"One shouldn’t be a slave to oneself"
by Alfonso Rivera
- A second English-language feature for the successful and popular Spanish director, a film marked by the hints of irony that are part of his particular style
Bilbao-born Álex de la Iglesia is one of Spain’s most successful and popular directors, having made his name with titles such as The Day of the Beast, Common Wealth and Ferpect Crime, among others. The Oxford Murders is his second English-language feature, following Dance with the Devil, a film on demand marked by his talent and the hints of irony that are part of his particular style. His latest film is once again a literary adaptation (this time of the novel by Argentinean writer Guillermo Martínez), with an impressive cast led by John Hurt, Leonor Watling and Elijah Wood. The film was shot entirely in the famous English city of the title.
Cineuropa : What was the biggest challenge you faced when adapting the book for the screen?
Álex de la Iglesia : This is a novel whose action is very much cerebral and it is difficult to translate that into an essentially visual medium. This is what we found most challenging when making the film; translating ideas into images without those ideas getting lost or being diluted in the process. Moreover, the film hinges on the dialogue: this had to be succinct, and the more succinct it was, the denser it had to be. In a novel you’ve got time to explain things, whereas in a film you don’t. This was the main challenge we faced.
This is your second English-language feature. Does this complicate the shooting process? And what was it like filming in Oxford, far away from your beloved Madrid?
No, on the contrary, I find it perfectly straightforward, perhaps because the actors in this case were so wonderful. I love filming in places I don’t know, because this means I have to visit them and get to know them as a location. It was a real pleasure filming in Oxford.
Although there is a touch of your unique humour in the scenes between the mother and daughter at the start of the film, how did you manage to suppress your distinctive sense of irony and sarcasm during the filming process?
Well, one shouldn’t be a slave to oneself, or rather, to the image one has of oneself. I don’t spend all my time looking at life through cynical eyes. Sometimes it’s a good idea to reflect on life from a less eccentric point of view.
Is this your most "intellectual" and/or mature work to date? Don’t you fear this aspect of the film could put off many of your younger viewers?
Yes, the film is unlike my previous films, and yet neither is it completely different. You can’t avoid seeing things from your own point of view, but I think we are all different from the fixed and stable image we normally project of ourselves. In order to understand things you have to define them, and defining involves establishing boundaries. Sometimes you don’t fit into those boundaries. Lately I haven’t even been able to fit into my clothes, especially after all the Christmas indulgence.
I understand that you had a good working relationship with the actors who star in the film –Elijah and John- right from the start. How did you persuade them to let themselves be directed by a filmmaker from Bilbao?
The script convinced them. Elijah really liked the script and within a couple of days we were working together. He is one of the most talented people I have met in the film industry. I was so lucky to be able to work with him.
I sensed the influence of Hitchcock at certain points during the film. Did you draw inspiration from any other directors of genre film?
Mankiewicz. Lumet. Welles. It’s not difficult to trace the different influences because in a sense your mind works by combining ideas explored by others. The same thing happens in literary creation and to a much greater extent in painting. In this case, in The Oxford Murders, some of the scenes already had a Hitchcockian feel in the novel itself. A murder in a concert hall immediately evokes Hitchcock. This also occurs in Scorsese’s films. Hitchcock is probably the filmmaker who created the most powerful images in cinematic history, and it will be many years before these images are fully incorporated into filmic expression, and do not just reappear as “tribute sequences”.
The Oxford Murders is a European project. Do you think this is a good way to mount big-budget, ambitious film projects such as this one? Do you think that the future of Spanish cinema lies in this type of co-production?
I think it’s the only way. You have to leave your homeland in order to see how things are done elsewhere, and look at your own country from an outside perspective.
What are your latest projects?
I am currently writing the script for “The Yellow Mark”, an adventure film based on Edgar P. Jacobs’ comic book.