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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018 Competition

Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Isabel Peña • Director, screenwriter

"We took the risk of talking about this issue because society is more and more ready for it"


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018: Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen and co-writer Isabel Peña talk about The Realm, which is bringing Spain’s political corruption scandal into the battle for the Golden Shell

Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Isabel Peña  • Director, screenwriter
(© Lorenzo Pascasio)

Two years after scooping the Best Screenplay Award for May God Save Us [+see also:
film review
interview: Rodrigo Sorogoyen
film profile
, director Rodrigo Sorogoyen and trusty writing partner Isabel Peña have returned to the San Sebastián International Film Festival with their latest offering, The Realm [+see also:
film review
interview: Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Isabel P…
film profile
. Starring Antonio de la Torre, the film is a plunge into the corruption-riddled underbelly of politics, a topic that has been making headlines in Spain for some time now.

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Cineuropa: At what point did you decide that what you were watching on the news in Spain would be material for your next film?
Rodrigo Sorogoyen:
Our decision came out of the anger that all ordinary people felt when all those corruption cases started to come to light, at a very tumultuous time. We could also see the cinematic potential of the situation because it had all the makings of a thriller; fascinating characters, treachery... Human drama, too: if a wealthy person, someone who has everything and thinks he’s the most powerful guy in the world, suddenly gets thrown in jail because of something he’s done, he’s got to feel like a total loser. There was a lot of potential in all of that.

Do you feel that Spanish filmmakers have neglected this issue?
Yes, insofar as, when we started to think about it, we realised that there haven’t been many films like this in Spain, or at least not ones that deal with current events. I think we’ll start to see more of them —that we’ll start to talk about these things. I don’t mean to credit ourselves with starting the conversation, but the opposite: in the end, we took the risk of talking about this issue because society is more and more ready for it.

Isabel Peña: In fact, we’re not the first — B [+see also:
film profile
 by David Ilundain is a magnificent and very brave film, made in 2015. We don’t think it will stop here, and if it didn’t that would be a great sign of a healthy democracy.

The film is a scathing example of everything that’s happening in Spain at the moment. What was it like researching the screenplay, given that all of this is still very raw and current?
We kept the news on all the time — we watched it together and took notes, we read a lot of newspapers, listened to a lot of radio... We listened over and over to the recordings from hidden microphones and read lots of books of investigative journalism on corruption. We were very lucky to be personally acquainted with judges, journalists, politicians, business people... We took all that and condensed it. It took quite a long time, and even after the script was practically finalised we kept meeting with people, because why stop if you don’t have to? Besides, we had Antonio de la Torre on our side, and he’s a fantastic ambassador.

Is it possible to talk of meaningful similarities between characters in the film and real people?
It makes me laugh to think about a “spot the difference” game — find the politician hidden under the mask. Besides, if we said that, it would be easy to manipulate the information we’re dealing with. We’ve decided to try to avoid names or labels; otherwise, we’d have made a film based directly on real life or a major documentary.

R.S.: We very quickly realised that we didn’t want to tie ourselves to certain names. For example, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas is a great film because any viewer can say, that could happen to me. If you make a film about Al Capone, then it’s a film about Al Capone.

Precisely for that reason, the fact that the politician is just like everyone else, might some people find it less clear-cut?
R.S.: Of course. Politicians are human beings first, and anyone can end up involved in politics. You’re not born a politician because you have a tendency to lie and steal. Public opinion is very mixed, but there’s a certain convenience and mental laziness that makes it very easy to say, “Oh no, this has nothing to do with me.”

Perhaps your desire to making these events more universal has contributed to international interest in the film, given that you’ve had co-producers in France right from the start of the project. How did that come about?
R.S.: Our co-producers, Le Pacte, had distributed May God Save Us in France and it went very well, and they wanted to know more about our latest project. They read the screenplay and were enthusiastic about it. They saw something picturesque in The Realm, but something universal as well. We’re actually keeping them on board as co-producers for our next film, too. It’s interesting how everyone thinks that foreign films are better, including us. Suddenly, we’re getting the special treatment in France, they’re telling us that our films are amazing and that they don’t make anything like that at home and they don’t know why. Meanwhile, we’re telling them that French filmmakers are a thousand times better at this kind of thing. It’s an injustice we do to ourselves — the “poverty complex”, as Antonio de la Torre calls it.

(Translated from Spanish)

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