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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2020 Zabaltegi-Tabakalera

Juan Cavestany • Director of An Optical Illusion

"Reality has lived up to my films"


- It proved impossible to have just your everyday chat with Juan Cavestany, a highly unconventional auteur who is presenting his latest film, An Optical Illusion, at the San Sebastián Film Festival

Juan Cavestany • Director of An Optical Illusion
(© Montse Castillo/Festival de San Sebastián)

Juan Cavestany (Madrid, 1967) has written, produced and directed An Optical Illusion [+see also:
film review
interview: Juan Cavestany
film profile
, an utterly unclassifiable film starring Carmen Machi and Pepón Nieto. The man behind People in Places [+see also:
film profile
talked to us in his hotel in San Sebastián, as a few hours later, his latest feature was due to be presented in the edgy Zabaltegi-Tabakalera section of the 68th San Sebastián Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: During the press screening of An Optical Illusion, a couple of people could be heard talking about the movie and labelling it an “experimental film”...
Juan Cavestany:
I’m happy about that because that’s the support scheme we applied for from the ICAA. Because of its size, the film wasn’t eligible for selective support, so we tried to submit it for the experimental aid, and I spent two days writing exactly why it was experimental. I do think it has something experimental about it, although there are shades of experimentation... The screenplay has evolved a great deal since I wrote it years ago. We also improvised during the shoot, and when the pandemic hit in the middle of editing, we made a lot of changes during the edit. And what the protagonists see on the television: some things make sense while others don’t. I’m beginning to get an awareness of what people think of the movie. Some ask me, “What is this thing you’ve made?”, whereas it’s crystal clear for others.

But it’s not a film in the conventional sense…
No, it’s not conventional. And, as always happens when you watch a film, if you let yourself go with the flow, it’s an easy watch, but if you start questioning it from the start, well, it’s not.

Which do you like more: mortadella or morcilla [traditional black pudding] from Burgos?
Putting that in the film was pretty experimental: we filmed a lot of shots of mortadella in a butcher’s shop, but as we were on our way to give back the camera, we passed a delicatessen and we asked if we could shoot the cold meats close-up. It was a proper guerrilla-filmmaking moment. The truth is, I have absolutely no idea why it occurred to me to make poor Carmen Machi eat so much mortadella.

Are there any bridges that Juan Cavestany refuses to pass under?
Not too far from here, there’s one that really scares me. And bank holiday weekends [called “puentes”, or “bridges”, in Spanish], like the ones we have in Spain in December to celebrate the Immaculate Conception, or in October – I can’t be bothered with them. I want them to be over and done with quickly, and they’re tedious because you end up sitting around doing nothing for their entire duration. Those “bridges” are on my blacklist.

Would you consider yourself a “queer fish”?
I’m afraid so: I’m very shy, and I get really embarrassed by what other people say about me. But I think I’m more like a little puppy who’s just there playing with his curios. It makes me so miserable when someone asks me what I’ve taken or asks me for the phone number of my drug dealer. I’m horrified by that vision: that what I do is perceived as some kind of boutade or flashy display.

Do you miss the Twin Towers in New York?
The first time I showed the film to people, a friend of mine was so taken aback that when they appeared in that shot, he asked me, “Did you shoot the movie before they collapsed?” Yes, to a certain extent, I do miss the part of my youth I spent living in that city, although you always tend to mythologise the past.

What was the worst trip of your life? Where did you go or with whom?
I went to Morocco with two friends of mine who were a couple, so then I was the third wheel, and in addition to that, it was a country that made me terribly anxious: I was tense the whole time with the people who follow you around constantly and the great sense of mystery it holds. There are also those trips with your partner when everything goes pear-shaped, and after living in NYC for years, I came back to the city later on and wondered, “What am I doing here?” Because I was so obsessed with the idea of living there forever, and when I came back from Madrid to this place where I felt I had invested so much… It was like I arrived there and felt nothing of that any more. Perhaps that was the germ of my film.

What period of your life would it terrify you to be trapped in, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day?
From the end of July until the end of August this year, until we left Madrid yesterday, I’d been experiencing this creeping feeling of fear and disorientation as if I were stuck in a loop, because of what was happening. I’m really scared: if you have to suspend your disbelief to watch a film, now you have to suspend that particular tool in real life itself.

Has reality trumped the fiction of Juan Cavestany?
Yes, or at least it has lived up to it.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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