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Spain / Italy / Mexico

Alessandro Pugno • Director of Animal/Humano

“I wanted to capture the tragic side of these two characters, who are predestined to meet, who arrive in the arena and who become cogs in this theatre”


- We met with the director to chat about his movie which is shot in Italy and Spain, and which explores bullfighting and empathy between humans and animals

Alessandro Pugno • Director of Animal/Humano

Originally from Piedmont and a resident in Madrid for many years now, Alessandro Pugno is touring the world with his first fiction film, Animale/Umano [+see also:
interview: Alessandro Pugno
film profile
, which follows an Italian child who dreams about becoming a torero, and a calf which is born in Andalucia, who are destined to meet in the bullfighting arena. After taking its first bow in Mar De Plata and subsequently screening in Seville, Moscow and Beijing, the film has been selected for the 42nd Bellaria Film Festival, where we met with the director.

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Cineuropa: What was your initial inspiration for the film?
Alessandro Pugno:
I saw a photo online of a torero who seemed full of regret when faced with the bull, and that led me to wonder about empathy between humans and animals. The photo turned out to be a fake, it had been photoshopped, but it gave me the idea for a parallel story about a child who wants to be a torero and a calf which is destined to be a fighting bull. It had something of an ancient tragedy about it.

Were you interested in the bullfighting world? Were you familiar with it?
No, until then I’d never seen a bullfight, I had to do some research. I interviewed aspiring bullfighters, mostly in bullfighting schools - which are also attended by a few Italians - to understand what it was that brought them there. I realised they were all moved by something spiritual; they said that bullfighters are like gods, they dance with death. I also visited a ranch for fighting bulls and I realised that parallels could be drawn between their lives and those of humans – the separation from the mother, friendship, fighting, the struggle for survival, fear. It was there that I realised a film was possible.

The protagonist’s family has a funeral parlour business; his childhood brings him into close contact with death. “I want to be a torero because that’s how I want to die”, he says. But why a torero?
I experienced something similar in my own childhood, especially when it came to reflecting upon the physical objects involved in funeral businesses, which almost trivialise death and make it cold and meaningless. But the death you see on TV, in town squares, is a meaningful one - it’s spectacular. On the one hand, there are forms to fill out, coffins to line… On the other, there’s the bright light of the arena, Seville. I also wanted to link bullfighting to death from the outset: when you read biographies by bullfighters, you realise that death is something they’ve always experienced in childhood and adolescence, which has turned them into what they are today.

How did you choose the format and the film’s visual aspect?
I chose 4:3 because I wanted to focus on my protagonists; using 16:9 might have shifted the focus onto the landscapes in Cadiz and Seville. 4:3 forces you to compose something; you have to choose what to include in the frame. I also wanted to go a bit abstract and create a fairy tale, in a certain sense. In recent films, you often see the protagonist followed by a handheld camera, but I wanted to create the idea of a vision. As for the colours, I sought out pastel tones, and light. My director of photography and I decided to use a wide-angled lens for close-ups, to lend plenty of flexibility to the protagonist’s face [Editor’s note: the protagonist is played as a teen by English-Spanish actor Guillermo Bedward], with his pronounced nose and cheekbones. He makes me think of a Flemish painting. Painting has always been my point of reference.

The subject of bullfighting is a very polemic one in Spain. Were you worried about venturing into this spiny territory?
On the one hand, the film sought to capture a phenomenon which belongs to a philosophy and to ancient bullfighting values which, for some reason, have survived in this modern world which has a totally different attitude towards animals. I wanted to capture a period of momentous change: we’re not yet in a new world, but we’re not in the ancient world either. There’s also this paradoxical reality: these breeders love their bulls. Ultimately, they’re one of the least overworked animals: they enjoy a free-roaming life for four years, every so often humans subject them to a few trials, there’s a selection process… They love them, but their role is to help them to win and die in the arena: it’s a paradox. But my film is also about compassion: these animals haven’t chosen to play the “baddie”, and you also wonder how free the bullfighters actually are to make decisions about their own life when they’ve been faced with such dramatic events. I wanted to capture the tragic side of these two characters, who are predestined to meet, who arrive in the arena and who become cogs in this theatre.

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(Translated from Italian)

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