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Pablo Maqueda • Director of Girl Unknown

“I’m not afraid of being depraved or awkward as a filmmaker”


- The young Madrilenian director breaks down his new fiction feature, which competed at the most recent Málaga Film Festival and will soon be in contention at Bucheon

Pablo Maqueda  • Director of Girl Unknown
(© Pablo Maqueda)

Girl Unknown [+see also:
film review
interview: Pablo Maqueda
film profile
is a screen adaptation of Paco Bezerra’s stage play Grooming. Madrid native Pablo Maqueda (Dear Werner [+see also:
film review
interview: Pablo Maqueda
film profile
) directed it while simultaneously infusing it with a new dimension. The film, which stars Laia Manzanares, Manolo Solo and Eva Llorach, and which took part in the competition of the most recent Málaga Film Festival, will soon be in contention at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, in South Korea. It hits Spanish theatres – courtesy of Filmax – today, 9 June.

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Cineuropa: Do you often go to the theatre to discover new talents, and find ideas or inspiration?
Pablo Maqueda:
Yes, it’s important for me to see what’s being made and to be able to soak up a bit of everything. I’m a bit like a sponge, and I do the same with film: I go to see everything, even things I’m not normally interested in.

But what was it that bewitched you about the play Grooming?
When I am enjoying something, I pay a lot of attention to the faces of the audience members next to me. In this case, they were in shock, just like me. That same feeling of bewilderment and anxiety that I’ve experienced through film and the filmmakers I’m interested in – I saw it there: it was the perfect play to instil a state of alertness in the audience. The way the plot progresses constantly has you on tenterhooks, and that really appealed to me. I felt like the work was speaking directly to me. I dedicated myself to cinema because of Alfred Hitchcock, a filmmaker who’s the real backbone of the seventh art and its artifice. That work possessed the perfect ingredients for a proper film adaptation, and I hope I’ve done it justice.

You made your feature debut with a documentary, and now you’ve made the leap to fiction. Was it a natural transition for you?
Yes – for me, documentary and fiction are one and the same thing: you’re trying to tell a story, avoid losing the viewer’s attention at any point, and constantly thrill, unsettle and take them to places where they don’t normally venture… With Girl Unknown, my aim was to lead a bunch of complex characters by the hand without judging them, but once we come to accept the notion of how terrible the central character is, we are willing to accompany him into the darkness, asking ourselves an array of questions, which is what I am interested in when I make films. While writing the screenplay, we offered no answers, but rather, we planted seeds that would sprout in the audience after they came out of the cinema.

How did you approach the mise-en-scène in order to capture the different (costumbrist, tense thriller-like) layers of the film?
It is indeed a film with various layers. My role model is South Korean cinema, which challenges us as viewers on both the visual level and the character-development level. Filmmakers from that country are very playful, using twists that not only drive the story forward, but which also push us forward in our relationship with the characters. And costumbrism can also be horrifying: life doesn’t need to have these dramatic chiaroscuros to be unsettling. The bad guy is not some big, winged monster that slobbers everywhere, but rather, it could be anyone you bump into at the supermarket.

However, Girl Unknown introduces us to shady and even unpleasant characters, which makes it more difficult to empathise with them.
I’m not afraid of being depraved or awkward. I make the type of film that I enjoy watching: twisted stories that make me question things on a moral level, with complex characters that are at the opposite end of my ethical spectrum. That’s what art is for – to make us question ourselves, shake us up and slap us in the face. We’ve got used to a certain kind of didactic film that backs up our opinions, and we come out of the cinema the same as we were when we went in. For me, it’s important for the viewer to come out of there feeling unsettled. The main topic of Girl Unknown was too complex – we had to approach it very rigorously, and I didn’t want to do so by watering it down, but rather by taking a leap of faith without a safety net.

What really stands out is the subject of online grooming and power relationships…
Yes, and that’s in addition to the idea of how, in a park full of people and children, something terrible can be happening barely a few feet away from us without us even being aware of it. Here, I enjoyed associating that idea of voyeurism, which is so prominent in the films of Hitchcock, with touch and examining how a hand is able to not only take physical possession of something, but also take psychological possession.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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