"I don’t believe in forced dialogues to inform viewers"
by Nina Scheu
- Interview with a director brought up with both European and South American cultures, who triumphed at Locarno with Back to Stay.
Cineuropa: You were born in 1977 in Argentina. Three months later, your parents left the country and its dictatorship to live in the country of your ancestors, Switzerland. At 19, you returned to Argentina to study cinema there. Which country is your homeland?
Milagros Mumenthaler: Both, I think. When you grow up between two cultures, you never feel you belong to one or the other. I went back to Argentina to study. I lived there for five or six years, followed by another two years in Switzerland and a year in Spain because my husband is Spanish. For the production of Back to Stay [+see also:
interview: Milagros Mumenthaler
film profile], we were in Buenos Aires for a year. Then all the post-production was done in Switzerland.
Your film contains many biographical elements. The parents in particular are absent for reasons we assume are political. Was this the case for your own parents?
Yes, they were left-wingers and politically active at university. They were 18 and 20 years old, but they weren’t "Montoneros". They weren’t really in danger, but they perhaps helped someone, gave them shelter or something like that. One day, my father was arrested, then he was released. After that, we left. But it isn’t something my parents made a drama out of. They never made us feel that we were the children of political immigrants.
In the film, one of the sisters accuses the other of probably being adopted. Is this a reference to personal dramas resulting from the dictatorship?
No, it’s about the character of Sofia, who needs to denigrate the other in order to take her place. When people talk about adoption in Argentina, they don’t immediately think of political causes. I think it poses more problems in Europe, because people associate Argentina solely with the dictatorship. But a great deal of things happen there, and not everything is linked to the dictatorship.
Your characters hardly speak. Are you wary of dialogues?
I don’t believe in forced dialogues to inform viewers, so they understand more. I think you can say much more with a look and details, than with words. That’s rather the aim of the film: not forcing things. I like this kind of cinema and find it more interesting. For this film in any case. But you mustn’t force the unspoken either. You have to try to be fair with the characters. My idea was that these three bodies don’t completely fit with this house at the start, and we discover things gradually.
How did you find the house where the entire film is set?
When I was writing the screenplay, I was thinking about the directing. So, obviously, I had a house in mind. But it didn’t exist! I had imagined a much bigger sitting room, more open onto the garden… We found this house at the last minute. We completely redid the kitchen. It is fake. There was a main entrance, which is in fact a second entrance. We only used half of it, but there was space for the equipment, a room for the make-up, etc.
Why did you choose the title Abrir Puertas y Ventanas? [translator’s note: this is the film’s original Spanish-language title, meaning "Open Doors and Windows"]
The first title of the screenplay was "Absence", but in reality, it wasn’t about that, or not solely about that. Then I went to see a play at the theatre, Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, and at the end, a character says: "Open doors and windows". I thought it sounded good. In the film, there are a lot of ghosts, but at the same time, there is also a projection into the future.