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Elena Trapé • Director

“My intention was to shoot a film that makes you feel uncomfortable”


- Catalonian filmmaker Elena Trapé is competing in the official section of Málaga with her second fiction film, The Distances, which was executive-produced by Isabel Coixet

Elena Trapé  • Director
(© Málaga Festival of Spanish-language Film)

The Distances [+see also:
film review
interview: Elena Trapé
film profile
is the second fiction film by Elena Trapé, following her feature debut, Blog [+see also:
film profile
, and three short films she made previously. The feature, which was supported by Isabel Coixet, has been screened in the official competition section of the 21st Málaga Festival of Spanish-language Film, and there is a good chance that this movie - which focuses on the reunion of a group of friends in Berlin, a gathering that does not exactly offer up any pleasant surprises - could land a well-deserved prize.

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Cineuropa: How did you set up the production, and how did Isabel Coixet get involved?
Elena Trapé:
 Marta Ramírez, the producer, is a good friend of Miguel Ibáñez’s, one of the co-screenwriters, who put us in touch when we already had a fairly advanced version of the script. After working for years in companies such as Rodar & rodar and Oberón Cinematográfica, she really wanted to produce something by herself: she loved the project and got stuck right in. The first stage involved building up a good-looking dossier, and we went to the EFM at the Berlinale to look for a co-producer: we came back with a German firm, but in the end, that co-production format didn’t lead anywhere. When we were just about to start shooting, Isabel Coixet came on board: I was lucky enough to meet her through the documentary that I made about her in 2015, Palabras, mapas, secretos y otras cosas, which was actually commissioned by the Málaga Film Festival, and she had our backs the whole time.

I suppose she would have been fascinated by a film that talks about unfulfilled expectations, like The Distances...
Yes; in the case of the film’s characters, what sits worst with them is the state of emergency that comes about because of the different context in which they get together. Because some dynamics are easy to keep alive once a year: a friend from Berlin comes over to Barcelona to visit, we get together, have dinner, have a laugh, and then I go home bad-mouthing everyone else. But on this particular trip, where everyone has to relocate, it reveals that the roles have changed because the people have also changed themselves, and in the end, it forces them to face up to their own problems. That trip and the change of city were key to the storyline, as was the setting of Berlin in winter, because it’s not at all inviting, and it can be tough if you’re not familiar with it. Berlin in the summer would have been a whole other film, but in winter, it’s not very welcoming.

The German capital appears to be portrayed as uncomfortable and hostile, with that light that completely kills off any colour...
Although the movie wasn’t filmed in black and white, it does have a hint of that, and I decided on that together with Julián Elizalde, the director of photography. It’s a kind of light that is seemingly unmodified, but the approach doesn’t work in the characters’ favour, as they don’t look pretty. There are lots of awkward and brusque moments that come about because of the light, and in the end, what little colour there is also ends up being provided by the light at certain points, but even like this, it ends up feeling uncomfortable. And that brusqueness is also conveyed through the cuts in the edit, the changes in scene, the mixing and so on.

As you show in the film, the roles we have assumed in the family or within our group of friends are unavoidable, as everything falls apart if we don’t play them virtually all the time...
Exactly: there are certain forces at work between friends as well as between family members, so that when someone wants to change, that structure does not allow it, because that is what compels the others to get up and go, and not everyone feels like doing so. The visit to the friend in Berlin is a trigger; it ends up being much like a domino that causes all the others to fall, or a house of cards that will inevitably collapse, because as soon as someone does something unexpected, the rest have to change position and may not know which way to go. I also like the fact that there is another motive behind each of their reasons for making that journey to Berlin, a motive other than purely visiting a friend. That means that their intentions are dubious from the very beginning; it’s a reunion that gets off to a bad start.

Life and the passage of time have changed them...
That’s why it’s hard for them to let go of their burdens, because you shared something fantastic with these people at one time, and that can’t be recaptured. There’s something very contradictory there, and I imagine that that’s why my characters would not let their friendship die completely, even though something is broken during this experience in Berlin: they’ve lost faith. Sometimes you also have to leave that distance alluded to by the title of the film, and realise that you can no longer ask the same of that person as you did before.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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