“A country that looks down on its culture has a serious self-esteem problem”
by Alfonso Rivera
- After almost a decade of not filming fiction, the 53-year-old Galician director is back with his most youthful film, a risky bet in Spanish cinema's current gloomy climate.
Cineuropa: Where did the idea of The Sex of Angels [+see also:
interview: Xavier Villaverde
film profile] come from?
Xavier Villaverde: It came from observing that relationships, both emotional and sexual, have evolved quite a lot lately, especially among youth, who live more freely, without so many prejudices, taboos, or fears. They dare more on an emotional level. Because people's sexual reality goes way beyond social or religious norms. These themes don't really appear in films for youth, despite being part of their lives.
Why nine years without filming a fiction feature film?
I was executive producer for other films like The Contestant [+see also:
film profile] by Rodrigo Cortés. I tend to take my time with screenplays. The film was going to be co-produced with other companies that in the end fell through, while others turned up. This is how things end up taking longer. I always take my time between one film and the next... This way, I have time to change style. I like them being different, although in all of them I talk about identity: who you are, and how you like to live. I have the impression that, as this film doesn't take a moral standpoint, some people in production, such as television channels, were disconcerted. Had the film presented itself as moralising, things may have been different.
The film also contains quite a lot of sex scenes...
Yes, we worked on them in rehearsals by watching the American series Tell Me You Love Me so that they were natural and credible. I wanted to use a hand-held camera, that wouldn't be noticed, so that the actors didn't have to worry about it too much.
Did you find the story and the team's youthful spirit contagious?
I get on very well with young people, in fact much better than with other people my age, who perhaps have moved on. I'm interested in what is happening in the new generations that will make up the country in the future, as well as the capacity for risk and irresponsibility that you can have at the age of 20. This kind of purity that you have, the lack of fear, the ability to throw yourself into whatever it is, this is very powerful. It's a generation that has in front of it loads of possibilities that others did not.
How much did the film cost?
About €1m, but I don't know the exact figures. I am executive producer so that I can control my work as director. We had private funding as well as Televisión de Galicia, and Canal +, in co-production with Brasil. And we will go to the Moscow and Seattle film festivals. I think the film has been sold to Germany and Japan. We have offers from England and the United States, and we are going to the Cannes Film Market.
Where do you think Spanish cinema is going with so many subsidy cuts?
A country that does not have a strong audiovisual sector is bound to lose its cultural identity. For the French, it is very clear that the audiovisual sector is a state issue. What do film subsidies in Spain entail? Only a minimal percentage of the Gross Domestic Product! A country that looks down on its culture and creators has a great self-esteem problem. It's that tough and sad!
Are these times for brainstorming?
All this is making us look for alternatives, but films need a minimum of funding for them to be produced. You can do it on a low budget, exploiting your team, without anyone being paid for it, as is done for a first film, but not when you already have a well-developed industry. There are some very well subsidised sectors that are less rentable on a social level than cinema, but nobody questions this. A large part of the Spanish public is interested in Spanish cinema, and we have to offer them the possibility to legally download films from the internet. We should look for a halfway meeting point, if some people access content illegally because they can't do so legally. If I were a film exhibitor, I would be looking for new alternatives: a two-for-one deal instead of having an empty cinema or, for example, creating events to generate curiosity and attract the public. We need to change the way we work! Sometimes, we panic and don't react.