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“My aim is to shake up reality”

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Jo Sol • Director

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- Barcelona-born director Jo Sol talks to us about his latest film, Living and Other Fictions, screened in competition at the 18th Lecce European Film Festival

Jo Sol • Director
(© Vittoria Scarpa)

Named Best Film last October at Cinemed in Montpelier, and awarded just a few days ago at the Spanish Film Festival in Nantes, Living and Other Fictions [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jo Sol
film profile
]
by Barcelona-born director Jo Sol, which was screened in competition at the 18th Lecce European Film Festival, is a brave piece which breaks every taboo, a mix of documentary and fiction that compares two men who are “different”: Pepe, a former patient of a psychiatric clinic, where he was sent after being caught stealing to earn a living, and Antonio, a tetraplegic writer who fights for the right of disabled people to a sex life. Two human experiences that speak to one another, and lead us to reflect on the border between living and surviving.

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Cineuropa: Where did the film come from, a piece that is truly unique both in terms of form and substance?
Jo Sol: The film is unique but not all that far removed from my previous work. Pepe Rovira, the protagonist, was also the star of a film I made 12 years ago, The Taxi Thief, which was about job precarity, and threw a new perspective on capitalism through the character of a 50-year-old man who steals taxis to earn a living. I went back to this character, as well as another previous film of mine, Fake Orgasm, which is about the transsexual body and identity. This film really made an impact on Antonio Centeno, the other protagonist of Living and Other Fictions, a tetraplegic activist who is very important in Spain and who, after seeing the film, called me to get to know me better, as he was producing a documentary on the sexuality of disabled people. He interpreted my film in a way that no one else had: the body as a place in which various contemporary post-utopic movements blend together, in which the Crip movement comes together with the Queer movement, a reflection on identity that goes far beyond hegemonic thought, which also challenges the system and shakes its foundations. It was out of this perspective that the film was born.

In your film, the border between fiction and documentary is almost invisible.
I don’t believe in borders. For me it’s hard, when I’m seeking the truth, to decide whether or not to make a documentary or a fictional film. I want to shake up reality, attack it. This is my aim, but initially I don’t know how to do it. I have a story to tell and this story has something real about it, the events really happened in the lives of these people.

The film contains a few crude scenes, in which we get an intimate glimpse of bodies that are “different”, laid bare. Was it hard to film these scenes?
A lot of the important scenes in the film were created by Afra Rigamonti (editor’s note: who worked on the photography, together with the director, and the editing). There were two of us from start to finish. The script, the pre-production stage, setting the scene, filming, editing, the final cut: everything is ours. I talked to the characters, I was part of the action and manipulated the story, but she was the one who captured those moments. If the characters’ bodies are shown in an intimate way in all their normal and everyday glory, it is because Afra managed to find the right balance. But what was important was for the audience to be given an answer beyond these naked bodies: to the question of what makes a body desirable and, at the same time, how fragile we all are. People in wheelchairs have the same needs as anyone else; when you lose the use of your legs, you may not be able to dance or run anymore, but you still have a full life to live.

At one point, Antonio’s body also becomes desirable: the prostitute experiences pleasure with him, whilst his assistant appears to be jealous. Is that right?
That’s real; there are women who desire Antonio, and Antonio desires woman. I know because I saw it with my own eyes. In this case, it was important to keep the two figures of personal assistant and sexual assistant, who are played by two very gifted actresses in the film, Arántzazu Ruiz and Ann Perelló, separate. And it’s true, the personal assistant ends up feeling jealous: she takes care of Antonio every day, has a sort of romantic love for him, and when she finds out that Antonio is also a complete person in terms of desire, it becomes painful for her.

A few days ago, the film was awarded at Nantes by the Young Jury, something that no one was expecting.
We also received the young jury award at Abycine, and this makes me so proud, because it shows that young people still see cinema as something that can be thought-provoking, and not just a form of entertainment. It’s important to keep making works that stimulate this vision. We also won the award for Best Film at Cinemed in Montpelier, a festival that makes some very bold selections. And yet, we’ve found it very hard to make distributors understand that our film is not strange or difficult to understand. I make simple films but from an intellectual perspective, because I think the audience is smart enough for that. For now, starting from May, we’re running a programme of screenings on demand. Every week we’ll be taking the film to a different city: viewers who are interested in seeing it can buy tickets in advance and we’ll go there with the film, along with Pepe and Antonio, and then discuss it together.

Turning to festivals, where is the film going to be shown next?
In Istanbul, at the Barcelona Arthouse Film Festival, at Visions Socials at Cannes, and then in South America at the Human Rights Festival of Buenos Aires, followed by Uruguay and Chile. We’re pleased because we’ve got here on our own, we don’t have any distributors and we’re a very small production company (editor’s note: Shaktimetta Produccions). It’s really hard to gain visibility.

(Translated from Italian)

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