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SAN SEBASTIAN 2022 Competition

Pilar Palomero • Director of La maternal

“It’s painful to see such a young girl experiencing something which isn’t suited to her age”

by 

- The Spanish director presents her second film after the award-winning work Schoolgirls, this time revolving around the issue of teenage pregnancies

Pilar Palomero • Director of La maternal
(© Gari Garaialde/SSIFF)

Schoolgirls [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Pilar Palomero
film profile
]
by Pilar Palomero was the surprise hit in Spanish film back in 2020: after screening in the Berlinale, it triumphed at the Malaga Film Festival and in the subsequent awards season, including at the Goyas. Now the director is battling it out for the Golden Shell in the 70th San Sebastian Film Festival’s Official Selection by way of her second feature film La maternal [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Pilar Palomero
film profile
]
. We met with her before the film screened at the festival.

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Cineuropa: Schoolgirls were the protagonists of your first work; now you’re focusing on teenagers.
Pilar Palomero:
Yes, teenagers… that’s what we could have called the film.

You have a lot of love for these vital moments in our development.
It wasn’t a conscious choice. In Schoolgirls I wanted to talk about what puberty was like for many people in my generation, but in this instance the subject came from a more external source, even if I did make it my own: my producer Valérie Delpierre (Inicia Films) suggested it to me, but I do feel very comfortable working with teenagers and talking about them, so it wasn’t an issue for me.

But Schoolgirls was more autobiographical – is that right?
Yes, La maternal isn’t autobiographical: I started writing the screenplay while editing Schoolgirls, and it was interesting because trawling through my memories was quite a brutal process, but it was quite the opposite for this film: it was a case of gathering testimonies and experiences from external sources, a different process, that’s another reason why I feel the two films are dissimilar.

The style is a departure too, at times more akin to a documentary.
In La maternal the cast is almost entirely composed of girls who are mothers in real life, and a youth worker. I was interested in capturing their real experience rather than having someone interpreting it; I wanted someone who had experienced it themselves and for this to be part of their personality, to be able to see it in their eyes and bodies.

Did you find yourself choosing the girls who appear in the film while researching the film, in one way or another?
Yes, I wrote the screenplay while I was carrying out my research, and the subject was wholly influenced by their way of being: it’s not based on them but there’s a great deal of them injected into the movie. I couldn’t have assembled the cast in any other way: I auditioned them, and they approached the film with a professional attitude.

Is it important to talk about teenage pregnancies because there are still so many of them?
Yes, it’s a topical issue, and during the research process it was this fact that encouraged me to shoot the film, even though the subject can be quite disturbing: because it’s painful to see such a young girl experiencing something which isn’t suited to her age, it’s an untimely situation. Being a teen and a mother are antagonistic key moments, like the ends of two magnets repelling one another. I was curious to know how these two elements would come together.

And yet the female body is ready to reproduce at a very early age...
One of the things that intrigued me the most was this: biologically, you can be a mother, but how do you manage psychologically? The girls who worked on the film are amazing mothers, but they’re the first to warn other teens against it. They’ve come to terms with their situation, but adolescence isn’t a good time to become a mother.

Is there a lack of good sexual and emotional education to help avoid teenage pregnancies?
Absolutely, this is a subject which we kept in mind: all these girls assured me that the sex education they’d received wasn’t good enough; that it’s not just about teaching kids about contraceptive methods or how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, it’s about far more than that. And it’s also like you say: you need an emotional education, to be mindful of people’s feelings, to learn to communicate, to know how to set limits in relationships, and simple and basic things like knowing your own body. None of these things are treated with the importance they deserve in schools.

The mother-daughter relationship is crucial in both your films.
During my research, I realised that these girls were talking to me about really intense relationships with their mothers: there was so much love but also so much conflict. There’s also a pattern of young single mothers with pregnant teenage daughters: hopefully this circle will one day be broken.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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