"We all sensed that the crisis was going to happen"
by Alfonso Rivera
- The director who surprised us with Casual Day attacks today’s contradictions again in Five Square Meters, a tragicomedy which triumphed at the latest edition of the Malaga Film Festival.
Cineuropa: How did you go about tackling the tricky subject of the property crisis in a film?
Max Lemcke: When we were starting out, back in 2007-8, the construction industry crisis hadn’t yet broken out and, quite simply, we started to read in the press about some cases occurring of people affected. So we thought we could recount something of present-day relevance that wasn’t being shown in cinema and, moreover, we came from a tradition of great Spanish films that tackle this same conflict, including The Tenant, The Little Apartment and The Executioner. This is a problem that is always there, latent. But there was no intention to make a film about the crisis as we know it now: then we realised that we were showing something that broke out in front of everyone, something we had all thought was going to happen.
The opening credits of your film also show the urban monstrosity of Benidorm.
Yes, I’m very proud of those credits. It was something that arose spontaneously: they weren’t in the script. It arose by chance because we were planning to use a helicopter to film the storming by the police. Then we flew as far as Benidorm and the view of the skyscrapers, from above, was striking. It occurred to me that we could use it as an image for the film’s opening, that it was a foretaste of what we were going to explore: that urban landscape that looks like a big scale model, very characteristic of what has happened.
Did things change for the film after it achieved so much success at the Malaga Film Festival?
It made everything easier. We arrived in Malaga without a distributor and without a television company that had bought the film. The way of producing Five Square Meters [+see also:
interview: Max Lemcke
film profile] was different from usual: I had no financing beforehand from any television company. The production company was responsible for all the financing. This isn’t very common in Spanish cinema, but when it won at Malaga, Televisión Española (Spain’s state-owned TV broadcaster) came on board, which is necessary to get it distributed, to get talked about and have another dimension: because TVE has a window for Spanish cinema, with a programme dedicated to it (Spanish version), which will bring new viewers. Malaga was the ultimate recognition and the film came away from the festival greatly boosted: ours was the film that won the most awards.
How much did the film cost?
Could it be defined as a tragicomedy?
Yes, that’s a very fitting description of Five Square Meters: we like that black humour, that situation where your smile becomes a bit frozen. I think it’s darker than Casual Day because it has fewer gags, but it has them and you realise that the situation is tragic: they make you laugh but, at the same time, they’re sad and harsh. Sometimes, when we don’t know how to define a film, we simply label it as a comedy, but it isn’t the case, because although it features actors who have played great comic roles, the film has another tone.
What is the purpose of laughing about our misfortunes?
It helps us a bit to look at ourselves head-on, to learn about ourselves, recognising our way of being. I really enjoy making this type of film.
Was it complicated filming the action scene?
Yes, because we had to play with the helicopter. The problem with Spanish cinema doesn’t lie in the technical aspect, but in the budget limitations. We had to sort it all out within a time limit. In the initial versions, there was no helicopter, but as I thought it was interesting to see what was happening from above and have that viewpoint, I fought to include it. And then I used it for the opening credits and the final shot.
Will your next projects continue in the same critical vein?
Perhaps we’ll try to close a kind of trilogy: while Casual Day is about the world of work, Five Square Meters is about having a house or nest and the next one will depict the world of the family, its influence and its destruction. But this keeps changing in the meetings we have: let’s see how things turn out...