Marco Martins • Director of Great Yarmouth: Provisional Figures
“The film is named after the city because the entire city is sick”
by Elena Lazic
- The director tells us about his atmospheric film, centred on Portuguese workers in the titular, economically depressed English seaside town
In 2016, Portuguese director Marco Martins explored the impact of the financial crisis that hit his country in Saint George [+see also:
Q&A: Marco Martins
film profile], centred on a man resorting to desperate measures to pay off his debts. Great Yarmouth: Provisional Figures [+see also:
interview: Marco Martins
film profile], playing in competition at the San Sebastián Film Festival, shows where many of these struggling Portuguese workers went: to English towns, doing the hard work that the locals there wouldn’t touch for this kind of salary.
Cineuropa: Why Great Yarmouth?
Marco Martins: My previous film was about the crisis, the Portuguese middle and lower classes, and the fact they had no jobs. Then I was invited to Great Yarmouth by this organisation called SeaChange to develop a play there, because I work in theatre as well as film. I didn't know about Great Yarmouth or about the Portuguese migration there. In a way, this was a continuation of my previous film – where did these people from Portugal go, after the crisis? A lot of them went there, especially from the suburbs of Lisbon.
Some aspects of the film are very realistic, but the film doesn't really evolve in a realistic way.
I didn't want to go into social realism. For me, it was more about making a film based on the personal stories of the immigrants, what they told me about the hotels and the factories. It’s a mental, psychological place, in a way – like a nightmare. In fact, my initial idea was to do a zombie film because that’s your first impression of that place: it’s deserted, most of the buildings are unoccupied, the hotels are empty, and the workers move around at night without being seen. But on the other hand, I wanted to say, “I come from there, from Portugal, and these people really exist; I didn’t make them up.” That’s why I contextualise the situation with on-screen text at the beginning. The guys yelling in the corridors to wake the workers up, for example – that's something they told me about and that I saw for myself.
You take these real things and make something very stylised with them. Did you have any inspirations guiding you?
It’s not a horror film, but you can feel that something is wrong in those cities, a bit like in a conspiracy film. I was inspired by the B movies that deal with that, a conspiracy in the city, a kind of disease spreading all over the place… The film is named after the city because the entire city is sick.
How did you work with the actors?
We started shooting in March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic. We shot for three weeks, then stopped for six months. During that period, I didn't know if we would have the opportunity to go back. It was a residential shoot, and we were using a lot of immigrants and so on. I think that this fear and pressure weigh heavily on the actors in the movie, when I watch it now. On the other hand, we did a lot of research and preparation before that. For me, the most important thing of all was that they all worked in that factory. I think they discovered a lot of things that way. Even Beatriz Batarda, the way she walks… The physical is more immediate. We discover more things through the physical aspects.
What about the love story element? It felt almost like a kind of relief. For her, but also for the audience.
That’s it. When I was there for five years, one of the aspects I thought was very shocking was the relationship between the people. I felt a need for love. Some of them lead very hard lives, working extra shifts, more than 12 hours a day. I think we’re all searching for love, and so is she, even if we don't know exactly why she falls in love with this guy. There are also all these characters she wants to be: she wants to speak good English, she wants to work for elderly people… I think that when she sees this Portuguese guy, she has a moment of doubt. She's usually very strong, very stiff, but she loses herself a little bit; she lets herself go.
The film is gripping in the cinema because it’s so atmospheric from the start.
You have this decadent sea front, with all the hotels and Las Vegas-like lights and casinos. Then you have the hotels at the back, and then the marshes, which are really beautiful. People from all over the world go there to watch birds. So it's a complex place, and I didn't want to leave that behind. That's why the birdwatcher who opens and closes the film is so important to me, because it talks about the characters on another level.
Do you have another project you're working on now? And will it have to do with the UK again?
No, it won’t. I was working on another project in Angola, in a diamond mine. But because I spent five years in the UK, and the pandemic was such a hard time, I'm working on a project in Portugal instead, about people who take care of the elderly. It's always the same process: I will start doing a play with real carers, and from there, I’ll start writing.
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