David and Álex Pastor • Directors of The Occupant
"When it comes to pandemics, history tends to repeat itself, unfortunately"
- Today sees the Netflix release of The Occupant, the new thriller by David and Álex Pastor, who already broached the subject of epidemics in two of their previous films, Carriers and The Last Days
Thanks to the wonders of technology, we were able to chat – from Madrid – with David Pastor, who currently finds himself in Barcelona, his birth place, and Álex Pastor, who lives in the USA, a country where this duo of filmmakers have resided for the last few years, directing both TV series and movies. They returned to Spain to shoot The Occupant [+see also:
interview: David and Álex Pastor
film profile], a psychological suspense flick starring Javier Gutiérrez, Mario Casas, Ruth Díaz and Bruna Cusí, which is released worldwide today, 25 March, via Netflix.
Cineuropa: Did making The Occupant necessarily entail returning to your home?
David Pastor: When we have an idea, we ask ourselves: “Is it for a TV series or for a film?” and “Is it for the USA or for Spain?” Because we like our stories to give a strong impression of place and to belong to a certain country’s reality. In this case, we wanted to shoot it in Barcelona because we knew that if we had written it in English, the first memo we would have got from a US executive would have been: “I like it, but can you tell the story from the point of view of that young couple who move into an apartment and who find themselves threatened by an intruder?” They would have wanted the traditional point of view found in US cinema, that of the people under threat, whereas we wanted to tell the tale from the perspective of the person posing the threat. And we wanted to portray Spain and life in Spain after the crisis, with people being replaced by kids who do the same job for four euros.
It’s true that in successful US thrillers, the story is always told from the point of view of the “good guys”, but in The Occupant, you switch over to the dark side. That’s a fairly risky thing to do: how do you manage to get the audience to empathise with a malicious protagonist?
Álex Pastor: That was the challenge and one of the main appeals of making the film: toying with the empathy that inevitably arises in the first act of the movie, and from then on, seeing to what extent we could push the viewer to continue sympathising with him, and at what point he or she would shrink back in horror, thinking, “This person I’ve been identifying with is capable of reaching extremes that are utterly reprehensible.” It’s about giving them understandable motivations: the audience should be able to see themselves in the humiliation that the character goes through, in the feeling of failure and having lost everything. But how far are they willing to go to get back everything they’ve lost? Therein lies the fascination: we feel horrified, but at the same time, we feel attracted by a person who is able to transgress social boundaries, which we are tempted to violate but don’t actually dare to.
You have stated that The Occupant is about desire and ambition: perhaps these are two scourges that we were already suffering from. Is The Occupant a morality tale?
DP: More than that, it’s an amorality tale, as it’s cruel and ruthless in a sense, because we don’t resort to moralising, to punishing the baddies and rewarding the goodies. It’s more a reflection of the world, where kindness sometimes goes unrewarded.
Finally, it’s impossible to neglect the fact that you were prophetic with two of your films: Carriers (2009) and The Last Days [+see also:
interview: Àlex and David Pastor
film profile] (2013). It would seem that the saying “Reality is stranger than fiction” has finally caught up with us...
DP: They were fiction films to a certain extent. With Carriers, we read up on what happened during the 1918 pandemic. Many things in the movie stemmed from true stories; we brought them into the present day, and now, unfortunately, history is repeating itself.
ÁP: When you research topics like that, you realise that many experts have been warning of potential catastrophes. For example, Los Angeles has spent decades waiting for the earthquake that will bring about its destruction. It’s going to happen one day, but no one knows when, and the citizens carry on acting as if nothing was ever going to happen. The same thing happens with a pandemic: when we wrote Carriers, we were at the height of the bird-flu crisis. In the end, it didn’t explode like COVID-19, but it could have been just as bad, and people took it as a joke because it seemed like an exaggeration, even though the scientists had been saying that it would happen one day. And that’s what we’re going through now.
(Translated from Spanish)
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