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“I like to fully embrace my outsider status”

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Antonio Méndez Esparza • Director

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- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017: Following his award-winning debut Aquí y allá, Antonio Méndez Esparza is competing in the festival's official section with Life and Nothing More, filmed in the US

Antonio Méndez Esparza  • Director
(© Álex Abril / Festival de San Sebastián)

A film studies professor native to Spain but settled in Florida, Antonio Méndez Esparza chose Mexico to shoot his first film, Aquí y allá [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Pedro Hernández
film profile
]
, which earned him the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at Cannes in 2012. Now he’s competing in the official section of the San Sebastián International Film Festival with Life and Nothing More [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Antonio Méndez Esparza
film profile
]
, produced, like his previous film, by Pedro Hernández Santos of Aquí y allí films.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: In the film, you depict a microcosm that you seem to know well...
Antonio Méndez Esparza: For four years I’ve lived with my family in the city where the film is set — Tallahassee, the capital of Florida. I was on the lookout for my next story and I latched on to that world. With my previous film, the world I was working in was less familiar to me, because I went off to Mexico to shoot it, but Life... came about precisely because I live there; I feel like it’s my city, which is a more comfortable position to be in.

But as a Spaniard, you are perhaps able to take a more detached view of things.
I like to fully embrace my outsider status, although I do worry about getting things wrong and drawing false conclusions, but I’m happy to take that risk. This is the story I’m able to tell, and I hope that the audience is moved by it. Although the film touches on broader themes, I wanted the focus to be on the characters.

Real-life events, like the most recent American elections, filtered through into the film...
There’s a huge social divide here, as there is in other countries. I hope that the audience is able to make some sense of that divide through what they see on the screen. I’m lucky over there, because I have work even though I’m a foreigner. When I was preparing to work on the film I stepped into a parallel universe that I wouldn’t normally see; I don’t tend to go to the places frequented by the characters, although it’s not a big city. I found that really shocking. There were also certain aspects of their everyday reality that were completely alien to me.

The film straddles the boundary between fiction and documentary, featuring actors who have never acted before...
It was the only way I could enter this unfamiliar reality, discover a different world. We decided where the scene would take place, but the actors filled out the details. It’s true that it feels like a documentary, but they were always aware that they were acting: they were comfortable with the idea of acting and with the dialogue (there’s a lot of talking), and that surprised me because I was expecting it to be more of a static film.

So the film essentially made itself...
Yes, the actors bring each scene to life and establish the context, although I took various narrative decisions — like not including any music, because in day-to-day life none of us has our own soundtrack. The scenes were like miracles (I hardly believed they would happen), impossible to recreate, and so we needed to capture each moment from what we thought was the best angle to convey a certain emotion: in the park scene, for example, I wanted to heighten the tension and put the viewer in the uncomfortable position of choosing which side to take: the boy’s, the family’s or the law’s.

(Translated from Spanish)

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