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Valeria Sarmiento • Director

"I never intended to make the film as Raul would have made it"


- The Chilean director took over Lines of Wellington, her husband Raul Ruiz’ film project, after he died

Valeria Sarmiento • Director

Cineuropa met with director Valeria Sarmiento at the Venice Film Festival where she screened Lines of Wellington [+see also:
film review
interview: Valeria Sarmiento
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, a project on which her husband Raul Ruiz was working when he died in August 2011.

Cineuropa: At what stage was the project when you took it over from Raul Ruiz’ working table?
Valeria Sarmiento: Raul had received the script from Carlos Saboga and he had annotated it with three little changes that he had told him about. He had also made recommendations about the musical themes that he wanted the musicians to work on. Meanwhile, we had been to Lisbon on a few recces and he had made the most of it to choose some of the actors. He fell ill just afterwards and was not able to do any more.

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Did you set yourself a certain respect of his style in directing the film, by forbidding yourself from doing things that he would not have done?
We lived together for 40 years and I edited two thirds of his films. I am therefore very familiar with his style, but I never intended to make the film as Raul would have made it. I took his preparatory work into consideration, including the changes that he had asked for and the music that he had chosen, but apart from that, I made the film my own way.

And did you keep the actors that had already been chosen?
There were indeed some actors that Raul had already chosen. I kept them, but not necessarily in the same roles. We held a new casting call, to which we added actors loyal to Raul who wanted to pay homage to him by appearing in the film. We all thought of him a lot on the film set.

As a Chilean, to what extent did this story of Portugal’s invasion resonate with you?
For me, this historical episode is of course very distant. I therefore tried to tie together things that were more prone to involve my own feelings, such as the role of women in the film or my family’s experience during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. But, beyond the intimate connection, I wanted this film to inspire more general, political reflection. It’s important to remember that Europe was built on millions of dead bodies and, in these times of crisis, to make a film like this is also to make a political film.

In this story of resistance, the painter played by Vincent Perez is an artist who is not free to work as he wishes. Can we see this as a reference to the current situation of the Portuguese film industry?
It’s not easy to make films in Portugal at the moment, and we have been through the same situation in Latin America. This painter represents an artist with a personal vision confronted with a system that is holding him back. But the story of this Swiss painter, Henri Lévêque, is true. He was commissioned to paint landscapes before the troops arrived as a record of the territory. He was doing reconnaissance work. The production designer, Isabel Branco, was greatly inspired by these paintings for the artistic aspect of the film and its costumes. She reproduced the colour palette used by the painter.

Up to 75% of the film’s budget was provided by France, despite the French troops not being portrayed in a very flattering way in the film. Was this a problem?
No, on the contrary. The French tend to have completely forgotten this episode, and to remember the defeats in Spain and Russia instead. The Portuguese retreat is not even mentioned in history books, and the French who have seen the film thought it was rather informative. They didn’t react negatively to the French army’s cruelty and brutality shown in the film.

The television version will be longer. What did you cut out from it for the film?
On television, it will be three episodes of 55 minutes each. These will be broadcast for the first time ever at the San Sebastian Film Festival. The film’s construction is similar to that of the 1,001 Nights. I simply took out two stories to make the whole film shorter. It’s quite easy to do with a film like this.

What, according to you, is the most valuable thing that your husband ever taught you and that was the most useful when making this film?
Raul often told me that one should always shoot without leaving too many editing options open. This helped me a lot for this film and, as an editor myself, I only shot what was necessary. A week after the end of shooting, we already had the first version of the film, which then didn’t change much. This is how Raul worked. He was a sort of genius who made 50 films and always had the editing clear in his head when he left the film set.

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