Jaime Rosales • Director
“It can end up being very difficult to make the viewer happy”
- CANNES 2018: Spanish filmmaker Jaime Rosales is back in the Directors’ Fortnight with Petra, a striking tragedy that boasts a magnificent cast
Jaime Rosales (Barcelona, 1970) knows the inner workings of a huge event such as the Cannes Film Festival only too well: he is presenting one of his films on the Croisette for the fifth time (this time in the Directors’ Fortnight). This year it is Petra [+see also:
interview: Jaime Rosales
film profile], a violent and hard-hitting family drama, starring Bárbara Lennie, Álex Brendemühl and the great Marisa Paredes.
Cineuropa: Is Petra a change in comparison to your previous films?
Jaime Rosales: Yes, a change in concept: some of my movies had a theme at their core, and then I sought out the form from that, whereas here, I designed it all around the idea of the viewer. What kind of viewer do I find interesting, and what is that viewer interested in? I mapped out the film in order to reach that viewer and find a cinematic form that would be appropriate for the themes that gradually got incorporated into the movie. In terms of the budget, it’s similar to that of Solitary Fragments [+see also:
film profile], and it also has its own distinctive aesthetic characteristics, which are different from the others. For each film, I look for a form befitting it.
In the movie, the camera glides around, leaving empty spaces devoid of actors, where whoever’s watching can perhaps sense a ghostly presence…
Indeed, but I always referred to that ghostly presence as an angelic one: it’s like an angel who’s observing what’s going on with the humans, because it has a dual quality – it is both of this world and beyond it. It has an emotional point of view, but at the same time, it’s external and does not intervene in the characters’ fate. The whole movie is defined by that point of view, which, on a technical level, was achieved through sequence shots using Steadicam and filmed on 35mm CinemaScope.
The sound also stresses that aspect, with the a cappella voice…
Exactly. That idea of subjectivity, that presence that bears witness to the drama is also underlined via the sound, with that music used in much the same way as a presence that anticipates or approves, but does not underline any particular emotion.
Nor does the music particularly emphasise that this is a tragedy with a Greek flavour, including all the requisite ingredients: from a cruel demiurge to a righteous son…
Yes, from a dramatic point of view, Petra stems from two different roots: the idea of this girl who is looking for her unknown father, and then all of that classical structure that can be found from her mother’s death onwards, with her possible father, a type of Greek mythological figure with a huge capacity for destruction. In my films, I have two sources of inspiration: classic North American cinema and contemporary European cinema. However, the way things are going at the moment, American films have reached an extreme form of entertainment that’s too banal, like what’s happening to the Star Wars saga, while exactly the opposite is happening to European film, as it’s edging towards excessive radicalness and obscurity, even in Godard. You come across these films that are just too heavy going. There may be a viewer for whom cinema is a pleasant and enthralling experience, but who also wants to interpret it, albeit in a relatively straightforward way. And I’m enjoying the interpretations of my film that are surfacing now, as the topics do not tend to repeat themselves: I’ve managed to enable my work to be interpreted in various different ways.
Petra’s unusual structure has an important bearing on this act of interpreting it, as it’s divided into chapters that also push the action forwards…
It can end up being very difficult to make the viewer happy because if you give them too much, they reject the movie as being too easy, and if you give them too little, they do the same because it’s too obscure. You have to give them just enough, but not too much, and that’s a difficult balance to strike. The screenplay has an influence on that kind of architecture: instead of doing something too predictable, we break with linearity, and that already requires quite an effort to interpret, but we also try to encourage that effort: in those titles, we say in advance what’s going to happen, but not always. The audience enjoys this game of cat and mouse, which is very hard to implement in any satisfactory way. It required 20 versions of the screenplay, and the shoot was also complicated, as we were looking for camera movements that would also create an element of surprise. It was about finding something that would stimulate the audience’s intelligence, but which wouldn’t turn into some herculean task like climbing the Himalayas.
(Translated from Spanish)
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