to a fatalistic fascination with the part that coincidence and bad timing plays in human lives. “You drive your car and someone crashes into it and you are dead … if you had started out one tenth of a
second earlier, you wouldn’t be dead. If you started one tenth of a second later, you wouldn’t be dead either.” Another preoccupation is how such seismic but short-lived events are remembered in such different ways by those caught up in them. As a top commercials and pop promo director as well as a filmmaker, Mortier has the technical expertise to stage the explosion in bravura fashion, even though he was working on a relatively modest budget. Portrayed abruptly early in the film, it is shown again toward the end in dream-like slow motion. “I wanted something that looked like dancing,” he has said of this mesmerising sequence in which flames leap up, dust hovers in the air and the characters caught up in the blast seem to be floating. His aim was to finish the film with a happy ending. “Of course, with this kind of film, it is very difficult to have something happy about explosions … so I thought why not make something really beautiful?” 22 May – Koen Mortier Sat 05 14:15 LV5
Darkness visible Agustí Villaronga’s films provoke extreme reactions, but the director is motivated by compassion, he tells Sol Sánchez.
photo: Ruud Jonkers
Read the IFFR programme notes for the complete retrospective of the work of Agustí Villaronga and you’ll be told of films suffused with cruelty and evil. “These are what my films dwell on,” the Spanish director agrees. In person, however, he’s friendly, open and generous. “Maybe that is due to the fact that I probably vent out all the darkness in my films,” he laughs.
Even so, viewers should be advised that Villaronga’s films – eight features and nine shorter works, screening under the Signals banner – provoke extreme reactions. “There was a lady in New York at a screening of Tras el Cristal who started vomiting straight away,” he reports of his 1987 debut, about a former Nazi torturer’s sadomasochistic relationships. “There are people who find my films too extreme, too intense. There is a lot of cruelty in these films but there is always poetry as well. The mixture reaches many people in a positive way. What I do not like is to have them labelled as sordid, because they are not.” Few audiences want to be forced to feel deep emotions related to violence, even if they are part of human nature. Yet Villaronga has still been surprised by the hostility to his work from some. “Tras el Cristal was filmed almost 25 years ago and I had no idea of the stir it was going to cause, in Spain and outside,” he recalls. “I did not understand why. I saw the film was special but the controversy caught me off guard. It has become a cult film in several countries, perhaps thanks to the way it elicits such revulsion. Actually, in Spain the reception was milder. The culture there was more permissive at the time. I do not think a film like that could be done nowadays, there or anywhere else. If I could raise funds for it, it would have to be through alternative routes.”
Agustí Villaronga flanked by two of his regular actresses, Marina Gatell (left) and Marisa Paredes
there’s the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in The Sea and in Black Bread … What interests me is not a particular conflict but the consequences of war in general: the moral and physical devastation it leaves behind, the dissolution of people’s values and the few things which give us as human beings a moral compass in the ways in which we live. War is the perfect scenario in which to depict that because it capsizes everything.” Funds
Tras el cristal
In fact, Villaronga has always wanted to connect with audiences rather than alienate them. “I think a lot about the audience in the sense of building a bridge between what I want to express and making it intelligible to them – in finding a middle ground for the sake of reaching them – but I never change the idea I want to convey,” he says. His recurrent themes, though extreme, are universal: “corruption
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of innocence, war, situations which depict a child being forced to face an adult world that changes him into an evil person … The fact that evil propagates through a vicious circle [although] it does not have to be that way. In Black Bread, for example, the child ends up becoming a monster but other people would react in a different way.” Such stories come not from a sense of empathy, though not sympathy, with monstrous behaviour. “Human beings have a very bad reputation,” he notes. “But I’m very compassionate. When I see sensationalistic news feeding on the truculent, I always wonder, ‘What’s behind those acts?’ It’s not that I try to justify evil; it’s about understanding where it comes from, which I have always found I can do.” War
The Spanish Civil War is often the backdrop to Villaronga’s stories, but he claims no special interest in it. “War is present in all of my films. There’s World War Two, there’s the Guatemalan genocide,
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Despite his critical success, Villaronga is not always able to raise funds, though he’s currently working on a television project which he expects to last into 2012. “Sometimes I do not know whether to go on fighting for my personal perspective or do what I have recently started doing: managing subtly to convey it through accepting projects which are feasible,” he says. “Sometimes one starts to fight hard for the personal projects only to hit a wall and get burned out with nothing to show for it.” And if he had unlimited funding? “There is a project I love based on the novel Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda, a Catalan writer. But it’s very difficult because it takes place in the Neolithic period among a tribe. There are floods, wars and things like that and it’s not a typical story portraying things people can easily identify with, which always makes it harder to sell. Another project I cherish is Western Barbarians, based on the life of a French painter, François Augieres who died at 40. He was a great character, larger than life in his pure passion.”
Published on Feb 4, 2011