Juan Antonio Bayona • Director
“A director needs to seek out and reveal the truth”
by Alfonso Rivera
- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2016: J.A. Bayona, director of The Impossible, has premiered his third film, A Monster Calls, which once again boasts a huge budget and Hollywood stars among its cast
A Monster Calls [+see also:
interview: Juan Antonio Bayona
film profile] stars Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and Lewis MacDougall, another child that director Juan Antonio Bayona has taken under his wing. The filmmaker is used to dealing with childhood-related topics, thanks to his two previous box-office smashes, The Orphanage [+see also:
film profile] and The Impossible [+see also:
interview: Juan Antonio Bayona
Cineuropa: Do you feel under pressure after the smash hit that was The Impossible?
J A Bayona: After the success of my first films, I wanted to figure out why they worked so well: what was it about them that clicked with the audience? I started reading about the meaning of stories, how they work, and about the psychoanalysis of fairy tales, and I really got sucked in. Then the book A Monster Calls appeared on the scene, and I thought it could be an official way for me to start working on that, since I liked the analogy between the main character’s need to tell the truth and the director’s need to seek it out and reveal it.
The screenplay stems from a very sensitive and tough subject matter; how did you handle that?
That was the most difficult thing. Siobhan Dowd was a children’s author who always wrote from a very respectful angle, and when she found out she was ill, she decided to write a book so that the little ones could get to grips with the feeling of loss. What Patrick Ness did was take possession of the story, and I did the same with his tale, looking for the light at the end of the tunnel: I added in the idea of the legacy, which is passed down from parents to their children.
Does this movie round off a Bayona trilogy about family?
I didn’t plan it like that; it just turned out that way. In Mediterranean culture, family is really important – it’s at the core of everything. I was really taken by the idea of the truth, like in The Impossible, where the characters cannot afford to tell lies, because it wouldn’t help their chances of survival; and here, the illness is a countdown that forces the characters to face the truth. That’s what the film is about: being able to express the truth.
You also talk about facing up to life, come what may, don’t you?
I was interested in the dialectic of yes and no: in this world, people are increasingly told that things have to be black or white, and that’s why I felt the need to tell the audience that they can be both things at the same time. That contradiction releases the humanity that ends up piecing together the emotional map of the characters. And I also wanted the audience to come up with their own interpretation of the story.
How did you go about designing the monster?
I didn’t want the creature to grab more attention than the story, and nor did I want the special effects to overpower the scenes with the human characters. So we tried to build a monster that was as simple as possible, starting with the idea of the purity of a male figure: the idea that this would also be the man that Conor, the kid in the film, would become. So we wanted to design it as a black silhouette, and we built a life-size head, arms and a foot, and the textures were applied in 3D, which works really well: despite this array of special effects, they never eclipsed what was going on in the shot, and that was reassuring for me.
(Translated from Spanish)
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