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BERLINALE 2024 Forum

Macu Machín • Director of The Undergrowth

"My aim was to show how love can be expressed in the strangest ways"

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- BERLINALE 2024: The Canarian filmmaker talks to us about her debut feature, a personal story about inheritance and entrenched family conflicts

Macu Machín  • Director of The Undergrowth

In her first feature film, The Undergrowth [+see also:
film review
interview: Macu Machín
film profile
]
, the Canarian filmmaker Macu Machín takes us to her family's orchards in La Palma. Starring her mother and aunts, the film navigates between documentary and fiction to tell a universal story about forgotten women and family conflicts that boil like magma beneath the surface. The film was presented in the Forum section of the 74th Berlinale, where we spoke to the director about the film’s production and how she wanted to show a different perspective of the region and its people.

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Cineuropa: What initially motivated you to make this film with your mother and aunts?
Macu Machín: It came out of a personal need that I myself was unaware of until I went to live in Buenos Aires. 10,000 kilometres away from my homeland, there were many questions about my roots. The emptiness of not having my family around made me think and fabricate a lot. I suddenly felt a strong desire to return to the countryside, to the village where I spent my childhood summers. I thought it was a wonderful excuse to get my family back together and have a good laugh at our human miseries.

The conflict narrated in the film is something your family had recently experienced. What was it like working with the protagonists?
In 2018 I went with a camera and a recorder with the intention of collecting the different seasons of the land and recovering some anecdotes. Ever since I was a child, I remember that there was this issue over the inheritance, like a magma that is just waiting to come to the surface at some point. Luckily, that was "solved" before we started shooting. The film was about re-enacting it, about going through what was so uncomfortable for them.

The initial script consisted of transcripts of what I’d been recording, but then it all came naturally. We never rehearsed with them beforehand; they didn't even read the script. I didn't want them to feel the burden of carrying the film. Every morning, during shooting, I would suggest scenes and then we would see what happened. They were very long takes, where we were looking for different ways for something real to emerge, for the emotions, the responses, the reactions, the silences and the glances to be what I recognised from them.

It started from the distribution of an inheritance, but in reality, the land is worthless.
Yes, for me it was a MacGuffin. It is more a need to identify with that little piece of land, with four stones, with an almond tree. On the other hand, there are old grudges that we don't understand where they come from, no matter how much we love each other. And I didn’t want to reveal everything as if it were a psychoanalysis session. My aim was to show how love can be expressed in the strangest ways. To show that fragility, that vulnerability, that complexity.

We have the volcano as a metaphor for all this. How much of it was by chance or was it something you had already built into the story?
The volcano was already present in the script. Nature played a very important part. It was the fourth protagonist, that would somehow express everything that the characters couldn’t say in words. When we were getting ready to shoot after a break, the volcano on La Palma erupted. I was at home with my mother and we immediately bought a ticket. It was a very intense experience. It hits you hard because it affects your family and many neighbours you know. My main concern was to incorporate it in an organic, intimate way, on the same scale as everything that was happening.

In this sense, we see a clear desire to portray the islands in a different way, shifting away from a foreign gaze.
I think it comes naturally. In my work, I’ve been constantly reflecting on these tensions between the region and the inhabitants of the islands. I need to decolonise how we are seen and have been replicated. We have a wonderful climate, but we don't live in a set. I want to continue making films in my family's orchards, to capture those tensions and memories of the intimate and anonymous scenery. It’s part of a reflection that I’ve been exploring with audiovisuals for years.

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(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)

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