Manuel Arija • Director of Ultrainnocence
“I liked the fact that it recalls a 1970s aesthetic”
by Teresa Vena
- We talked to the director about his cinematic quest for a divine presence, which is set to premiere at this year's Slamdance
Manuel Arija's feature Ultrainnocence [+see also:
interview: Manuel Arija
film profile] is being presented at this year's edition of Slamdance. With it, he has created a daring science-fiction parody in which his protagonists try to prove the existence of a divine, spiritual power that could turn out to provide a justification for religion. We talked to Arija about his inspiration for the story as well as the visual concept of the film.
Cineuropa: Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
Manuel Arija: I saw a stage play with the same title in Barcelona; it's a contemporary play. I liked the story and talked to the theatre company, since I wanted to adapt and develop it into a film. The main topic is faith, and the aim was to create something that deals with it in all its different aspects. We were interested in the fact that some people try to use technology to find proof of a divine presence – that was the starting point. Then, I was also inspired by how the lives of the martyrs and saints are described in the different religions. The characters are pure and have this contact with God. They are shut away in a mystical temple, trying to get an answer to all our questions. But the years go by, and they don't find anything. From those initially pure characters, they develop into more normal and human ones. Since it's a low-budget film, it was also very useful to think about only two characters in one location.
What was the idea behind the element of the gossip magazine that one of the characters hides in the spaceship?
A saint has to sacrifice himself and shake off what makes him human; otherwise, he or she can't get in contact with God. He or she should not be contaminated by earthly things. But then, one of the characters picks up the magazine, and inside it is all the banality and all the humanity. I wanted to use the magazine to start a conflict between the two characters. We might be led to think that they can't find God because of it, but actually, it's because they have to find their inner strength once again and start believing in themselves. As soon as they stop using all the techniques they were given, they start finding the spiritual strength they were searching for.
Are there any authors or other filmmakers that inspired you?
Buñuel is a big source of inspiration for me. A lot of his movies talk about faith and religion. For him, religion is something surreal and illogical. He creates a lot of very funny and, at the same time, dramatic situations.
Why does the food come out of things that resemble tubes of paint?
I remember watching documentaries from the 1970s about astronauts and their eating habits. I liked the idea of making fun of it. The same goes for artificial intelligence, which is often related to space and to the spaceship environment. I think the science-fiction context is very funny, and it is also a universal language.
How did you find your main protagonists?
Both of the main actors are members of the theatre company which put on the play that inspired the film. Since they already knew the play very well, it was easy for them to connect with the movie, too.
How did you come up with the idea that the character played by Sergi López should speak in several languages at the same time?
We thought it would have been boring if he only talked in English, and so we came up with this idea, which he liked very much. But it was quite challenging.
Where did you get your ideas for the visual concept from?
We used some parts of the concept of the original play. The art design, costume and scenography were carried out by the same people. It was important to keep the palette of colours limited to a handful of shades and to introduce more colours as the story developed, in order to show the inner process of the characters. That same development is visible in the use of the camera, which is quite steady at the beginning and moves more by the end. The camera itself is an old one with more granular lenses. I liked the fact that it recalls a 1970s aesthetic.
There is quite a complex choreography for the characters to follow. Did you work with a dance professional to develop it?
The actors are the actual creators of the complete choreography. The rehearsals with the camera, as well as the sound design and especially the scenography, were all integral parts of one concept. Since we had limited means – ie, only one camera – it was important for the choreography to be mindful of the perspective of that camera.
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