Friday, May 05, 2006

2006 SFIFF—Nordeste / Northeast Q&A

The two lead actresses of Nordeste (Northeast)Carole Bouquet and Aymará Rovera—shared the Best Actress prize at the Stockholm International Film Festival, where director Juan Solanas also walked off with the prize for Best Picture. Rovera flew up from Argentina to help present the film at the San Francisco International. Unfortunately, she contracted laryngitis en route and couldn't speak. So she wrote down her thoughts and had an interpreter read them to us:

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My name is Aymará Rovera and I'm the actress in this film. This is my first important role. I'm from Neuquén in the south of Argentina, but, I've been living for many years now in Buenos Aires because of my work. Juan Solanas will come at the end of the movie so that we can talk some more about the film.

For me it is an honor to be here presenting Nordeste. We want—together with Juan Solanas—to say thank you for being invited. When I was on my way up here traveling from Argentina, I thought about all the things that I wanted to say but my voice failed. Actually, I can't hardly talk, but—through the interpreter—I hope you can hear what I have to say.

Nordeste was filmed in the north of Argentina. This is a movie about two stories, two different worlds of two different women, adoption, the lack of justice, human pain and misery and in a way it touches every one of us. Personally, this film gave me a great opportunity. It was a big break. I feel very fortunate of all the things and all the opportunities life has given me. A few people might know actually that worldwide child trafficking falls in third place after weapons dealing and drug trafficking. It happens not only in my country but in any and all countries where there's poverty and low resources. I wish that this changes and I feel that through films we can tell stories.

This film takes us into worlds that we might not want to look at. Nordeste is a film that must be seen. Juan Solanas did a lot of research before writing the book and heard hundreds of testimonies that were later incorporated into this film. Nordeste was made with a lot of love. I hope you'll enjoy it and I hope you can enter into this world and the world of these beautiful characters and this beautiful film. Thank you for coming.

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After the screening Miguel Pendás introduced director Juan Solanas and reintroduced actress Aymará Rovera. Pendas reiterated that Rovera arrived from Argentina the day before, found her luggage okay, but lost her voice.

Immediately Solanas was asked why he left the ending of Northeast so unresolved? He responded that he filmed it that way so that the audience could wonder what might be a positive and realistic ending for the story. Realistically, such scenarios rarely have a favorable outcome and he didn't want to impose one. Though Chris Knipp states that Solanas has "turn[ed] away from the task of completing his somewhat crudely roughed in story", Solanas himself seems to suggest that task is presumptive. Variety's Deborah Young even suggests that to some extent the film's open ending redeems the film's predictability. Whether the film's ending frustrates or challenges will most likely vary upon expectation.

Asked why the nun in one of the film's final scenes was given the most powerful words in the whole film, Solanas admitted he was an atheist, he does not believe in God, but on one hand the film is an homage to Sister Martha Pelloni, a particular nun in Argentina who discovered there was a huge trafficking of children and the organs of children. Of course while preparing for the movie, Solanas frequently visited with Sister Pelloni and their interaction provided rich information. On the other hand, there are many nuns in the Northeast aware of the child trafficking who are working to help the children. It's reality, Solanas responds firmly, and the world of those nuns is moreorless his world, they are both after the same goal, even though he is an atheist and they the brides of Christ.

A woman in the audience noted how the French woman had been tricked and frustrated many times, not the least of which was being given a diseased baby. She wondered if the baby really had the disease? Or was the same baby being used over and over to scam people and to get as much money as possible?

Solanas reminded that he moreorless spent years researching the reality of the topic before even writing the script. Each story he discovered was heartbreakingly unique. Northeast is just one story and not necessarily representative of the rest. For him the child has the disease. Could the baby not have the disease? Possibly. Human beings can be crafty, for good or bad. But for Solanas, no, he has no reason to question the baby's health. The baby is sick. It will die. For Solanas the case is real. In fact, he heard a lot of stories of couples finding their babies were sick when they performed medical check-ups. Carrying his father's torch, Solanas dives for the reality of a story, and whether that is rendered as documentary or as fiction borders on irrelevant. He has assembled a fiction made of pieces of real stories. The genres lean into each other to promote a larger truth.

Solanas was asked what motivated such a well-known actress as Carole Bouquet to become involved with Northeast? Solanas replied that three years ago he filmed a short movie that won a Cesar, the French equivalent of the Oscar. Bouquet was on the jury that voted for his movie. He didn't know that. But after completing his script for Northeast, he set his sights on casting a good French actress for the role. He was considering Carole Bouquet, Isabelle Huppert, two or three women, and decided to start with Carole Bouquet. He phoned her agent. To his surprise, he heard back from Bouquet no less than three days later, partly because she loved his Cesar-winning short movie so much that she wanted to meet him. After they lunched together and Solanas told her the story, Bouquet was very touched and informed Solanas that she was the President of an association named Voice of the Child who fight against child trafficking and prostitution. Solanas knew nothing about this beforehand. Thus, the role was perfect for Bouquet, her dedication to resolving the problem was already determined, and she agreed to do the film the day after their first meeting.

Miguel Pendás asked, in turn, how Solanas cast Aymará in the film? The audience gave Rovera a round of applause and she stepped up to the microphone to bravely croak out a "thank you." Solanas answered that he had a large casting call where he saw nearly 300 women, but, when he saw Aymará, he knew she was the right one for the role. He could feel how deeply Aymará felt for Juana's situation. This deep feeling was essential for him.

Moreorless half of the people in the movie were not professional actors, they were playing themselves, yet another blend between documentary and fiction. Solanas doesn't give the script to anyone on the set, neither the real actors nor the non-actors who—if they learn the words, he complains—sound like robots; it just doesn't work. So nobody gets the script, its created through improvisation among the cast, and following his intuition Solanas realized he needed the help of his professional actors to inhabit their roles with complete and genuine feeling. After the authentic deep feeling is there, then they're free to improvise and become real. Solanas felt Aymará could inhabit and embody the character of Juana. "She's incredible!"

Prefacing that I had the great pleasure of interviewing his father a few days before, I commended Juan for carrying on the beautiful work of capturing the soul of Argentina's country folk. I was curious about the opening and closing music. Were they tangos? Yes, he responded, they were contemporary tangos from Buenos Aires, what they call a piazzolla.

One of the audience wanted to know if it was true that the northeast of Argentina is really a child trafficking capital? Solanas replied that poverty is a sad fact of Argentina and—whenever you have poverty—you find corruption. Because the Northeast is one of the poorer regions of Argentina, there is a high incidence of corruption. There is a city named Goya in Corrientes—one of the three states of the northeast—that is called the capital of child trafficking, because there are incredible cases about that, nightmare cases. But, for example, in Santiago del Estero—which is more in the middle of the country—Solanas was contacted by an association who fights against child trafficking in Santiago. Recently they filed a complaint in the courts for 25,000 children in Santiago who have gone missing in the last ten years. As horrific as that is alone, it's just a small part of the larger phenomenon.

While preparing to film Northeast, Solanas spent a lot of time in Formosa, which is in the northernmost part of the state where it borders with Paraguay. He and his assistant lodged in a hotel named the Home Hotel. Solanas was preoccupied concentrating on casting the film and didn't notice—until his assistant pointed it out to him—that every three to four days a foreign couple would arrive to the hotel. Two or three days later they came into possession of a child and two or three days after that, they would return to their native countries to be replaced by the arrival of a new foreign couple.

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Solanas has joined the ranks of filmmakers blogging about their own projects; a welcome development in my estimation. A recent entry sports a fine photograph of him with his father Fernando. His next project will be Air, a futuristic thriller.