“Cinema can help solve social problems”
by Alfonso Rivera
- The Navarre-born director, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1997 for Secrets of the Heart, tackles the sensitive, social issue of sexual abuse in Don’t Be Afraid.
Cineuropa: Why did you wait five years after your previous film (Obaba) to make Don’t Be Afraid [+see also:
interview: Montxo Armendáriz
Montxo Armendáriz: Because I’m interested in looking for subjects that excite me and stimulate adventure, risk and the need to talk about them. It’s hard to find such subjects, ones that also fit into the film scene at that time. People think you’ve spent five years doing nothing and that isn’t the case: every day I do research. There was also another project, about bullying, which we had to abandon because we didn’t get enough financial backing.
Is it true to say that the constant themes in your films are about childhood, youth and social issues?
They’re about the human condition. I’m interested in stories about people who overcome situations and problems. That’s why many of my films, although very different, share that leitmotif, from Letters from Alou (a story of survival), to 27 Hours (where we’re confronted with total self-destruction), or in this case Don’t Be Afraid where I look at the struggle of a survivor who faces the adversity of a totally tragic future because her life has been ruined.
Why did you decide to tackle such a sensitive subject?
Psychiatrist and psychologist friends told me about cases of quite serious long-term effects in teenagers. Then I got in touch with victims, I started to read up on the issue and I spent more than a year with professionals and victims. The idea emerged from there. All the stories they told were “rich in dramatic potential", no matter how terrible that may sound. I was also struck by the courage and bravery with which they fought determinedly to rebuild their ruined lives.
And there was a third reason for shooting the film: our society’s ignorance about all this, for it’s still taboo and we don’t want to see it. We look the other way because it’s not a pleasant issue. But I think that in order to solve social problems we need to know about them first and cinema can help with this.
Did you have to make any compromises with the script to make it more palatable?
I didn’t want to do that at all. I know it’s a film that goes against the grain of what is considered commercial and politically correct, but I wanted a story that preserved the harshness and truth of that terrible situation so that people could feel or glimpse it through the film. I wanted viewers to feel seized by the anguish and state of unease in which victims live, with practically no social support, in total anonymity and silence, without daring to say anything... I wanted the film to be stark and reflect the truth about something which is there but we don’t want to see.
How did you design the film’s visual narrative?
I avoided all artifice and manipulation, hence there is no music, no shots-reverse shots and the camera follows events or informs us about the protagonist’s psychological situation. The film doesn’t contain much dialogue but it had to convey the girl’s anguish and loneliness. I didn’t want to use nightmares, memories or weeping, but all the way through the film we see the girl trying to show that nothing is the matter with her, which is very typical among victims, but we know that something is wrong.
Did you have to take special care with the scenes of abuse?
Yes, it was the hardest thing to achieve: finding the tone, the point of view from which to describe it without losing the harshness but without lapsing into morbid curiosity or gratuitous provocation either. I looked at how the subject had been tackled in other films and this helped me find my own, different way. With this film I’d like to spark a social debate. I’d like organisations and professionals to take charge of the issue and take measures to ensure it occurs less often and solutions are found.