"I wanted to give a face to the crisis"
- VENICE 2016: Portuguese director Marco Martins talks about his experience of directing Saint George, which was unveiled in the Orizzonti section at Venice
One of the new faces of Portuguese film, Marco Martins is back. Discovered at Cannes ten years ago with his debut feature, Alice [+see also:
interview: Marco Martins
interview: Nuno Lopes
film profile], which he made in close partnership with actor Nuno Lopes, the director has teamed up with the actor once again, and together, they have presented their new opus in the Orizzonti section of the Venice Film Festival: Saint George [+see also:
Q&A: Marco Martins
film profile]. A film that plunges us into a Portugal in crisis, against a backdrop of boxing matches in the midst of the most vulnerable cross-section of society.
This isn’t the first time the crisis has been at the centre of one of your films. It was also the case in Vinte e um – O dia em que o mundo não acabou, which you made with Michelangelo Pistoletto. Why are you so interested in it?
Marco Martins: The film I made with Pistoletto broached the issue of the international crisis in a more reflective spirit, looking at the development model of certain countries such as India, and the decrease in natural resources. It took a more general look at the economic crisis, along with industrial development, the increase in population, etc. In Saint George, I focus on a recent period in Portugal’s history, the years of the troika. It’s the story of a country in debt, a debt which several people said they would never be able to repay. In this sense, it’s sort of the story of a country that is projected into the world of the characters. One of these characters, Jorge, doesn’t have a job and has debt that he can’t pay off. He ends up finding a job in a debt collection agency. I wanted to give a face to the crisis. What often happens, in the media in particular, is that when we talk about the crisis, we resort to statistics, we stop talking about people. It’s sort of the same thing that’s happening now with the refugee crisis. It’s been made into an almost abstract problem when, in reality, it’s something that affects us all.
The film takes place in 2011. You started the project back then and it took you a bit of time to bring it to term. Did this distance add greater precision to the way you approached this subject, which you treat like a piece of fiction yet with a strong element of documentary film?
That’s a very good question, as when it comes down to it, there’s nothing more dated than a film about current affairs. It materialises as you’re writing it. If you talk about something that happened 15 years ago, you look on it as an historical event, and you know how to broach the subject. But when you’re talking about current affairs in the present-day, you take a lot of risks, above all the risk that the film is no longer relevant when it is finally released. In this case, the film is about an endemic crisis gripping our system. It’s not about the crisis of ‘subprimes’ which hit Europe. There’s more to it: a social system that doesn’t work, a poorly educated people despite ongoing initiatives, etc. With regard to the documentary aspect of the film, I had to do a lot of research. I wasn’t ready, at first, to talk about a very disadvantaged cross-section of society which I knew very little about. We did a lot of work on this social class, in-depth work that took a lot of time. Then, the screenplay was completed and it seemed clear to us that these people couldn’t be left out of the project: we wanted to include their voices and their actions in the film. No actor could reproduce that accurately. It would have looked like an imitation of a world that is difficult to portray because everything hinges on the way you look at it. And as we know, the gaze is a mirror on the soul. With a simple look, these characters were capable of conveying a lot. So we had the idea of putting something together somewhere between fiction and documentary, not as you usually do with separate sequences of fictional and documentary footage, but mixing them together instead. To pull it off, we had to find good actors that embraced the project and would be able to bring this world to life. We did a lot of sessions with Nuno Lopes and the rest of the cast. We talked extensively with the residents of the neighbourhoods and, slowly but surely, we brought the two styles together in the final film.
(Translated from French)