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Lluís Quílez • Director of Below Zero

“I like shoots where there’s lots of complexity and hardship”


- The Catalan filmmaker is about to unveil his first Spanish-language feature film, a thriller with an all-male cast set to premiere to an international audience on Netflix

Lluís Quílez • Director of Below Zero

Cineuropa caught up with Barcelona-born Lluís Quílez, 41, to get the inside scoop on his thriller Below Zero [+see also:
film review
interview: Lluís Quílez
film profile
, just days before its international premiere on Netflix on 29 January. This claustrophobic film features an all-male cast (headed up by Luis Callejo, Karra Elejalde and Javier Gutiérrez) locked in an armoured van as it traverses a landscape of frozen plains.

Cineuropa: Parts of Spain have just experienced a cold snap like the one referenced in the film’s title...
Lluís Quílez: It was made at a similar time of year, in February, and on some days the conditions were horrendous; although we never had a storm of that magnitude, there were a lot of days when the temperature was close to zero. It was a very demanding shoot: both the exterior scenes, due to the poor weather conditions, and the interior scenes, because of the challenges of working in a confined space.

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Snow also features prominently in your short film Graffiti (2016).
I went out to Chernobyl in winter; it was minus 16 degrees, with untouched snow up to your knees. It was a very pared-down shoot — guerrilla filmmaking in the wild, Herzog-style, a very intense experience. I’ve always enjoyed demanding shoots and being surrounded by total bedlam. It creates a certain tension on set and means everyone has to bring their A-game to keep the film moving forward, because when you have that energy it brings out the best in people. I like shoots where there’s lots of complexity.

Pushing the production to the limit...
Yes, perhaps I’m a bit of a sadomasochist [laughs] because I put everyone through hell, but then when you get the shot you wanted it’s all the more satisfying. This time, there were some scenes that were tough to film, with a lot of different elements: fog, special effects, gunfire... I’ve always admired directors who don’t back down from a challenge: I remember seeing James Cameron’s The Abyss, which is filmed under water. From a very young age, I’ve been fascinated by productions like that — ones that didn’t cave in to difficulty and just kept going.

How did you film that particularly spectacular scene in Below Zero (we won’t spoil it for our readers)?
Nothing like that had been done in Spanish cinema before: it’s eight minutes long, filmed in a moving set weighing a thousand kilos and with real actors — no doubles — for 99% of takes. We talked through various options and then filmed it in three days, but the actors had to train for it, although always with safety measures in place. We were able to film it just as the screenplay describes, and everything went fine — but we left it until last, just in case...

Also, most of Below Zero takes place in the dead of night.
Yes, for the first three weeks we filmed only after sundown, outside and in freezing conditions. We had to make our own fog, and sometimes snow as well. After that, we had one week of daytime filming in a half-ruined house that had to be shored up so we could get a team of 30 in there.

Was filming in Spain a different experience compared with your previous film Out of the Dark, which was a North American production?
Yes, that was a commissioned feature that was filmed in Colombia, and it wasn’t released over here, so I regard Below Zero as my first film, the first one I wrote myself. Then, I was working for a studio, and there wasn’t a lot of freedom; now, I feel that this second film is exactly how I wanted it to be. I’m very happy with it, because what you see on screen is just what I was aiming for, dreaming of and imagining when I was writing it. With the last one, as a director my hands were tied to some extent. It was more of a producer’s film.

Below Zero boasts a fantastic cast of Spanish actors...
We wanted a really superb cast that would be able to handle the rigours of a prison film, all that testosterone and rawness... and that would keep it feeling natural even though it was technically challenging, with a really detailed and exacting plan behind it. I wanted Luis Callejo and I told him so the first time we spoke. I also wanted to bring back the Karra Elejalde of 80s and 90s thrillers, like La madre muerta and The Nameless, but with more of a dramatic charge, getting away from the cliché of the old Basque geezer. I was looking for a more melancholic role, more sadness, and he was really excited to get on board because it gave him the opportunity to explore that other side of himself. Javier Guitiérrez does a great job at portraying the common man: what I wanted was an action film without an action hero. I had no interest in a tall, handsome, muscular lead; I wanted an average Spaniard that audiences could empathise and connect with. As Hitchcock said, it’s about taking an ordinary guy and putting him in an extraordinary situation, and he was the perfect choice for that. We also had a first-rate supporting cast, including Andrés Gertrúdix, Patrick Criado o Isak Férriz.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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