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Interview: Milagros Mumenthaler • Director

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“What interests me is the character’s inner experience”


- LOCARNO 2016: Cineuropa interviewed Swiss-Argentine director Milagros Mumenthaler, whose The Idea of a Lake, an intimate work both biographical and universal, is being presented in competition

Interview: Milagros Mumenthaler  • Director
(© Festival del film Locarno / Pablo Gianinazzi)

Swiss-Argentine filmmaker Milagros Mumenthaler has already triumphed at Locarno, having been awarded the 2011 Golden Leopard for Back to Stay [+see also:
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interview: Milagros Mumenthaler
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. She has returned to the Locarno International Film Festival with her latest and very intimate film, The Idea of a Lake [+see also:
film review
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interview: Milagros Mumenthaler
film profile
, screening in the international competition.Cineuropa sat down with her to talk about her unique relationship with the characters she portrays, managing to combine the biographical with the transcendent.

Cineuropa: The film evokes the emotional experience that someone goes through when a person they love disappears. Is this experience very specific to Argentina and its history, or should it be considered to be something more universal?
Milagros Mumenthaler: The idea for the film actually stems from a book of photography and poetry by Guadalupe Gaona, which I found very moving and which made me feel very close to her story. The sequences came afterwards, and the more dreamlike images in the film. Later on, of course, I worked very closely with the author, since the book is largely biographical, and finally I interviewed people who had been through similar situations, so I could create the screenplay in a more meaningful way. For me, the film is about someone who has been “disappeared” for political reasons, without necessarily going into the whole political background that is already well known. I wasn’t really interested in venturing into that terrain. What did interest me was getting inside the personal experience of the character; how she copes with that situation. In this sense, I do think that the film speaks about something that is universal; it’s about an emotional experience. The film explores the idea of memory on several different levels, and how memories can be transformed by things that happen in the present. That’s really the core of the film - the intimate memories that we all have, but also the idea of memory as a civic and political right.

If we look at your previous films (Minuet and Back to Stay), it’s clear that you have a real talent for portraying women. Is this linked to the fact that you are very close to your characters, who are often biographical?
The characters in my first film weren’t autobiographical, but I can’t deny that I do put a lot of myself into them. I tend to work intuitively, and the characters emerge in a very natural way. For me, telling stories about women seems a very natural thing, but that doesn’t mean that one day I won’t suddenly decide to focus on male characters. It’s an open-ended process. Perhaps I just do what comes most naturally to me. My films are absolutely about women, about their inner worlds, but they are not explicitly feminist.

Could you talk briefly about the landscape in which The Idea of a Lake is set, which seems to become a character in itself? How did you approach the cinematography?
The place, the island, where Inés spends her holidays as a child, is significant because that’s where the last photograph she has of herself and her father was taken. It’s place that holds a great deal of meaning for Victoria and Inés. At the same time, I was intrigued by the idea of shooting the film surrounded by nature, and the “timelessness” of it. Unlike the memory, which is constantly darting from the past to the present and the future, nature has an eternal quality. For the characters, it also becomes a place of reflection. I think that, for Inés, it has great importance as a place for personal growth; a place where she can strengthen the bond with her father in a way that is very playful and imaginative, even if it also has to do with something much more real, such as desire and the need to rediscover it.

In terms of the cinematography, we opted for quite a realistic feel. I didn’t want the difference between the time periods to be too obvious. Having said that, I also wanted the audience to grasp the fact that, in the film, there is a past and a present (for example through the more “home-made” VHS recordings). These more intimate, less sophisticated images really help to stir the memory.

(Translated from Italian)


international title: The Idea of a Lake
original title: La idea de un lago
country: Switzerland, Argentina, Qatar
year: 2016
directed by: Milagros Mumenthaler
screenplay: Milagros Mumenthaler
cast: Rosario Bléfari, Carla Crespo, Malena Moiron

main awards/selection

Festival del film Locarno 2016
Concorso internazionale
Rotterdam 2017Voices

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