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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2020 New Directors

Isabel Lamberti • Director of Last Days of Spring

“That’s my way of finding my roots — through film”


- We caught up with Isabel Lamberti to talk about her first full-length feature, Last Days of Spring, which centres on a group of people living in a shanty town in Madrid

Isabel Lamberti  • Director of Last Days of Spring
(© Montse Castillo/Festival de San Sebastián)

Last year, Isabel Lamberti had a seat on the jury for the New Directors section of the San Sebastián International Film Festival. This year, she’s on the other side of the table with her first full-length feature, Last Days of Spring [+see also:
film review
interview: Isabel Lamberti
film profile
, about a group of people living in a shanty town in Madrid. A co-production between Spain and the Netherlands, it’s her first fiction film after a handful of documentaries and follows the day-to-day life of a family portrayed by non-professional actors. We grabbed our chance to sit down for a chat in the Hotel María Cristina.

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Cineuropa: Had the actors seen the final cut before the premiere here in San Sebastián?
Isabel Lamberti:
They had, but on a TV screen at home. Because it’s such a personal film, based on their own real experiences, we needed to be in a place where they felt safe and could express their feelings about seeing themselves on screen. They loved it — the father even cried; he was so proud of his kids’ performances. They didn’t know what else we had filmed, because they never read the script and only knew what was happening in their own scenes. So it was a big surprise to see the rest. Here at the festival it was a very different experience, with all the people and the amazing sound... It was really exciting.

Did they have any kind of acting training beforehand?
We did a few dress rehearsals and they improvised based on scenarios we recreated. Before each scene I talked it through with them, asked them how they had felt in each situation or what they would have done in real life. The most important aspect of the preparation was getting to know the family as well as possible and transposing that to the screen. Initially, we had scenes that were more scripted, but they didn’t work so well and so we said, let’s just forget about the script.

So, what is a German-born filmmaker like yourself doing in a country like this?
My father is Spanish but my mother is from the Netherlands, where they moved when I was just two years old. For me, making films here is very important, because that’s how I get to know Spain and come to understand it. It helps me rediscover a part of myself.

Do you identify with the Spanish lifestyle and culture?
Here’s the thing: in the Netherlands, it feels like something is missing, but it’s hard to say what. When I’m here, I’m not completely at home either, so I’m always aware of the frustration of being caught between two cultures. I’m in the process of developing my next film, which I also want to shoot in Spain. That’s my way of finding my roots — through film. I never feel totally at ease in any given place, and that ties into the theme of the film: what does it mean to have to live between two cultures? I identify on a very deep level with this family’s story. I studied documentary filmmaking, but I got to a point where I didn’t want to do that anymore, because I didn’t want to limit myself to reality. In this film we adopted a very particular approach, using a handheld camera with no music and no subjective scenes; it was more of a documentary style. I don’t like to do the same thing twice, and for my next project I’d like to go the other way and use music, but again working with non-professional actors in a real-world context. Recently I’ve been exploring the female perspective on Latin American immigration in Madrid.

Why do you like working with non-professional actors so much?
Firstly, because they have no pretensions — they are pure honesty. And secondly, because I’m scared of actors. I never learned to direct around actors. With non-professionals I’m less anxious; they don’t know what I don’t know, and so I feel freer.

Were there any particular challenges during the shoot?
Yes, the early starts! The family all went to bed very late and got up at noon, so we had to drag them out of bed. But they were fantastic about it, there was no complaining.

The characters live freely in La Cañada Real, a shanty town in Madrid. Is this another major theme of the film?
The concept of freedom is complex: what does it mean to be free? The most important thing is to have the power to make decisions; if you want to live somewhere, you shouldn’t be forced out. I don’t know if the film has a clear message, because for me everything is very nuanced and I don’t want to idealize life there. It’s not much fun having no electricity.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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