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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2020 RTVE Screenings

Cesc Gay • Director of The People Upstairs

“Laughter is always the best medicine”


- We talk to Catalan director Cesc Gay, who recently unveiled his latest feature, The People Upstairs: a film adaptation of his smash-hit play

Cesc Gay • Director of The People Upstairs
(© Jorge Fuembuena/Festival de San Sebastián)

One month ahead of its general release, audiences at the 68th San Sebastián International Film Festival have a chance to catch Cesc Gay’s latest film, The People Upstairs [+see also:
film review
interview: Cesc Gay
film profile
. It’s a big-screen adaptation of his smash hit play Los vecinos de arriba, this time starring Spain’s Javier Cámara, Belén Cuesta and Alberto San Juan alongside Argentinian actress Griselda Siciliani.

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Cineuropa: First, the obligatory and cringingly obvious question, given that you adapted The People Upstairs from your own play: Why did you decide to do it, and what did you have to change, drop or improve?
Cesc Gay: In any adaptation, whether it’s a play or a novel, you always have to decide what to keep and what to leave out. Some things work really well on film, and others don’t. There are a lot of similarities between the theatre and the cinema, but there also a lot of differences. In this case, when I wrote the text I had one foot in each camp, so it wasn’t too difficult.

Is the cast the same as in the stage version? I seem to remember different names...
No. The idea was to start again from scratch. I didn't want to use either the Barcelona or the Madrid cast, because working with new actors is always an incentive to rethink the whole premise.

Did you build a set, or is that really a huge and gorgeous flat?
We built a set; that way we could design everything and have more control over the filming process. It’s not something I usually do, and as a director I really enjoyed it.

Carnage, by Roman Polanski, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, by Mike Nichols... What comparisons with other films based on couples stuck in a house together would you like us to make?
Those two, definitely, and there are also a lot of American comedies from the 1940s and 1950s. For this film I had in mind the sort of pacing and dialogue you find in screwball comedies.

The People Upstairs is dedicated to someone with very close ties to the San Sebastián International Film Festival... Do you think he would have been excited to watch your film at the festival?
Jose María Riba
was in some ways the first person in the industry to spot something in me, when he selected Krámpack [+see also:
film profile
for Cannes Critics’ Week twenty years ago. Since then, he was always happy to give us his opinion and help out with whatever we were working on. More importantly, he was just a terrific guy.

Javier Cámara, Alberto San Juan, Jorge Drexler — do you like always working with your own “gang”?
I do, I really enjoy working with my own little family.

What does meeting someone completely different to ourselves tend to bring out in people?
Sometimes it brings out the best in us, and sometimes the worst. In the context of a comedy film, anything is possible.

Some of us see our home as an unassailable fortress — but can it also be a hotbed of dysfunction, left to simmer for far too long?
In every couple, and in every home, there are times when you need to open the windows and let some fresh air in, clear out your cupboards and drawers and give everything a good clean, but most of us do the opposite. It’s easier to look away and let tensions and misunderstandings build up, hoping others will let them go.

Is laughter the best medicine for our neuroses?
Laughter is always the best medicine. Without laughter and a sense of humour in our lives, we become bitter as people. There’s no question that both politics and everyday life would go a lot more smoothly if we had more of a sense of humour about it. Taking things too seriously is bad for our health.

To conclude: is sex the best taboo to break the ice and cut through all the chitchat?
There are some people who don’t stop the chitchat even during sex.

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