29/10/2020.- After suffering a retinal detachment and only a few hours away from the corresponding surgery, Óliver Laxe faced this morning the master class scheduled for today in the Hall of Mirrors, the new venue for this event due to safety regulations required by COVID-19.
The director of Fire Will Come, one of the three shortlisted films to represent Spain in the Oscar race, let himself be guided by the questions and comments of Javier Angulo, the director of the Valladolid International Film Festival, in an enriching conversation with the Galician director where both discussed his cinema, Laxe’s projects and even his way of facing life.
“Right now I feel that I am where I should be, and that I am doing what I should be doing“, said Laxe, who has moved to his native Galicia, where he is developing a personal project related to rural sustainability while maintaining an intense film-related activity, yet still far away from promotional work for any new film.
Although it is some time since he finished his latest movie, it was inevitable to talk about a film which in 2019 bagged two Goyas out of four nominations, respectively for Best Cinematography and Best New Actress. On top of which, at the Mar de Plata Festival it moreover won awards for Best Film and Best Screenplay; at the Gaudí Awards, it was declared Best European Film and Best Cinematography; in the Forqué Awards it was nominated for Best Film; at the Feroz Awards it won five nominations, which also included Best Film and Best Director, and at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard it harvested the Jury Prize.
Yet what is an award after all? According to the director, “ultimately, awards legitimize you“. And, of course, “they boost your ego.” In his case, recognitions have no adverse effects on his self-demandingness, which remains permanently high, he claims. Besides, waters always return to their course: “It’s ten years now since You All Are Captains [2010, selected in Cannes and Mar del Plata and awarded in Gijón] and life puts you in your place all the time”.
In his latest film, with a cast of non-professionals “because the movie asked for something else”, the main actress is “a cosmopolitan villager. She was born in the country and has all the country’s gestures”. It is precisely this, the subtlety of the natural gesture, including the local idiom or the way one builds even the smallest phrases of one’s speech, what Óliver Laxe was looking for in his project. “The relationship between mother and child is not as psychologized as we sometimes see in movies; here it is simply a series of seemingly meaningless gestures. How to toast bread in the kitchen, for example, which seems to mean nothing, but means everything when it is a natural gesture”.
His work methodology was based on a written text that the actors had to know, but not learn. In rehearsals, “where we improvised the most”, according to the director, the actors constructed their own sentences: “These are country people with an amazing oral language, and I recorded the rehearsals and then yes, I asked them to repeat themselves”.
Training and craftmaship
Óliver Laxe was born in Galicia, but trained at Pompeu Fabra University. Currently, his main source of income is teaching. He teaches classes at his old university, at ESCAC and at the Elías Querejeta Zine Scola, in San Sebastián. “Being at the university helped me make up a map of filmmakers. The good thing about a school is that you work on craftmanship, which I think some of us filmmakers lack a bit today. Cinema is increasingly polarized, as a market and as an artistic expression. In general terms, those of us who are on the ‘auteur’ side lack skills and those who are in the market have plenty of them”, he said.
How is this craftmanship acquired? Well, by several possible routes, of which training or surrounding yourself with good professionals are two possible ones. “What you can’t learn is the director’s gaze,” he said. And he concluded: “When I teach my students or during one-to-ones, every time filmmakers or beginner students ask me what they should do to improve, I tell them to travel, to get lost, to learn to know each other”.
With or without training, Laxe assures that making films ends up being a real thing for those who find the way: “In the end, those who need to make a film will make it. And if they don’t, then it’s because they really needn’t , which is not a tragedy either”.
The director claims that he does not attend the screenings of his films, since what interests him is the process. “I never go to the cinema to see my movies. I do not want to see them, but to experience them. I want to be free in a very radical way “.
A good example could be precisely the shooting of Fire Will Come, a film that includes sequences of real fires. They had to be prepared to go to shoot when one broke out. They found no inspiration in similar film shots, since there are no real fires filmed in movies, and they had to get some beforehand training in order to operate in that environment without being firefighters (the corresponding permits were obtained). But what Laxe highlights above all is precisely the experience of having a stimulus: “Shooting in a real fire had never been done and it was very stimulating because we were like fishermen harvesting in new fishing grounds. Visually, it was super-exciting, not so much because of the novelty or for any opportunistic considerations, but because that meant facing the fire, feeling it; feeling the world that speaks to you”.
That kind of experience has marked his path since he began to make short films: “If there is something that I am happy with about my work, it is that I have allowed myself to make mistakes and go astray. My shorts were very imperfect babbling, but they enabled me to know myself”.
The filmmaker misses that freedom to walk his own path, instead of feeling that right after leaving film school or as you are getting started in the film world, it’d be possible to make a round and perfect film. “Today we are seeing this search for perfection in movies, and it is very good to explore sidetracks as much as possible. Trying to get a kid just out of school to make a perfect movie is like putting a 12-year-old on weight training, or putting silicone on a teenage girl to suddenly turn her into something he hasn’t had the time to grow into. Everyone has to grow up and get to know themselves”.
The same thing happens with a film’s characters: “I like to feel the heroic stuff of a human being who suffers but faces suffering with dignity. I really like broken, imperfect people. They have a lot of light. If I have to choose between surprising or moving viewers, I surely prefer to move them”.