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Spain / Bulgaria

Avelina Prat • Director of Vasil

"People tend to help, but only when it doesn't affect our own comfort"


- We spoke to the Spanish director about her debut film, which has just screened at festivals in Poland and Spain, shortly before its Spanish premiere

Avelina Prat • Director of Vasil

Before writing and filming Vasil [+see also:
film review
interview: Avelina Prat
film profile
, Avelina Prat enjoyed a long career in film as a director of short films and scripted more than 30 feature films with directors such as Fernando Trueba, Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Javier Rebollo and Cesc Gay. Prat talks to us about her debut film, which opens in Spanish cinemas today, 4 November, with Filmax.

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Cineuropa: Vasil is a very authentic character, I guess because he has an actual real prototype. But maybe you didn't know him like in the film. How did you create him?
Avelina Prat:
Vasil grew in my head through my father's words. Long after I heard his stories, when I wanted to restore his personality, what I did was to invent the character as I imagined him. The plot of the film has a realistic aspect where the characters are very human, and you can identify with them, but Vasil is a bit idealised by this kind of fascination that he causes in Alfredo's daughter.

You yourself are the prototype of the daughter's character. What attracted you to this Bulgarian without even talking to him?
As the "real" Vasil was always on the verge of leaving, it never occurred to me to take the step to really get to know him. When he finally left for good, I realised that I had missed an opportunity to experience something beautiful. What surprised me most was to see things in my father that I had never seen before, such as a willingness to take someone he did not know into his home. I wanted to write the story to complete it in some way.

The subject of immigration has been explored quite a lot in cinema lately, but your approach is very interesting and goes beyond the subject. It is really about not only empathy, but also the ability to see the other person and take an interest in them.
Immigration is a second layer in Vasil, and not at all the main subject. The most important thing for me was to describe the difficulty in connecting with the other, be it a foreigner or your own family. But here the problem is intensified by the fact that we have an outsider, and he serves perfectly well to make us ask ourselves the question of who the outsider really is, the stranger we are hosting for a few days and our relatives whose occupations are of no interest to us. There is an inevitable distance we keep with everyone: those who are close, those who are far away, with anyone. Getting to truly know someone takes effort, time and is a bit scary. We always have an awkwardness and a difficulty in really communicating.

It is interesting to hear this from a director in Spain where communication flows compared to other countries. But I take it you mean a deeper kind of interaction?
Yes, exactly. The extrovert communication where a lot is said and that is very common in Mediterranean countries, is very superficial. The other, deeper one, is not easy to find anywhere. I wanted to emphasise that.

Watching the film, I feel a certain reproach especially towards the so-called posh people and their temptation to live in their own little world with little interest in anything else.
When I was writing the script I went to a bridge club to get a feel for the atmosphere, because I didn't know anything about it. I was very struck by the fact that these people accepted this Bulgarian in sandals in their fancy club, because he played so well. But then the envy set in because he was better than the others and they kicked him out. When they were threatened by something they had already established, they preferred to get rid of it. People tend to help, but only when it doesn’t affect our own comfort.

How did you choose Ivan Barnev for the role of Vasil?
The film is a Bulgarian co-production with the participation of Activist38 so we went to Sofia where we did a casting. Ivan didn't speak a word of Spanish at the time, but he had learned the text perfectly. Physically he wasn’t at all what we were looking for. However, his charm, his beautiful energy, the way he moved, and his sparkling eyes convinced us that he was the right one for the role. Ivan is a much better Vasil than what we had imagined.

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(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)

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