Álvaro Gago • Director of Matria
"We’re portraying a person, not a victim"
- BERLINALE 2023: We talked to the Galician filmmaker about his debut feature, named after his previous short film that was a Sundance success, which portrays a woman overwhelmed by her circumstances
In Matria [+see also:
interview: Álvaro Gago
film profile], Álvaro Gago (Vigo, 1986) has taken the subject of his fourth short film further, a project of the same name with which he won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. The director gives us the lowdown on his film, which is presented in the Panorama section of the 73rd Berlinale.
Cineuropa: Has the fact that your short film won an award at Sundance made it easier to turn it into a feature film?
Álvaro Gago: I think so, although I didn't feel anything concrete, because it was a long process, with many stones, like everyone's. But there was an interest to see what I came up with next, but they didn't pave the road for me, so we had to fight for it and in the end we were lucky.
And new production companies have come on board.
I started the project in 2018 with Ringo Media, a low-profile production company, and I’m interested in growing with people of my generation, but it was clear that we needed other sources of funding. The Galician company Matriuska came after two meetings, where I understood how they wanted to produce it: respecting the places where we were going to shoot, which I was perfectly familiar with. I’d been in contact with Avalon before through my short films, so I was already on their radar and the collaboration finally materialised. It wasn't easy, because I'm a screenwriter almost because I have to be, I like writing but it's a process I struggle with. I think in images and translating them to paper isn’t easy for me, because the inner world I have in my head is difficult, especially at an atmospheric level, to put it onto paper. And when a production company reads such a dry script at this stage of looking for financing, they need time to think about it, logically.
Why did you decide to have a professional actress like María Vázquez (who we saw in Trot [+see also:
interview: Xacio Baño
film profile]) instead of a natural actress as in the short film?
It was a conscious decision. In the short film she explored everyday routines determined by her life circumstances, which resulted in a type of acting that was very reactive to external circumstances, physical and corporal, whereas in the film we incorporated reflection, with the character taking the reins and having to communicate these emotions, which are at the centre of the scenes. For this I needed someone with a special background and I had been looking forward to working with Maria for a long time. I sensed that she was flexible and also wanted to take risks.
Your film follows its central character all the way through, for a short but intense time, like the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night [+see also:
interview: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
The Dardennes are definitely a massive inspiration, their films are also visceral and bodily films. Mine is also a powerful immersive journey, with the camera glued to the character and its swaying, to capture a vibrant reality, which hits you from the screen. Despite this stress, part of the screenplay work was to moderate the pace. I write from a reality that forced a pace that felt too fast in the story, so we had to reduce that level of stress with scenes that slowed down the film.
The pride of the main character is surprising, as she is strong and determined not only in her work, but also with men.
That's one of the key things that prompted me to make this film. The protagonist brings out her character. We’re portraying a person, not a victim: for me that was fundamental.
The film is shot in Galicia, which also appears on screen.
For me, cinema, as well as being a storytelling device, is about capturing a way of existing and that is at the heart of the film. When I was writing the script, I remember that I wanted to include scenes that captured a way of understanding life that is very specific to where we filmed. A context that also poses complex circumstances for the main character and determines her vital state, her state of awareness. The film asks how to find the cracks in these circumstances so that the main character's inner journey can begin.
Ramona reminded me of Nely Reguera’s María (and Everybody Else) [+see also:
interview: Nely Reguera
film profile], in how she overfocused on others, although the narrative tone was different.
Yes, exactly. She is someone who projects her own desires onto her daughter, not realising that it is she herself who needs to change. Therein lies the ethics of the story, in this process of intimate revolution.
(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)
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