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BERLINALE 2021 Encounters

Andreas Fontana • Director of Azor

“It was important to be meticulous with the details because they have a political meaning”

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- BERLINALE 2021: We talked to the Swiss director about his mystery-drama feature, inspired by real historical events that shook Argentina in the 1980s

Andreas Fontana  • Director of Azor
(© Marina Palacio)

Andrea Fontana's feature Azor [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Andreas Fontana
film profile
]
was presented at this year's Berlinale, in the Encounters section. The Swiss director has made a drama inspired by real historical events that shook Argentina in the 1980s. He pits two elitist social groups against one another – groups that live in different circumstances but which have to cope with each other’s behaviour in order to do business. We talked to Fontana about how he managed to make a mysterious protagonist out of a banker and how he depicts the members of the Argentinian upper class in minute detail.

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Cineuropa: Were you inspired by real people and events?
Andreas Fontana:
The main characters are completely fictional. But the locations where we shot actually exist. The círculo de armas, for example, looks exactly like it does in the film. And the events we are talking about really happened. Not only did the military make people disappear, but they also stole from them – their properties, houses, cars and even horses. And the role of the Swiss banks in this process is actually not clear at all.

Was it difficult to find interiors that matched the 1980s style? Or did you have to reconstruct everything?
No, it wasn’t difficult. We only had to reconstruct the Plaza hotel because it had been abandoned for two years and was in a ruinous state. For all the other locations in the film, we had to work by subtraction. This means they were overloaded with stuff, so we removed things until they reached a state that we liked. Often, we added some plants. I worked with Ana Cambre, who was in charge of the set design. We chose the locations because of their timeless appearance. I did not want to make a film that looked like a museum of the 1980s. For the social class we are depicting, it was not important for them to look fashionable, but they wanted to go down in history, to not be forgotten.

It's striking when you see people smoking everywhere in the film. It's an image we are not used to any more. But it's also an element that emphasises the nonchalance of the upper class. Would you agree?
The film is, first and foremost, a thriller, and therefore, the story is the most important thing. But I also wanted to describe this upper class through their behaviour. It's shown in the way they smoke, but also how they call the waiter to order a drink, or how they move within a space and occupy it. All of these details describe a certain relationship with the world, and I was meticulous with them, although I am not a perfectionist, particularly. It was important because the details have a political meaning. The way they talk, for example – their vocabulary is carefully chosen. When the bishop talks at one point about a “vermin that must be exterminated”, this has a very dramatic political impact.

Most of the shoot took place inside. In chapter four, you use a mansion and its garden. Where is this location? And was it difficult to shoot exterior scenes or did you keep them to a minimum from the beginning?
There was no need to film outside. The people we are talking about live in a bubble; they do not really interact with the outside society. The place where the negotiations are taking place must be a secret, in a private world. The film is only interested in these moments. By focusing on interiors, I wanted to reproduce a claustrophobic feeling. I wanted to show only what was necessary; the rest is for the audience to imagine.

The mansion is the private house of a member of the upper class, and we were able to rent it for the film. She probably needs the money and rents it out for film shoots. The house is even bigger than it appears in the movie. It was actually too impressive and too spectacular, so we had to make it look a bit smaller.

Is the private-banking milieu in Geneva an environment you know? If not, how did you do your research?
My grandfather was a private banker, but he never wanted to talk about his profession with me. It was something I felt was very powerful, but unknown. It was only after his death that I took more of an interest in the field, and then did my research for two-and-a-half years.

The same goes for the Argentinian upper class. Do you have any insights into this social group?
I spent two-and-a-half years investigating the world of private banking, meeting bankers, journalists, academics and lawyers. I read a lot of books on the subject. I knew nothing about it before.

Could you describe the aesthetic concept you wanted to use for the film?
Actually, we just tried to answer some of the main questions in a pragmatic way. How do we want to represent the past? What goes on behind these closed doors, in these private rooms? How do we film a banker like a conquistador? We always chose the simplest, most minimalistic – but effective – ways of representing these things.

What were the biggest challenges you encountered during the making of the film?
To be honest, everything was difficult. It was an ambitious movie with a big crew, a lot of characters, and a shoot in a country that I know and love, but still, which is not mine. However, we made sufficient preparations, and it worked out in the end – also with two children to look after.

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