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BERLINALE 2023 Competition / Encounters

João Canijo • Director of Bad Living and Living Bad

"Mothers can make the life of their daughters a misery"

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- BERLINALE 2023: We talked to the Portuguese director about hotels that can feel like prisons and the unbearable weight of family

João Canijo • Director of Bad Living and Living Bad

Portuguese director João Canijo has created two films about family and the bond between mothers and daughters. Bad Living [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: João Canijo
film profile
]
and Living Bad [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: João Canijo
film profile
]
are mirrors to each other. The first will be shown in the main competition of the Berlinale, the second in the secondary competition, the Encounters section, of the festival. We met the director who told us more about his inspiration for both films.

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Cineuropa: Could you tell us more about the concept behind this film project?
João Canijo: I wanted to make two films with the same themes. The stories of each film are set in the same space and take place at the same time. The secondary protagonists of the first film are the main protagonists of the second, and vice versa. The titles Bad Living and Living Bad are a mirror of this. I see the films as two individual and independent works.

The main topic of the films is the intense bonds between family members and how they can be suffocating. Why did you decide to focus on the relationships between mothers and daughters?
I wanted to talk about anxiety and how mothers transmit their anxieties to their daughters. It's about legacy and how mothers can make the life of their daughters a misery. Anxiety is preventing both sides to live the life they long for. For the creation of the atmosphere, I was inspired by a photograph by Gregory Crewdson. It shows a woman on a bed, next to her a baby, and the woman looks in sorrow towards it. It's this gloomy situation that I wanted to capture.

Where does your fascination for hotels come from?
I wanted the place to feel like a prison or a cul-de-sac for the protagonists. The owner family cannot escape and the guests either, at least for a short moment of their vacation. I wanted the building to have a special look. It shouldn't look brand new and feel somehow decadent.

How much of your own experience has found its way into the script? 
Well, I guess everything I experienced has an influence on my films. When I was young I spent nearly every weekend at exactly this hotel where we shot the film. I have always liked its big swimming pool.

Where did you shoot exactly?
On the Coast near Porto. I was born in Porto. As I said, I knew this hotel, but we still looked for several others before finally coming back to this one. It was during the pandemic and it was empty. We confined there as a crew. It was great, because it allowed us a lot of concentration. The hotel is still in function and it's doing quite well. It is also run by a family, a brother and sister. They are the children of the architect that initially built the building.

Food and the celebration of it is very important in these films.
This is biographical. I like food and wine. I had an even bigger focus on it, but then had to cut some of it. I had in mind to find a proper chef, but in the end I couldn't. But the wines are real wines and some of which I love the most. I wanted to show that even if you celebrate the “good living,” it doesn't prevent you from in fact still doing some “bad living.” 

Did you shoot the complete scenes for both films at once and then create the different films in the editing process?
We shot everything at once, following a precise script and preparing each shot so that we did the editing directly while shooting. I had a blueprint of the hotel and organised the shooting accordingly, adapting to the structure of the hotel.

For the film telling the story from the perspective of the owners, you use a more static camera than in the other film. How did you develop the visual concept of the different parts?
Yes, for the first film, which focuses on the owners, the atmosphere was a more static one, while for the second film, the dynamics of the relationships between the characters were in the centre, so the camera is also more dynamic.

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