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Xavier Bermúdez • Director of Olvido y León

“Films are evidence of the passing of time”


- The Galician filmmaker stayed in his homeland to shoot his new film, in which he reunites with the same characters from his 2004 effort León and Olvido

Xavier Bermúdez • Director of Olvido y León
(© Matteo Rovella)

Ourense-born Xavier Bermúdez hooks up with the same characters from his 2004 feature León and Olvido in his new film, Olvido y León [+see also:
interview: Xavier Bermúdez
film profile
, which is being released in Spanish theatres on 26 March. And so once again this time, his lead actors are Marta Larralde and Guillem Jiménez, the latter of whom recently passed away. They play two siblings, one of whom suffers from Down syndrome. We phoned the director, who is also a producer, and he answered our call from A Coruña.

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Cineuropa: Do you still need to self-produce in order to shoot films with unusual subject matter, such as yours?
Xavier Bermúdez: I stopped trying to get other people to produce my work years ago, and I’ve got used to a certain way of working that gives me freedom, but which at the same time causes a lot of headaches. I would love to have a producer who’s in tune with what I do because it’s fairly exhausting doing everything through Xamalú Filmes, our company, where the artistic element takes precedence over everything else.

As for your new movie, could a viewer come and watch it without necessarily having seen the one from 17 years ago, starring the same actors in the same roles?
Yes, they’re independent of each other: people who remember the first film will come across some recognisable things, repetitions or minor variations on some aspects of the characters, but it’s a 100% standalone movie, and is quite different in terms of both the state of mind that we shot it with and the structure and tone.

What was it that made you want to revisit the same characters?
I missed them. Shortly after wrapping León and Olvido, the cast and crew embarked on this huge tour of film festivals, in Montreal and Karlovy Vary, among countless others, and it was a long, intense and gratifying experience. And so Marta and Guillem would call me every year to ask me when we would make the sequel. Working with a group of people with Down syndrome was demanding because they show you a lot of affection, but they also take a lot out of you, and I ended up being absolutely exhausted: I thought that I’d given as much of myself as I possibly could. As the years went by, Guillem continued calling me, and certain things started occurring to me: situations that the two of them could be involved in, and this is how the screenplay started taking shape. I called them up, and they were very keen to play the same characters, so we moved forward with it.

Marta and Guillem’s characters make up a special kind of family. From what you’ve said, it seems that the team involved with the film also forged an unusual bond, which goes beyond a professional relationship
Yes, especially Marta and Guillem, who struck up quite an intense relationship: they had been fictional siblings, and adopted each other as brother and sister in real life.

The chemistry between them, which was already obvious in the first film, is still clear to see in Olvido y León.
Yes, with a few slight differences. Already while we were waiting to start the shoot in Ourense, Guillem told me that we had all changed. And the fact is that films provide us with proof of one of their own essential constituents - namely, the passing of time.

Addressing the fact that people with Down syndrome have feelings, relationships and a sexuality is not seen that often in film: is it still necessary to remind people of this?
Yes, it’s still necessary. It’s something that’s already stated on the websites of Down syndrome associations or if you talk to them, but there are some automatic subconscious mechanisms that still function in the same way, and we have to keep on stimulating them and tackling them; it’s a long, uphill battle. They have an awareness and press on with the cheeriness that we know is their hallmark, but they still need deeper recognition; they still need to change that overarching psychological automatism that lies in our subconscious.

They have such a clean, fresh outlook on things, which I suppose envelops the entire shoot.
Yes, they have that fresh way of looking at things, but also a high degree of self-respect. When I work with actors, we rehearse very little prior to the shoot because I want things to happen during filming; I don’t want it to be a mere rendition of something that’s been pre-planned. In order to achieve this, you have to be open to what may crop up with the actors, whether or not they have Down syndrome. Then I sometimes adapt some of the dialogue or actions to match the natural characteristics of the actors: they’re the material that you work with, just like the impressionists did with the landscape. But then, when I suggested a change in the dialogue to them, they thought I was patronising them, and I had to convince them that I do exactly the same with everyone because everything that crops up during the shoot adds up to create the end result.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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