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Joaquín Oristrell • Director

“Our work consists of bearing witness to the moment we’re living in”


- Catalan filmmaker Joaquín Oristrell is on the offensive again with the militant Hablar, a film that condemns social disorder

Joaquín Oristrell  • Director

Catalan filmmaker Joaquín Oristrell is on the offensive again with the militant Hablar [+see also:
film review
interview: Joaquín Oristrell
film profile
, a film that condemns social disorder, shot as a single, long take and with around 20 actor friends ad-libbing. The movie opened the recent Málaga Film Festival and is now landing in Spanish theatres.

Cineuropa: In your 2003 film We Hereby Sign, you were already using this method of drawing on friends to condemn a political situation, which in that case was the Iraq War.
Joaquín Oristrell: Yes, I like working with improvisation with the actors, and I like them to be the ones responsible for the text, for what they want to narrate. When you suggest that they paint a portrait of modern-day Spain, some want to talk about corruption, others about poverty, or the lack of work-related benefits…

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Was there a filtering process through which you selected certain topics, so that they would not be repeated?
Initially, we suggested that they take part in this long shot: they all got on board because they’re crazy and they really love their work and were fascinated by the idea of making the movie in a single take. I asked them to send me their suggestions. I spent three months waiting, and nothing came, because they’re lazy, but then they started to arrive: first of all from Juan Diego Botto and his family, and the rest found it harder, but they gradually started arriving. And I gave the last ones a script that I had already written. It was a fusion of both things, but quite well put together. It was a jigsaw, and we kept changing it right up until the shoot happened. In a week, the actors arrived and we shut ourselves away to start improvising. Then, the shoot was just a matter of logistics, thanks to Javier Soto, my assistant director, who adopted a military-like discipline to ensure that everyone came in at the right time and in the right place.

Were there any actors who were left out?
Some of them really wanted to do it and couldn’t, like Paco León, and others signed up at the last minute: I thought they were going to back out, that we weren’t going to have this great cast, but no, it turned out fine.

Because together with People in Places [+see also:
film profile
, by Juan Cavestany, your film has one of the best casts in Spanish cinema…
Yes, and they are two low-budget movies. In this case, there was a budget because I had to pay the crew and there was post-production (colour grading, sound effects, recording the music, promotion and advertising), which all added up to more than I had expected; it’s not like that of a mainstream film, but it was a big risk for the producers because initially, we didn’t think that this was going to end up being a movie – it was quite an experience.

Would it have been impossible to shoot it without digital technology?
Without an Epic camera, yes, which has great sensitivity for night shots. If you had to film that on celluloid, you would have to light up the whole street and shut the road off to traffic… so that was impossible. The famous shots from Touch of Evil were filmed on a set and took weeks to prepare.

Hablar is a battle cry railing against the disorder we are suffering, and it doesn’t seem likely to come to an end…
People tell me it’s about the crisis, but I say it’s about the astonishment it has left in its wake: when you start to see people being burgled and you ask yourself, “Who is taking care of me? And who is taking care of my health, my education, my pension?” That generates widespread stupefaction, which stems from helplessness, and that makes people talk a lot and listen very little, because we are a nation that doesn’t listen. We are so lost… I felt like depicting characters who have no idea where they’re headed. I wanted to talk about this emotional moment we’re living through, which is so strange and unique.

Would this film have come up in another time and place?
This film is totally of this moment. That is one of our jobs: bearing witness to the moment, but turning reality into drama or comedy; fiction overlaps with reality. The portraits of a particular period are painted through fiction, and that stirs up empathy: that depiction ends up staying in people’s minds.

(Translated from Spanish)

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