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Pablo Berger • Director

"I believe in films that don’t exclude the viewer"


- After the deification of Blancanieves, Pablo Berger pushes it to extremes with his latest film, Abracadabra, a comedy collage which once again stars a chameleon-like Maribel Verdú

Pablo Berger  • Director
(© Lorenzo Pascasio)

Pablo Berger (Bilbao, 1963) is releasing his third film – the frenzied, fanciful and costumbristic Abracadabra [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Pablo Berger
film profile
 – after two marvels of the likes of Torremolinos 73 [+see also:
film profile
 and Blancanieves [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Pablo Berger
film profile
, which won 10 Goya Awards in 2013, including the award for Best Actress for Maribel Verdú, who is once again back working with this unsettling filmmaker. 

Cineuropa: Is Abracadabra your most extreme film?
Pablo Berger: All my films are extreme and always have been, starting with my short film Mama. I plan every project as if it were my last film: I try to get everything in there, my obsessions. In principle, for me a keyboard is a kind of Ouija board and I let myself be pulled along, transforming my demons and images in a disorganised and chaotic way: this ensures that my films make it beyond the seedling stages. On the other hand, after this eccentric point of departure, what I’m interested in is the story, which is why I structure my films like fairy-tales, and that is exactly what Abracadabra is, a modern fairy-tale.

Yes, but it went from being a silent film, shot in black and white, like Blancanieves, to this, a film full of colour, overflowing with humour and absurd in its overall premise: that’s why I’m so surprised.
I think all my projects are inter-related and, perhaps because they are extreme, getting them off the ground has cost me, but thankfully with Abracadabra, the success of my previous films helped to make producers believe in the madness. I don’t force myself to be a cult director or to do things that go against the tide, to provoke. In fact the opposite is true; my films are open, they tell stories and, as if they were lasagne, they all have different layers of interpretation, with the viewer being able to choose between these: everyone can enjoy them, from cinephiles to housewives. I believe in films that don’t exclude the viewer. 

In this you agree with your fellow Spaniard Álex de la Iglesia, who combines entertainment with his arthouse stamp.
Álex and I are like conjoined twins who were separated at birth: we met in Bilbao at school, when we were 18 years-old, and we play with the same references. He’s more about action and I’m more about reflection: I admire his films and I think they’re very interesting.

Maribel Verdú is back working with you, after Blancanieves: can we already call her your muse?
Maribel is above all a friend and accomplice: we share the same way of broaching film; we like having fun and surprising ourselves. She’s been appearing in films since she was 12 years-old and has an extensive filmography to her name. Whenever she arrives on set she’s there to feel at ease and tackle the challenges facing her. When I handed her the screenplay for Abracadabra, she read it and said she was all mine: let’s play around with it and make this madness happen, she said. This understanding and absolute trust allowed us to overcome every obstacle. Maribel is pedigree actress: she can move seamlessly from drama to comedy. And I like that her eyes are what she uses to express herself: in my films there are no long dialogues and I like the way she reacts to everything.

She’s a bit of a classic film diva, her face has the expressiveness of silent film actresses, like Gloria Swanson and Lilian Gish.
Maribel is undoubtedly a star: if she were to walk in right now, everyone would turn to look at her, because she has this incredible aura. It happened to me: I met her ten years ago and when she opened the door, time stood still. She smiled at me and it was like love at first sight, and still is to this day. She has something that words can’t explain but that cinephiles get straight away.

In Abracadabra we see Madrid as it is seen by the Basque people.
I’ve always dreamed of making a film with Madrid as one of the protagonists: Abracadabra is a declaration of love for this city, so different from Bilbao, which fascinates me. It’s a capital that is still anchored in the past, but which looks to the future, a place where the prawn sandwich lives alongside the cupcake or, in Tetuán, skyscrapers co-exist alongside neighbours in gowns and slippers… anything could happen here. This city is always giving me inspiration: I love and hate it. This is where the Madrid in my film came from: it’s neither realistic nor documentary, but stylised, passed through my filter.

(Translated from Spanish)

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