Óscar Aibar • Director
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Barcelona-born director Óscar Aibar presented his latest feature, The Great Vázquez, at the latest edition of Rome’s MedFilmFest, of cinema from the Mediterranean region. This biopic of legendary comic book artist Manuel Vázquez has enjoyed remarkable success among audiences in Spain. It screened in official competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival and last weekend won Best Screenplay at the Monte Carlo Film Festival.
Starting point for The Great Vázquez
Like many other film directors of my generation, I started out as a cartoon scriptwriter. In this world, people only talked about one thing, Vázquez. They were always telling you about Vázquez’s latest trick, the latest prank he’d got up to. I had the honour of working with him on the underground magazine Makoki. A fat uncle, with an almost poverty-stricken appearance, the legendary author of comics like Anacleto, The Gilda Sisters... I started to fill notebooks, hoping that if someday nobody told this story I’d have to do it. It’s an absolutely incredible story of the most incredible human being I’ve ever met.
The life of Vázquez
There’s enough for ten films about Vázquez. The film contains his most important anecdotes, but I didn’t want to limit myself to a series of funny jokes. Instead, I wanted to look in more depth at the collateral damage. In order to live as you desire and rebel daily against an authoritarian system, you have to pay a price. I make viewers live like Vázquez for an hour and then I ask them: Was it worth living like this? I use Vázquez as a pretext for this.
The importance of Santiago Segura in the role of Vázquez
Santiago Segura and I met when we were making comics. We’ve always talked about Vázquez and we decided to revive him during the shoot for another film. I think he’s the obvious actor to play Vázquez. He’s the third choice after Paco Rabal and Tony Leblanc in The Swindlers. Santiago is the most worthy heir to that type of cinema. There are great comedy actors who have changed register. It’s very interesting when you take off a clown’s mask and you make him strike sadder notes. I really like Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, starring Jerry Lewis. I played with that idea. Everybody knows the Santiago Segura of Torrente and we wanted him to strike other notes. He had never kissed a woman, he had never held a baby in his arms. One of the most surprising things is seeing a totally different Santiago.
Barcelona in the 1960s
One thing which makes Vázquez an absolutely exceptional author is that he turned his life into a work of art. He creates a character called Uncle Vázquez and he draws what happens to him. He breaks down the distinction between reality and fiction. In the film, I wanted to break down that boundary by creating a look similar to the four-colour processes of the Bruguera comics of the 1960s. But there are very realistic moments. We’ve depicted the Barcelona where Ibáñez, Escobar and Vázquez lived. The 1960s is a recent era but it’s very difficult to find those places. Irene, the art director, carried out a meticulous search both to track down private car collections and locate a certain bar that hasn’t been knocked down yet. The 1960s are very pretty, something I only noticed in the movies and photos of when I was a child. Recreating that era was exciting.
Popular culture in Spain
English-speaking countries are very good at selling their popular culture. In Spain, people still think that something Spanish is bad. There are really good things. Just today Luis García Berlanga has died, perhaps the best Spanish film director of all time. It’s a matter of reclaiming those really good films. As for its atmosphere, The Great Vázquez is very Spanish. I like to see the film’s reception abroad and that the audience understands everything very well, how people used to live in that grey era, what life was like for cartoonists. The human story of Vázquez is universal. That man who rebels daily against the established order and, on top of it all, expresses this in his work. There are Vázquezes in all countries across the world.