Arantxa Echevarría • Director
“My lead actresses were very brave”
by Alfonso Rivera
- Arantxa Echevarría enters the world of film in grand style as she presents her feature-length fiction debut, Carmen & Lola
Arantxa Echevarría (Bilbao, 1968) is bursting with joy and enthusiasm – understandably so, because her feature debut, Carmen & Lola [+see also:
interview: Arantxa Echevarría
film profile], is being world-premiered in a very high-profile showcase: the Directors’ Fortnight of the 71st Cannes Film Festival. We talked to her about the development process of this lesbian love story between two young Gypsy girls: the last taboo in Spain.
Cineuropa: As we say in the vernacular, the ending of Carmen & Lola gives you the willies…
Arantxa Echevarría: Real life really is that extreme: I’ve told quite a mild story compared to reality, because lesbian Gypsies are locked up, they’re forced into marriage, they’re sent into exile… They’re treated really harshly. A few days ago, in Bilbao, a girl ran away with her girlfriend, and her father put up posters saying she was missing, even though the whole city knew that she had taken off with her partner. And so he tracked her down and forced her to get married, but it only lasted a month. It’s an absurd attempt to escape by rushing into the unknown, with a great deal of fear and too many taboos surrounding it.
Besides directing the film, did you also produce it?
Yes, the production duties were handled by Tvtec, my company, which I’m a partner in together with Pilar Sánchez Díaz, who’s also the director of photography: we’ve always worked together on my previous short films, and she understood the movie right from the get-go. We’ve been a team that’s always worked perfectly. You have to get a project like Carmen & Lola off the ground yourself because you can’t go to an external producer and ask them for support. Furthermore, we went to the private TV channels, and they said no, as they had doubts about how we were going to tackle a story like this. It cost around €700,000, and was shot on location and with non-professional actors. We would go along with two cameras in order to always have enough resources, as there were a lot of unknowns during the shoot, and we always had a plan B on the back burner so as to be able to approach the scenes in two ways. We would shoot two versions of some scenes in case they didn’t turn out okay. That made the movie more expensive, but it was the only way to stop me worrying and to get the footage I wanted.
The actors’ performances are very natural; how did you find them?
There is only one proper actress in the whole film: Carolina Yuste, who plays Paqui. I started to look for Gypsy actresses, but there aren’t any. Gypsy girls find it hard to finish compulsory education, let alone continue their studies (only 5% do so, and about 2% actually finish their degree), so it’s impossible for them to train in the dramatic arts, as it implies a certain exposure in a highly conservative society that doesn’t want that kind of publicity. I tried it with non-Gypsy actors, and it ended up feeling false and a bit like they were imposters, so we headed out into the streets, the flea markets, the clubs and the neighbourhoods in search of Gypsies. When I told them that it would be a love story between two girls, they ran for the hills, and whoever stayed didn’t want to play the lead roles. And so, little by little, I inserted myself into Madrid’s Gypsy community, and I formed bonds and built trust. I needed to find the person who could actually be the character, so I looked for personalities that were closest to the parts. Although this wasn’t the case for Moreno Borja, who plays a father and is quite the opposite – modern, sociable and tolerant – but he turned out to be a very good actor.
And what about the two girls, who are in love in the film?
Zaira Romero, who plays Lola, plays herself to a certain extent, but I had to keep an eye on her so that she wouldn’t revert back to her real self. I worked with her so that she would be more withdrawn and guarded, as she’s a real blast in real life: I found that element of Lola in her and worked on it. Zaira is very young: she’s never had sex and was studying hairdressing, but she gave up; she’s searching for her vocation, though I’m encouraging her to study drama. And Rosy Rodríguez (Carmen) is married – she’s 17 years old and can’t wait to have her first child. She’s an extremely smart girl and is incredibly mature. She didn’t study the scripts; she read them once, and that was enough for her to embrace the character.
And how come they dared to play lesbian Gypsies?
During the casting process, I asked the applicants if they would dare to appear smoking a cigarette in the film, and they told me: “You’re crazy! What would the Gypsies say? They’d call me a whore… or worse!” Whenever they told me they didn’t mind appearing in the film smoking, I gradually started testing the water to see how far we could go. Then I told Rosy and Zaira that they had to kiss. We talked about it a lot, and I managed to get them to understand the nature of that special love. When they first kissed during the rehearsal, I was really scared, and I talked to them for two hours beforehand. They kissed for real, with a real chemistry. It was then that I decided that we would go ahead with Rosy and Zaira. But when the Gypsies see them, they can sometimes give them a hard time… They know it full well, but they’re very brave.
(Translated from Spanish)
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