Benjamín Naishtat and María Alché • Directors of Puan
“Comedy is an excellent genre for tackling heavy subjects"
- The Argentinean filmmakers have joined lives and forces to create the philosophical comedy starring Marcelo Subiotto and Leonardo Sbaraglia
Benjamín Naishtat was applauded when he competed at the San Sebastián International Film Festival years ago with Rojo [+see also:
interview: Benjamín Naishtat
film profile], receiving awards for best director, cinematography and actor. María Alché, also from Buenos Aires, is a filmmaker who debuted in 2018 with A Family Submerged [+see also:
film profile] which was also a success here, in the Horizontes Latinos section. Puan [+see also:
interview: Benjamín Naishtat and María…
film profile] -sort of the couple's third child- is competing this year for the Golden Shell at the Basque film festival.
Cineuropa: This film is different from your previous works.
Benjamín Naishtat: It would be questionable to repeat the same thing over and over again, and incredibly boring, for both the poor audience and for yourself. The changes in life also bring their own nuances and interests, but I’ve always enjoyed watching comedy, I love it as a genre and I like to do what I like to see. So, it was a challenge to shoot a comedy and it came naturally with Maria. It was a good genre to tackle heavy, serious subjects such as death, philosophy, the crisis of the state, etc. all made more digestible with comic lightness.
Does the protagonist represent the typical Argentinean or any person in the world, with their neuroses and fears?
B.N.: We didn't intend for him to represent everyone. I recently saw Nanni Moretti's latest film, which I really liked, especially the scene where he takes a project to a platform and they tell him that it has to work in 190 countries; he’s left wondering and doesn't know how to achieve that. You write about what you know. The teachers in Puan are our world, because Maria studied philosophy and my father is a professor of philosophy at the university. Puan is the name of a street in Buenos Aires, but Chekhov said "paint your village and you paint the world". Surely people have some Puan in their lives and some prototype of Marcelo and Rafael, these characters, one more stagnant and the other more seductive. These are social prototypes that are everywhere.
And why did you decide to close the camera’s iris at the end of some shots? To give it a Buster Keaton feel?
María Alché: Absolutely, we knew that the film was going to have a plain and simple language. We were going to shoot it quickly and that's what we agreed with the cinematographer. The trick with the iris as a reminiscence of something burlesque, of silent, elementary, funny and light-hearted cinema that already put you in a tone. And we did it mechanically, by hand, as it was done in silent celluloid. We had to build a motor, but it was so exciting to do it live, which was important to us.
The film is a co-production between your country and several European countries.
M.A.: With France, Germany, Italy and Brazil. It's the only way to make a technically sound independent feature film in Argentina today... because local funding is very difficult.
But there are many films from your country in this festival...
B.N.: There’s creativity and desire, an incredible capacity to make. We work without pay and I don't know how long we can continue in these precarious conditions to sustain the level of Argentinean cinema. I’m concerned about the bill, that there may be ambition from production and today the model is in crisis.
But you have had previous contacts with foreign production companies.
M.A.: Yes, connections have developed. It's how we make films, with pre-sales and pre-agreements for distribution, which helps us to get grants, and this way we fill the piggy bank with coins which allows us to make the film. And it will be distributed in the co-producing countries. We also had talents from various parts of the world joining the team.
How did you divide up the co-directing duties?
B.N.: Before filming we had planned to split up the scenes, but in the last days of pre-production we realised that none of us wanted to miss anything, because we were happy to film, so we spent the whole time doing everything. It forces you to think three times as much as you would have thought from that lonely, tyrannical place of directing a film.
The film also talks about the importance of education.
M.A.: It opens up questions about how we are educated, what for, what content we study... and at the same time there is a strong support for the cause of public education as a meeting place and of social mobility, without which Argentina would’ve been nothing.
(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)
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