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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2023 Competition

Isabel Coixet • Director of Un amor

“I have the ability to feel out of place in any setting”


- The filmmaker returns to the Basque gathering with her adaptation of Sara Mesa’s novel of the same name, which stars Laia Costa, who’s working with the Catalonian helmer once again after Foodie Love

Isabel Coixet  • Director of Un amor

After presenting the documentary The Yellow Ceiling [+see also:
film review
film profile
here a year ago, Isabel Coixet is back at the San Sebastián Film Festival, but this time in its official competition section, vying for the Golden Shell with Un amor [+see also:
film review
interview: Isabel Coixet
film profile
, her own personal version of the novel of the same name penned by Sara Mesa. The film is toplined by Laia Costa.

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Cineuropa: I’ve read the original book, and when I saw the film, I noticed several things had changed. For example, I don’t remember the dog being a hermaphrodite in the book…
Isabel Coixet:
I chose that dog because I liked its face, which was covered in scars, and then they told me it was intersex; after that, I decided to put it on screen, but showing it as something real belonging to the animal. I wouldn’t have thought of something like that had it not been for the fact that the animal was like that anyway.

What’s more, the protagonist’s job is different: she’s a translator in your film.
I thought that was important: it had to be clearer to us, this knowledge of where Nat [played by Laia Costa] comes from, what she does, and how, in a certain way, when you translate the dreadful statements made by refugees day after day, it ends up affecting you. There’s a trauma – which the translators themselves don’t talk about – stemming from the real-life atrocities they have to translate. So yes, I thought that professional and personal aspect was quite important.

You’ve also changed the ending.
I asked Sara if she wanted to be involved in writing the script, but she was writing another novel and was getting a bit sick of Un amor. I told her that I liked her work, but that there was information that the viewer needed – such as knowing where each character comes from and the fact that, when you show negative things and the rollercoaster of emotions that the main character goes through, there has to be a reason for it all. I know that in life, people suffer and it’s all for nothing: you could be diagnosed with leukaemia, but it’s not like you turn into the Dalai Lama. I don’t have many rules as a director, but I like to think that everything that happens to you in a feature film will lead you somewhere else, and you will be in a different place, emotionally.

The rural landscapes and mountains stifle the main character: is the countryside not so idyllic after all?
Un amor depicts a microcosm, and when you’re in it, the dynamics of the inhabitants of this place are in your face, all the time. In the city, it’s more watered down, even though the dynamics are the same.

In the novel, there’s a lot of thinking; how did you translate those ideas to the screen?
We started from who Nat is, where she is, how she moves and how she dresses. I told Laia, “You put sandpaper on your knees;” we had to notice how scratchy it is, that the walls are cold and unwelcoming, the furniture is coated in muck, and it’s black water that comes out of the tap. Those physical things we experience through her are the things that convey what is going on in her head. I really like voice-overs, but I knew from the start that there wouldn’t be one in this film; rather, the camera would always stay with the character.

Nat/Laia feels out of place in this town she’s moved to.
I have the ability to feel out of place in any setting: I’m very democratic in that respect.

What is it about Nat that you identify with the most?
Many aspects. As people, we do things that we can’t even explain, and then we cling to people who awaken something in us – whatever it may be – and you can go straight from revulsion to fascination. I’m always surprised at how easily we judge the behaviour of others, as if we came from an unblemished world where we’ve never made a wrong decision and we were these pure spirits.

You’re working with actress Laia Costa again after the series Foodie Love [+see also:
series review
series profile
We directors are very lazy: when we know that someone does a good job, why would we look for anyone else? I think she has incredible abilities: I really like her dedication.

The styles used in that series and this film are totally different.
That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Because if we always did the same thing… Of course, Un amor is not a romantic comedy à la Bridget Jones.

You are fairly active, always with projects on the go – the next one stars Penélope Cruz, with whom you worked previously on Elegy [+see also:
film profile
I have a great deal of curiosity, and sometimes it kills the cat and takes me places that are not worth going to, but it intrigues me to do things I’ve never done before.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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