Published on October 11th, 2012 | by Qi Chen0
NYFF 2012: Q&A with Director Javier Rebollo
We continue our coverage of Q&A sessions at NYFF, this time with Director Javier Rebollo. Moderated by an NYFF staff member, fueled by members of the audience, Rebollo sat down on October 10th to chat with audience members about his latest film: The Dead Man and Being Happy, conducted after the screening of the film. Rebollo’s comments were translated from Spanish to English by NYFF program director Richard Peña. Click HERE to read the review of his latest film.
Q: Your narrations in the film are very interesting. It seemed like a very Argentinian idea. Tell us more.
A: My English is like the Argentinian Spanish of José Sacristán. It is difficult to speak after a film with so many words. But it’s really the way that they are placed that gives you the impression of a lot of words. This film contains many films. One of the films it contains is about the construction of a myth, the myth of Santos and the myth of José Sacristán. For myths, orality is very important; speaking American lingo, singing French lyrics, or the romantic ballads of Spaniards. In cinema, words are actually much richer than they are in literature, because a marvelous dialectic appears between what you see and what you hear.
The narration might appear a lot more complex in the beginning, but that might not be for me to say. At first, it’s almost a clinical narration, as if it’s repeating what we are looking at, which makes us a little suspicious about the film, it makes us a little uncomfortable. But bit by bit it begins to change, and finally the narration tells us “just don’t trust everything you see,” or it tells you “I don’t really remember what I am telling you.” Because it is me, the director, recounting the story to you from a distance. There are times where you just can’t find the exact words that you want to use. It’s a kind of melancholy, an upset narrator. I had hoped that by the end of the film, the voice had taken you by the hand and not let go.
Q: Did you have locations in mind or did you discover them while you were there?
A: I always find my locations before I write my screenplays. Only really generous producers like Luis Miñarro or José Nolla allow directors to fly all the way to another continent to look for locations. We actually travelled 25,000 kilometers before we began shooting. It wasn’t for the film but it really gave us a feel of the place. Things happen to you, you get to meet the people. You have to pay off the police — that’s happened to us. And so, in the course of traveling so many miles and having this many things happen to you, It sort of inspires you to start writing.
The locations correspond to everyday places the station wagon passed through. Between Buenos Aires and the Bolivian border is about 2000 kilometers, but in our trip it took about 6000 kilometers. I hope you can really feel the distance by the sweat and faces of the actors. The background changes, the characters change, even their accents change. We love change. That’s really why we make films.
Q: Why does the killer in the story not kill anyone?
A: Perhaps his guns are like him, filled with tumors. Perhaps this man never killed a fly in his life. Perhaps he never left the hospital. One of the characteristics of myths, according to Roland Barthes, is that it opens itself to every possibility. This film is not contradictory — it’s paradoxical. Miguel Cervantes said that a coward can also be a hero; I think this film is a very Cervantes-esque film, everything could be both simple and very complex.
Q: Your film also has an archival quality. You showed snippets of places that have disappeared. Could you talk more about that?
A: It’s great. What you said alone is worth my trip to New York. Cézanne said that you have to paint very quickly because places disappear very quickly. All these places are just on the verge of disappearing. In my first film, while we filmed in a provincial hospital, in the right hand side, on the left hand side of the hospital, they were knocking it down. We have to film these places, because by filming them we are in fact saving them.
Q: Could you speak a bit about that German colony in the film?
A: It is true! I’ve heard a lot about this place. When we got there, it was just like Twin Peaks. Everything was very pleasant, very pretty. Everybody was very sweet and nice, but there was something really suspicious about the place. So you walk around and you see a 96-year-old man who you know had been in the S.S. and bombed London, you go, “God damn it.” But they are very friendly. The truth is that it is a settlement where many Nazis found refuge. Of course, there are very few of them left. What happened was that during WWI, a German ship sunk and the survivors landed in Argentina and they started that community. And then, during WWII many more Germans began arriving. If you go to Argentina, make sure you visit La Cumbrecita.
Q: Could you talk about the use of sound in the film, including the muting at all sounds at some places?
A: I’m very delighted to have heard the film in this theater. You guys are very lucky. I’ve traveled the world with my films and I must tell you there are very few cinemas where you can enjoy a film like this. Sometimes it sounds like hell. This film has a very complex soundtrack. The positioning of the camera is done in relationship to how the sound was being recorded. It was almost recorded in 3D. I am also a bit deaf. My parents wouldn’t let me go to the movies or watch television, but because of that I love sounds.
The first thing I ask when I start the camera is “what will I be hearing?” First it’s a rhythmic question. Just like how you change shots, sometimes you do it with sound. When the sound disappears, time is registered in a different way. One of my favorite parts in the film is when Santos and Erika are alone on the road in silence, very comfortable being together, as if they’ve been together for many years, when in fact they’ve only been together for a few minutes. The camera is still, and you get silence. Watching the film now, it seems to me that what we were doing is printing the legend of these two characters. I am not sure how to describe it well but this is how we create legends.
Photo Credit: Moviehola