Gonçalo Waddington • Director of Patrick
“What is absent is usually present because of that very absence”
- We met up with Portuguese actor-turned-director Gonçalo Waddington, who is competing for San Sebastián’s Golden Shell with his first feature, Patrick
Already an actor, theatre director, playwright, screenwriter and producer, Portugal’s Gonçalo Waddington has now made the leap to directing his first feature film. Patrick [+see also:
interview: Alba Baptista
interview: Gonçalo Waddington
film profile], the result of said leap, is an intriguing depiction of what would happen if a kidnapped boy were to be found years later and brought back to his origins – and it is competing for the Golden Shell at the 67th San Sebastián International Film Festival. We sat down with him to discuss it.
Cineuropa: What led you to tell this story?
Gonçalo Waddington: Back in 1995-1996, there was a news story I read, about something that took place in a remote brothel in the north of Spain, where this girl managed to escape and run, fearing being caught, before being rescued by someone passing by in a car. She was running from a human-trafficking network that the police discovered later on. The image of someone running away from incarceration was very vivid to me - kind of thriller-like. Later, in 1998, there was this other case of a boy who was kidnapped in Portugal, which was never closed, and no one knows what happened. I saw movies about these kinds of kidnappings, but they’re always from the point of view of the parents that lost the child, and I’ve always wondered what happened to the child themselves. Furthermore, I wanted the kidnapping to be in the background - I wanted to explore its consequences.
The movie is about the conflict between two identities and someone trying to find out for himself who he really is, as the original identity comes back to haunt him. In fact, it starts with another kidnapping – the police bringing the kid back to his family, which I think is the worst thing you could do because he’s not the same person any more. When he comes back to Portugal, he starts reliving his memories, he is susceptible to that, he is weak, and the house becomes a prison because there’s no other option for him. That new phase is a really difficult one.
Are those details and aspects you wrote complete fiction, or also based on reality?
It’s pure fantasy. I think I had enough maturity to imagine it. But would this be realistic or not in psychological terms? I don’t know. It’s just my sensibility regarding what I think happens in his head. When the kid is confronted by his mother and father, I’m interested in how he reacts. I want to see through his eyes what he is probably thinking about – which we’ll never know for sure, because we don’t have a voiceover explaining it. I want the audience to do that, too, to fill in those gaps that can’t be put into words. In the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” This was something I discussed with the cast. To me, what is absent is usually present because of that very absence.
This is clearly visible from the performances you got out of your actors. How did you work with them?
The dialogue was all written down, and the script highlighted the way the characters react in order to say a lot of things without directly using any words related to it. I created a relationship of trust with my actors in order for them to embody what I wanted to leave unsaid – it was a challenge, but that’s what we wanted to do, and we were all on the same page.
As an actor yourself, you might have a greater sensibility to these things than other directors, but having worked with many acclaimed Portuguese helmers before, did you apply your learnings to your directorial debut?
Yes, everything I had learned was in my mind when I made the decisions - some things I learned were interesting and useful for me for this movie; some weren’t. One important thing I learnt from them is that you have to build a relationship of trust with your team, not just thinking about the results, but also about the process.
Hugo Fernandes carries most of the weight of the film.
He has a very deep and magnetic look; he has this abstract, instinctive talent. I met him in January, before starting the shoot in September. It took us longer to find the house in which the film takes place than the actors. But choosing Hugo was the most important thing in the film - and he’s a natural.
The film is a very European co-production, but interestingly, it’s set in France without any French funding. How was the project developed?
We didn’t have any French producers that were interested in the film, through which we could have accessed private or public funding from France, but a lot of German producers were very interested, so we moved the shoot to Cologne, bringing the French actors over. Changing the setting from Paris to a German city was never an option, and our German collaborators accepted it willingly because they understood that it was required by our project.
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