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João Salaviza • Director

"Bodies have a story to tell"


- Palme d’Or-winning filmmaker João Salaviza looks back at the experience of making his feature debut, Mountain

João Salaviza  • Director

Award-winning short films such as Arena and Rafa granted João Salaviza a reputation as one of Europe’s most promising auteurs. Immune to pressures and with a desire to keep a certain distance from big industrial models of production, the 30-year-old Portuguese filmmaker made his anticipated transition to the feature-length format with Mountain [+see also:
film review
interview: João Salaviza
film profile
. Salaviza now has a look back at the creative process behind this film about adolescence, in which chaos and time were incorporated as essential creative elements.

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Cineuropa: Could you tell us about the origins of Mountain?
João Salaviza:
In the beginning, I wanted to put some of my teenage memories into structured, moving images. I wanted to know if I could make a film anchored in memories – some of which were already getting quite distant. But the project only began to take shape when I met (lead actor) David Mourato. In that sense, the film is actually more about him than it is about me. It is not an autobiographical film.

You had already focused on teenage characters in some of your previous shorts. Why do you find them so appealing?
The idea of filming adolescence and a body in transformation – a body that is suspended between the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood – requires a lot of attention from the camera. I think the resistance you can find in a body on the verge of mutation is actually a much more interesting process than, for instance, for a painter to portray something static. David’s body is constantly resisting and trying to escape throughout the film – escaping from situations the character finds hard to face, but also escaping from someone who is trying to film him. At the beginning, there was a vague script with some ideas about the paths of the characters, including some situations that the characters were going to experience. But actually, it was just towards the end of the shoot that I started to realise that there was a sort of invisible path that David had taken in the process. I realised that David had indeed changed. This was only possible to achieve because the shoot had spanned several months: he had the time to evolve.

Is physicality more interesting to you than a psychological approach?
I believe bodies have a story to tell, and cinema is an art form filming bodies in motion. I see dialogue as the extension of the bodies. While shooting, I always discuss very concrete things, such as the way the character opens a door, how he sits, the way he kisses, etc… Take, for example, the last sequence: it is complex for a young director like me to shoot the sensations of a kid who has just lost his virginity. He is changed as he enters the house. How would he move? How can I capture the intensity and truth? Bodies can be eloquent. How can I achieve a certain state without words? Nicholas Ray once said that the melody is in the eyes, and I totally agree!

You set your film in the summer, but unexpectedly, the photography is quite dark…
Yes, and a big chunk of the film is set at night. There is a paradox, as if those kids only revealed themselves at night, and as if the darkness would actually give them the light they needed to show up and expose themselves.

Why a mix of professional and non-professional cast members?
Actually, I am interested in the people, not really whether they are professionals or not. Everything that fascinates me in Maria João Pinho and Carloto Cotta is not what they learned at drama school. I believe – unlike what is commonly taught – that a film is a place where one can really reveal oneself, rather than being someone else. It is the mask of the character that allows an actor to expose him or herself. I think great actors have always been themselves; they never refused to show who they were.

The shooting process had several breaks. Why were they necessary for you?
I think the "industry" tends to push you towards a way of making films that is not necessarily your own. I found that model with the breaks suited me. I need to get myself into some sort of mood of chaos and self-sabotage so that I can extend the time I spend with the cast to a maximum. I am really interested in shooting in a domestic and intimate register. I want to hear the stories of the people I film. I think the job of a director is also to tell the story of the people he films, not just his own.

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