María Pérez Sanz • Director of Karen
"I dive into the daily life of legendary figures"
- Spaniard María Pérez Sanz is competing at Seville with her second film, Karen, an intimate portrait of the day-to-day existence of famous author Isak Dinesen
María Pérez Sanz (Cáceres, 1984) made her feature-length directorial debut with the documentary Malpartida Fluxus Village [+see also:
film profile], which she shot on home turf. On this occasion, she has returned to Extremadura to film Karen [+see also:
interview: María Pérez Sanz
film profile], her one-of-a-kind portrait of Danish author Isak Dinesen (the pen name of Karen Blixen), starring Christina Rosenvinge. The movie has just been world-premiered in the official section of the 17th Seville European Film Festival.
Cineuropa: Is there a lot of love for your homeland to be found in the film?
María Pérez Sanz: Yes, some filmmakers make movies in order to travel, whereas I make them in order to go home because although I live in Madrid, we shot it in Cáceres. There’s something inside of me that compels me to film there. It was shot on a country estate owned by my family, very close to Trujillo, and in the Monfragüe National Park, although the ending was shot in Kenya, during a trip I made to dig deeper into Karen Blixen’s life in Africa.
Do you find yourself fascinated by rootless characters or those looking for how they fit into the world?
I’m interested in figures that, for one reason or another, are shrouded in legend or become somehow mythical. I like to dive into their daily life: there’s a lot of that in my film, but in the end, the mythical aspect makes an appearance, as it did in my previous movie. In another project that I have on the go, which revolves around conquistadors, there’s also an element of that: I try to strip the myth of all its layers, as they were a bunch of guys with complicated lives, who had never seen the sea before but were about to embark on a voyage to America.
Of course, they’re all human...
That’s what I like about Karen, with its breakfast scenes and living spaces, where the most important things in life happen. Her servant is her household companion, more so than her husband or the other people who appear in Out of Africa, the famous film by Sydney Pollack.
That’s why your film begins in open spaces and ends in enclosed ones: your gaze shifts from a global one to an image of daily life.
Yes, it shifts from the natural landscape to the human one. At the beginning, we show the horizon, and as we gradually focus more on the relationship between Karen and her servant, we close in on their faces, almost in an oppressive way. That was one of the rules we had to guide us during the shoot.
You mentioned the famous movie by Pollack, but anyone going to see Karen shouldn’t expect to find Meryl Streep putting on a Nordic accent...
In this movie, nobody washes the protagonist’s hair; she does it herself. It’s the flip side of the coin, or how to go deeper into a moment from that film, tug a thread and just stay there for a while. The two movies couldn’t be more different; it didn’t make sense to go back to that one by Pollack, but Karen is open to many viewers, regardless of the fact that it’s not an epic film or a romantic drama, but rather a human portrait of two characters condemned to get along. These are really universal elements.
I remember that the project for your film was presented at Abycine Lanza a couple of years ago, and at that time, the synopsis made mention of a boy and a stork...
Yes, the boy, a cook, and the bird were in there, but the project proved so complicated to get off the ground, it was really difficult, and it was also hard for me to find a satisfactory screenplay. I gradually stripped layers and layers off it so that I would end up with only the essential elements and then go into depth with that. The character of the servant therefore appeared as this indispensable figure, and the film flowed in that direction.
Ion de Sosa was on board as DoP…
Yes, and he’s also a very creative filmmaker: he’s really into framing, like me. I asked him not to use artificial lighting, so that we could respect the atmosphere in Karen’s house in Kenya, which never had electric lights installed. We used oil lamps, candles and fireplaces. And he did a fantastic job with the cinematography, with all those earthy textures.
How did you go about investigating in order to find out the truth about your main character?
I didn’t know her literary work, but rather the myth surrounding her. I was looking for an excuse to transform the Extremaduran landscape, and that’s how the character appeared, so charismatic and dripping with this sense of mystery. We had to read her whole body of work and what people wrote about her: in this way, the film gradually started filling up with her – especially her letters. This woman is Karen, but I think it goes beyond the mere biographical: she could be so many other women.
Finally, does that African landscape really look so similar to Extremadura?
Extremadura has something a bit “Serengeti” about it: once the holm oaks have grown tall, they look like acacia trees.Then there are the sunsets and the birds that pass through the area as they migrate from Denmark...
(Translated from Spanish)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.