León Siminiani • Director
“You have to be willing to let the film find its way”
by Alfonso Rivera
- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018: Spanish director León Siminiani has presented his new film, Notes For a Heist Film, a return to his unique blend of experimentation, reality and fiction
With the support of producer and distributor Avalon, León Siminiani spent nearly five years working on his second film, Notes For a Heist Film [+see also:
interview: León Siminiani
film profile], which has finally been unveiled in the New Directors section at the 66th San Sebastián International Film Festival. Shrouded in secrecy, the project has been surrounded by an understandable buzz of anticipation in light of the accolades and commendations heaped on his previous documentary, Mapa [+see also:
film profile], at various contests and festivals since its 2012 release.
Cineuropa: How did audiences in the first screenings respond to the unique set-up of your latest film?
León Siminiani: In the discussion following the first screening, people asked me about the tone of the film and the fact that it treats very serious subjects with irony. I explained that the tone emerged naturally from the nature of my relationship with the protagonist, Flako, and that in the second half and towards the end I wanted it to be more sombre and serious. Apart from the fact that we’re dealing with criminal acts, all of the underlying emotional and psychoanalytical issues that he inherited from his father were coming to the surface, and that felt very serious to me. The film intentionally starts out on a more playful, experimental note, to later become a more traditional documentary, more sober and reflective. That’s a reflection of our relationship, because Flako is a very chatty and jokey kind of guy, but when we get deeper into conversation, his inner emotions start to come out.
Would you say that Notes For a Heist Film begins where Mapa left off, and ends in a new place altogether?
Yes. The idea was to continue in the same subjective style —in the first person, like the film diary in Mapa — but I wanted to get out of my own head and focus on someone else, and in this case that someone else was Flako. It became all the more potent because of Flako’s personality; with a documentary, you have to be willing to let the film take on a life of its own and to explore the new paths that open up as you go, which can sometimes be better. I didn’t understand that before, because I’m a control freak and I like having everything all planned out, but with Flako it became clear. I had my plan, which was to make a kind of essay on the hold-up film, but as I got to know him, he started to take up more and more space. So, in the middle of the film I decided to pass the baton to Flako and to make him the narrator, which up until that point was my greatest strength in the kind of films I make.
Taking you right out of your comfort zone...
That’s the idea. In fact, I had already dabbled with it in the series El caso Asunta and the documentary series I’m doing for Netflix, on the Alcásser murder, where there’s no voiceover or anything like that. Since Mapa, I feel like I’m trying to come out of my shell — not necessarily out of my comfort zone, but out of the usual groove, certainly.
How did you originally envision the film’s structure, including the animation?
To begin with, as with Mapa, there was none of that. I was clear in my mind that my job was to document a character in absentia and then explain how I got to know him, visiting him in prison and spending some of his day releases with him. From that point, with the other elements like the animation and the graphics — I didn’t know I was going to use them, but later, during editing when we were putting the story together, these possibilities started to suggest themselves. I realised that in my mind I was very much influenced by the world of film noir, but that was absent from what I had filmed. So, I wanted to try to get that back; that was the initial impulse, and that’s where the animation comes in — like in a crime novel, and fragments of Spanish film noir — I wanted to connect all of that with the robberies that Flako committed in Madrid. In doing so I discovered that there’s a 1950s Spanish film noir tradition that’s very amenable to appropriation today.
Have you and Flako become fast friends?
Yes, in fact he’s writing a novel, called Esa maldita pared [This Cursed Wall], like the Bambino song. That’s going to allow him to go into his own story in a lot more depth. I’m trying to offer him some guidance; I advised him to work with the publisher and encouraged him to write about his life. Ultimately, the film tells the story of a return to society. I don’t want to judge him; I filmed his story because of his ability to move on from his crimes and reinvent himself as something new.
(Translated from Spanish)
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