"There is cinema without sound but not without image" By Pamela Biénzobas
Argentinean filmmaker and photographer Juan Solanas was back in Cannes with his first feature film, Nordeste, three years after presenting his striking experimental short The Man without a Head.
In a radically different style, his new work included in the Un Certain Regard selection is a fiction film shot in a style as close as possible to documentary. Previously a cinematographer, the son of Fernando Solanas had studied the light earlier on in order to film just with the help of a fill light. Even the steady shots were done with a shoulder-held camera, and the settings are almost exclusively real (the only house that was built was actually inhabited later, said Solanas). Also, very few of the actors are professional, with most of the people playing their own roles. The situations were improvised to a great extent as well.
What Juan Solanas wanted was to record “bits of reality” in telling the story of a French woman (Carole Bouquet) who tries to adopt a child in Argentina and ends up in the forsaken and miserable north-eastern region.
The evolution from A Man without a Head to Nordeste is not obvious. Why did you change your style so radically?
You have to find the language for each story. It made no sense to treat this story like The Man without a Head. I think what it’s about is the staging. For me, cinema is telling a story through images. There is cinema without sound, but there is no cinema without image. You have to adjust the form to the story. So in fact the two films have nothing in common. Well, I guess they do have one thing: the importance of the image.
Why did you choose to do this as your first feature? Do you have other projects?
I have another project already written but it’s a very large one, with a significant budget, and trying to do a huge, complicated film for a first feature seemed stupid to me. I wanted to talk about Argentina . I knew the film I made had to be about Argentina and its problems and that it has to contribute, even if only to a tiny extent, to making things better. That was the essential reason why.
Do you have any relationship to this area or are you also looking at it from the outside?
Yes. No one from Buenos Aires has ever gone in their entire life to Formosa . It’s like saying the end of the world. I discovered it while I was preparing the film, in the first of many trips I made. I was also Hélène, with the double identity as Argentinean and French (Solanas moved to France when very young and now divides his time between the two countries) . I had made that trip first.
And what happened to you?
Pretty much what happens in the film. But it’s pretty much what happens to Argentina in general: it’s a country with people with a huge heart but that has nothing, a country with so much injustice, a country that has enough to feed China but where there are people starving to death. It’s a very beautiful country, and it’s shocking to see such poverty in such beauty. On the other hand, there is an amazing richness to the people, the amount of languages that are spoken there, the music… it’s all quite looked down upon in Argentina , where Buenos Aires seems to be everything. But there are many Argentinas .
How about the other film you have in mind?
It’s an anti-anticipation movie. It takes place in the South of South America in a century or so, in a country that would surely be Argentina but that I’m not going to name that way. And it’s what I hope never happens.
I can imagine you already have the visual style in mind.
Yes. It would be closer to The Man without a Head . Different, but also with a very strong visual world. I feel very comfortable with image, so starting out from there makes each movie a journey and you simply have to find the right visual palette for it. But I feel very comfortable with anything that has to do with post-production, for instance. In The Man without a Head , that’s a huge part. I love to conceive worlds, because you’re free in them. When you’re in a reality other than this one, you have total freedom, everything is possible. A big disadvantage is that it’s very expensive.
Do you start out from an image or from a story?
From an image, always, in the short film and in Nordeste as well. I remember the morning in which I saw an adobe house with a woman of around thirty and her 10 or 12-year old son, alone, a single mother, and the child comes back with an animal he had hunted. That’s how the film starts, though the boy doesn’t bring an animal he hunted but a piece of meat they gave him. But that’s something I saw. I wasn’t looking for it. And that image was the starting point for beginning to look for a story. That’s also what happened with the film I want to make now.