Isabel Coixet: “I feel that in Valladolid there is a special connection with my films”

From left to right, Sarita Choudhury, Agustín Almodóvar, Isabel Coixet, Pedro Casablanc and Edgar Vittorino, this Saturday at Teatro Calderón’s Hall of Mirrors
  • After the world premiere of ‘The Bookshop’ at  62 Seminci, this is the second time  Isabel Coixet opens  the Valladolid International Film Festival with her latest film.

24/10/2020.- “This is is one of the places here in Spain where I feel more comfortable and sense  a connection with my films,” said Coixet in reference to a film festival where she first took part when the Film Week was steered by Fernando Lara. Coixet has been to Valladolid in several capacities: filmmaker, lecturer, jury member… She has even closed a Festival edition, in 2015, when her movie Nobody Wants the Night became the  icing on the cake of the 60th Film Week.

This time the expectations about the film go beyond a positive response by audience and critics, as pointed out by herself and by one of the films’ producers, Agustín Almodóvar (the founder together with Pedro Almodóvar of the film production company El Deseo) during the press conference scheduled to present the movie.  Both the producers and the filmmaker face the launch of the film in the middle of a pandemic that not only imposes  special seating restrictions  in commercial theaters, but also seems to be keeping  viewers at home.

This was a concern voiced by several participants in the press conference, like Almodóvar himself, who emphasized the urge to  go out and enjoy films  on the big screen “without interruptions, without holding on to your cell phone and without visiting the fridge while the movie is on”. Also Festival director Javier  Angulo highlighted the need to stand up in defense of cultural events like Valladolid’s Film Week. Angulo welcomed those present and thanked them for joining the event. Also British actor Timothy Spall, who plays the male lead (Peter Riordan) in It Snows in Benidorm, sent a supportive video where he  claimed: “I hope that this damned pest does not prevent you from enjoying this film, which I loved making”.

Actor Timothy Spall sent a taped message.

Similar words of encouragement for movie theatre audiences  were interspersed in the speeches by the film’s cast members joining the press conference, who also referred to their performances in Coixet’s movie, the characters they embodied and the film at large. The director herself said that working with El Deseo had been a real treat: “It’s been a great pleasure. What I would have wanted in life is to have a brother like Agustín; El Deseois the most serious and responsible production company in Spain and that is priceless”. Agustín Almodóvar’s reply confirmed that  the feeling was mutual: “It is always a joy to work with her. She tells us stories  that are surprising and original, and from the  production point of view,  it is wonderful to shoot with her ”.

A very special film

The story of It Snows in Benidorm deals with a Manchester bank clerk  who is  almost as dull and methodical as his job. When he  travels to Benidorm to visit his brother Daniel, he bumps into two surprises: first he learns that Daniel  has disappeared leaving no trace; then he  falls in love with Alex, the mysterious femme fatale  who works at the burlesque club that Daniel owns.

The script originated in an anecdote experienced by Coixet herself: “The seed for the film was an environmentalist documentary that I was supposed  to shoot in Benidorm and that never got finally made. But one morning we,  the film’s  crew members, walked into a bar and there was this show by an artist who is a legendary vaginal acrobat in Benidorm. It was an older woman who did this number, along with her daughter, who did another number. Of course, the performance impressed me, but not as much as seeing them go out together afterwards, the mother and the daughter, wearing their  cardigans and holding a little suitcase each in order to perform in another club. This blew me away.”

But one more piece was still missing: “Sylvia Plath’s diaries, which have been  a reference for me since I was 15 years old, report  that after her wedding with Ted Hughes she spent two months in Spain: and that after visiting Madrid and Barcelona, the place they spent most time at was Benidorm. I always thought that this was a challenge.(…) On the one hand  Sylvia Plath, a character so foreign to Benidorm; and on the other  the dull life of this character who apparently does something  unexpected; plus the city’s own atmosphere, which can fuel all  kinds of paradoxes… Well, the three variables came together and when I returned to Barcelona I started writing the script”.

True enough: the film takes place in the midst of what the director herself calls “this human menagerie”, which the film portrays as an puzzling   microcosm. It  includes most of the film’s characters: from the policewoman who is mesmerised by Sylvia Plath to the invisible cleaning woman, an intriguing  feature in that Benidorm  landscape, who contributes “the gaze of someone who is never noticed by anyone.”

“To the theme park of my personal obsessions I added another  theme park: Benidorm itself”, explained Isabel Coixet. This is why it never occurred to me to film this movie in a place other than Benidorm.”

The film’s cast: an immediate “Yes” to Isabel Coixet

Isabel Coixet

It was not very difficult for the filmmaker to persuade  cast members to sign in for the project. How did she convince Sarita Choudhury? It was not even necessary, says  the actress herself: “Simply getting a proposal from Isabel meant already a yes. In fact, after having  done Learning to Drive with her, I have been returning to Spain for a week every year to enjoy hiking or whatever with her. When she gave me the script, I consulted with a friend: “Just  say yes. Don’t ask for  more”. And so I did.

Something similar happened to Pedro Casablanc: “I was delighted to sign in for that role: awfully enthusiastic about my part. Being asked by El Deseo to play a part in a film by Isabel Coixet after my collaboration in Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘Pain and Glory’ really enthused me. As for the role, the biggest difficulty was that it had to be played in English; I think get along well acting in other languages, and it is a job that helps me, because it makes you feel like you are wearing a second mask: first the  character’s and then the language. If you want to know about my part, well, I think it’s  a metaphor for Benidorm itself: a façade that may be appealing, but behind it there is something that may be  worse and disquieting : we don’t quite know ”

For Edgar Vitorino it was not his first collaboration with the Catalan filmmaker either: “I knew the work of Isabel Coixet. In fact, I loved The Bookstore. But, in addition, I appeared in  a chapter of Foodie Love, where I met Isabel, and I think that’s why she chose me for this character”.

The alliance  between  director, cast and producer included the shared hope  that despite the pandemic the film will be successfully  released: “In addition to physical health, mental health is very important: the awareness that life still goes on”, said Coixet.

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