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GIJÓN 2019

Théo Court • Director of White on White

“We filmmakers are like vampires”


- Spanish-Chilean director Théo Court is now competing in the official section of the 57th Gijón Film Festival with the captivating White on White, shot on the Canary Islands and in Tierra del Fuego

Théo Court  • Director of White on White
(© FICX)

Spanish-Chilean filmmaker Théo Court, who was crowned with the Best Director Award in the Orizzonti section of the most recent Venice Film Festival, had a chinwag with us in one of the main venues of the 57th Gijón International Film Festival. Court’s second film, White on White [+see also:
film review
interview: Théo Court
film profile
, a co-production between Spain, Chile, France and Germany, is competing in Gijón’s official section and is also currently on show at the Márgenes festival (see the news).

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Cineuropa: Is the title of the film a reference to both purity and the snowswept landscape?
Théo Court:
It’s a bit of both, as well as the idea of one element that is obscuring another, concealing the traces of horror and historical memory as we constantly come back and write on a blank, white page.

Was it a complicated process convincing the various partners on this four-country co-production?
Yes, because my first movie, Ocaso, was on a much smaller scale and featured non-professional actors, which meant that White on White represented a huge leap forward: not just a fiction, but a period film to boot.

Did you encounter many difficulties while shooting in Tierra del Fuego?
It was expensive and complicated to get there in the first place; it was fairly complex, logistically speaking, with very few people around, but we managed it all despite the very low temperatures and the frozen landscape. In contrast, the last part of the movie was filmed on Mount Teide, on Tenerife: that really marks the finale because it’s like a lunar landscape, and you can’t really tell whether or not it’s a daydream. That peculiarity is what causes the rupture at the end of the film.

Stirring up the past, which is exactly what you do in this film, can make some people uncomfortable...
They’re periods in history that we constantly have to bring up again and call into question because history is written by those who wield the power. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of sensationalism or vulgarity: that’s why I filmed from afar and used sequence shots, observing everything as if we were the camera itself.

Indeed, the format of the film changes when we are looking through the protagonist’s camera.
It’s a kind of fairly direct artifice, in a way, but I think it suits it well in terms of getting straight down to the core of the idea: entering the photographer’s camera directly, with the ambiguity of whether it’s the director’s or the photographer’s camera we’re looking through. In this way, we all end up being voyeurs.

In the film, the photographer embellishes reality, which is also something that cinema is capable of.
That’s something I wanted to have in the movie – I wanted it to have that ambiguity. I also watch events unfold in quite a perverse way, and I sugar-coat them in one way or another. It’s using cinema itself as a mechanism for representing things, and that’s where the idea of manipulating images and staging things comes from. That’s why I’m also extremely interested in my role as a director: we’re like vampires, as we just absorb things and we cease to see the significance of them on account of our own self-interest. There’s a certain selfish, hedonistic and even narcissistic element in that. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop taking pleasure in film: it’s an issue I wanted to address.

Paedophilia also rears its head in your film, but it hides behind art.
Of course, in the movie we see how certain amoral and despicable acts are embellished, which we also see today, with some very young girls appearing in eroticised photos, all anorexic and caked in cosmetics. The main character is a cosmetic paedophile: I based him on Lewis Carroll, who felt a certain fascination for girls. I was also interested in making a transition in the lighting, from a fairly dark aesthetic to this explosion at the end, which is much harsher and more barren, on that final journey, where everything is revealed and nothing remains hidden. At that point, the film is laid bare, warts and all, revealing the layers of the social structures.

Finally, Alfredo Castro was your lead actor, and he always gives a magnificent performance, as we saw in titles such as The Prince [+see also:
film review
film profile
and Rojo [+see also:
film review
interview: Benjamín Naishtat
film profile
. Did you have him in mind as the main character from the get-go?
I’d been trying to make this movie for seven years, and in 2012, when I had the first version of the screenplay ready, I sent it to him; I knew him through a mutual friend. He really liked the idea and supported it, and from that point on, I started to construct the character for him specifically. He works really well with glances and facial expressions: there’s something enigmatic and mysterious about him, and you never know what his character is thinking. That suited this shady, dry and reserved character down to the ground.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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