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Spain

Guillermo Benet • Director of Los inocentes

“Nobody prepares us to deal with extreme situations”

by 

- The suspenseful film by the Spanish director earned a special mention in the Permanent Revolutions section at last year’s Seville European Film Festival and can now be seen in cinemas across Spain

Guillermo Benet  • Director of Los inocentes
(© Matteo Rovella)

Guillermo Benet (Salamanca, 1984) made three short films and teamed up with Rafa Alberola to found his own production company, Vermut, before tackling his first full-length feature. Los inocentes [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Guillermo Benet
film profile
]
would go on to receive a Special Mention in the Permanent Revolutions section of the Seville European Film Festival and be named best film in the Escáner section at Márgenes. With the film poised for general release in Spain, we settled down with the director in person — masked-up, of course — in the cosy ambiance of Madrid’s Ocho y medio bookshop.

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Cineuropa: Do you miss doing public Q & As, obviously impossible in Seville last year?
Guillermo Benet:
I do, because I’m a big fan of the Seville festival and I’ve been a few times, but at least we were able to hold screenings at the Film Academy, and it all worked fine. But one week in, I was itching for some audience interaction.

Let’s talk about Los inocentes — is it based on a true story or known events?
The idea for the film came to me back when I first saw Ciutat morta, the documentary by Xavier Artigas and Xapo Ortega. It made a very deep impression on me because it set out its stall in such a hard-hitting way, going right to the systemic framework that governs our lives and the violence that simmers beneath the surface of our society. There’s one scene where one of the reporters covering the case reveals that one day a stranger approached him and claimed to know who threw the pot, but nothing ever came of it. It’s very hard to know that someone out there has the power to put a stop to the whole thing, with the court case and all that suffering. There was a kind of pact of silence that remained unbroken all those years, and the cracks were starting to appear. It struck me that it would be interesting to know how that pact came about on that tragic night, and so we tried to put ourselves in the characters’ shoes. We wanted to get a sense of how we would respond in a similar situation and we came up with an unnamed setting that could be any Spanish city.

The screenplay, written by yourself along with your colleague Raga Aberola, deals with issues like fear, guilt and other conflicting emotions.
We tried to see things from the perspective of the characters, who believe they have killed a police officer. We also did an exercise to see how various people in our lives would react, what they would do differently to others. It was our way of separating out emotions and reactions; certain characters represent a more cowardly response and feel the need to run away, whereas others try to protect the people around them. After identifying these emotions, we tried to instil them in the characters — first in an undiluted, more mechanical way, then blending in a more authentic humanness. We didn’t want each character to be limited to a single emotion, because I think people’s responses are more complex and nuanced than that, but we were able to combine them so that each character embodies a specific set of emotions and reactions. Some respond in a more instinctive way, with rage; others are more cerebral or cautious. The character played by Pilar Bergés, for example, has a certain cool-headed rationality to her, which is hard to maintain in such a highly charged atmosphere. Our aim was for each character to have a distinctive personality, each with their own particular traits, so we could explore the various human reactions to a devastating event.

They say that it’s at times of conflict or hardship that the truth comes out, and you learn who your real friends are...
I want to empathise with the characters and to believe that, faced with such an extreme situation, the truth is bound to emerge. But it will never be the whole truth: there are certain aspects of their attitudes that, in time, we’ll be able to see with more distance. There’s an instinctive element there, where reality becomes too much, driving them to act without thinking. I don’t think they are bad people, and the film does not cast judgement. It puts them in a high-pressure situation that pushes them into committing certain acts, saying certain things and behaving in a way that goes against our upbringing. We’re trained to live from day to day, to be part of a family and a friendship group and to get on at work, but nobody prepares us to deal with a harrowing situation like the one we explore in this film.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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