My cruel fairy tale
by Camillo de Marco
16/03/2006 - Isabel Coixet’s latest film, The Secret Life of Words, is a heart-rending story laced with delicate humour, about an unusual relationship between a severely burned oil rig worker and a taciturn nurse who is able to share with him the profoundly deep wounds from the horrors she experienced during the war in the Balkans. "Ultimately, this story is a fairy tale. There is a woman whose baggage of suffering is unbearable, but who finds her prince charming on that rig", said the Catalan director. The Secret Life of Words [trailer, film focus] won four Goyas (Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Art Direction), Spain’s top film awards. It is now being released in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Japan and the US, and will also screen at the Sarajevo Film Festival this summer.
Cineuropa: Why did you choose to take on a “forgotten” theme, like the war in the Balkans?
Isabel Coixet: I was obsessed by the war while it was raging. One day, I was overcome by the desire to go to Sarajevo, to do something. I didn’t have the courage to do it, but from that moment on, I began gathering information. A documentary came about two years ago, for the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), which allowed me to get to know the drama of the women who lived through this situation. It is necessary to speak about it. I didn’t want to talk about the context of war and society, but the atrocity that suddenly strikes two women.
How did this cast come about, which includes Sarah Polley and an extraordinarily expressive Tim Robbins?
Very naturally. I thought of them as I was writing. Sarah Polley, whom I’d already directed in My Life Without Me [trailer] , is the best actress of her generation, she can play any character. Robbins was like a dream, I thought he wouldn’t accept. I thought he was perfect, a man who has a lot of experience behind him and knows the world. A week after he received the script he called me and said, “When do we start?".
The silent moments, the characters’ isolation, are very important in the film.
For her, they’re a kind of defence mechanism. Just as cynicism is for him. I wanted to create a unique, alienated intimacy, which could knock down those walls. I wanted the muteness to become a stream of words. I met a lot of women who had lived through things that were much worse than those in the film and what always surprised me is that many of them survive these experiences, some of them even holding onto their joy.
The two female characters, played by Sarah Polley and Julie Christie, are very strong.
Julie plays Inge Genefke, a Danish doctor and one of the founders of the IRCT, who for over twenty years has dedicated herself to the rehabilitation of torture victims and the battle against torture itself. She is an extraordinary woman, who recently worked on Abu Grahib and Guantanamo. I wanted to include her in the film because as long as there are women like her, there is hope that the world can become a better place.
Pedro Almodòvar is your producer for the second time in a row. What kind of relationship do you have with him?
I’ve always admired Almodòvar as a director, but now that I’m an “adult”, we have a direct relationship and we often argue. He never agrees with me, but he respects my opinion, my point of view and, subsequently, my films.