Manuel Huerga • Director
"I am a mercenary"
by Vitor Pinto
After a ten-year absence from cinema – during which he directed music videos, operas, and advertisements – multifaceted director Manuel Huerga is back on the big screen in grand style. The latest Cannes Film Festival hosted the world premiere of Salvador [+see also:
film profile], an openly mainstream, MediaPro mega-production starring Daniel Brühl, which focuses on the life of the last man be condemned to death by Franco’s regime and who ultimately became a symbol of the dictatorship’s repression. The film, amongst the most seen local productions of the year in Spain, is ready to conquer other territories in the first semester of 2007: Benelux, Italy, France, UK, Brazil and Japan.
Cineuropa: You are back to features after a long absence. Why a film like Salvador to mark your return?
Manuel Huerga: I got a call from Jaume Roures (MediaPro) asking if I wanted to direct the film of his life. And the film of his life was nothing less than the story of Salvador Puig. I already had the urge to work in cinema again so I was immediately enthusiastic about it. Throughout my career I have been offered tempting proposals. I am a mercenary, I am always given assignments, but Salvador wasn't an assignment – rather, it was a present. Not only was the story amazing, it was also necessary.
With a producer being so emotionally involved to a project, did you ever feel your artistic freedom was compromised? Did you manage to project your personality in the film?
I think Jaume was convinced I was the right person to safely take such a risky project to port. He wanted a big film on Salvador and that's what I had to give him. He always trusted me and I involved myself completely. I was given all the means: it is a very expensive film in terms of the average budget of a Spanish film. We both worked closely with Lluis Arcarazo in the drafting of the script and I had total freedom to conceive the film from a formal and visual point of view.
One can certainly sense your pop background in the first part of the film. Some sequences are rather dynamic with short sequences, almost like in a music video, whereas the second part has a much more conventional approach and colder tones.
The first part is indeed deliberately more pop and dynamic, with action scenes pretty well shot. It had to be like this, otherwise it would be unbearable. Besides, this part is conceived almost as an ensemble piece. Salvador is nothing more than a character, and I liked to keep him as such, kind of invisible among the others. In the second part, when he is already in prison, the film may be more conventional, but that does not detract from its merit. It is darker, and there is a slower timing but that is when emotions can actually emerge. There is space for empathies, emotions, loves and hatreds that are absent from the first part.
How would you describe Salvador?
He was a young man with very clear ideas about justice and that led him to become a political activist. The price he had to pay for his actions was immeasurable. He is a character very coherent with his ideas and with an enormous dignity, never denying or regretting anything. Most characters in my film are children of May ‘68. They believed they could change the world. Salvador didn't want to break away from Franco – Franco was the least of it – he wanted to break away from the system.
The character of the dead police officer is like a phantom. Did you ever think about developing him?
We didn't want to talk about the "other dead man", as a critic from El País called him. Actually, Francisco Anguas is not portrayed in any way, good or bad. He is the one who dies, full stop. We were more interested in Salvador's capacity to rebel. That story had to be told because, though it happened in Spain in the 1970s, nowadays the death penalty still exists in several parts of the world and people are still sent to jail for their political beliefs.
Daniel Brühl starred in other films with a political content, such as Good Bye Lenin! and The Edukators. Did that influence your choice?
Salvador was a very ambitious project, so Jaume's strategy consisted in finding an international leading actor who could carry the film to international markets. When we first contacted Daniel – over three years ago – he had basically done Good Bye Lenin!, but we thought he was the man. Not only he had an emerging career, his Spanish was also perfect. Then he improved his Catalan as well. Daniel's presence is crucial to the film. He gives it credibility and grants Salvador a universal dimension.
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