New York, September 12, 2017
My background is not theater. I studied film and then I was interested in literature. I arrived to Shakespeare through the act of reading.
When preparing for my second feature Todos Mienten I decided that I would have two companion readings that would serve me as provocations.
My intention was not to follow the ways of any of these writers but to be pushed by them to a territory that I may have not expected. Those writers were Mario Bellatin and William Shakespeare.
I decided to read every book I could find of them. I enjoy a systematic consumption of things that catch my attention. If I find a connection with something I tend to exhaust the link. I remember proceeding similarly with filmmakers. So was the case of my interaction with Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Luc Godard, Fritz Lang, Chantal Akerman and Budd Boetticher.
I printed the Catalogue page from the famous folio. The catalogue divides the works into Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. And so I started Reading.
I chose to read a new edition of Shakespeare plays with new Spanish translations by Latin-American poets and writers. These new translations helped me to come closer to a text originally twice as foreign as the previous available translations were all made by scholars from Spain. Their Spanish is different from the one I use, the one used in the Rio de la Plata: sound is different, pronouns differ, vocabulary of course too and conjugations as well. This double reappropiation - first from English into Spanish from Spain and then from Spanish from Spain to Latin-American Spanish - provided a liberating feeling. It composed a celebratory and creative room to the work of the translator. These translators were not invisible. The hand of the translator is visible so it allows more hands in the plate to brush off any sort of purism and put the texts again in circulation. These new variations show that the text is still alive and that lives can go on.
Todos Mienten has nothing to do with Shakespeare but after a screening in BAFICI a friend came to me and told me I should do an adaptation of A Midsummer Night´s Dream.
I remember where it was. At a mall in Buenos Aires. I remember thinking why did he said that. I disregarded his comment but it seems now that it stayed somewhere in my mind. This was April 2009. In July, Jeonju International Film Festival invited me to do a film. That film was Rosalinda, based in As you Like it, my personal favorite from Shakespeare’s plays.
During the remaining days of 2009 we decided to meet with actor María Villar, who would eventually play Rosalind, every Thursday´s noon to have lunch at a parrilla in Buenos Aires to start thinking the film. I remember we drank red wine every time.
So, I don´t come from a theater background but I have many friends that are actors. I have attended many of their plays and work-in-progress in new and independent theaters, studios, rooms, garages. These actors belong to a generation of performers from the off-off theater circuit in Buenos Aires, starting to study and work in theater after the big economic collapse of 2001.
So, I went to the theater, preferably the most alternative one, the smallest kind.
A theater that at first existed just because.
There is something from the films I make that I learned not from the Argentinean film industry but from independent theater. It was a new way of producing. A film now depends on an implicit desire of getting together towards a common project. I wish I could shoot a film for as long as some actors rehearse a play. Then we also learned that maybe a film is not supposed to be screened every day six times a day, but once or twice a week. That is also a disposition that I first saw in this independent theater. Furthermore, new places for these screenings to happen should exist as new places accommodated these new plays. It is not theater topics or new actors that theater introduced to New Argentine Cinema, but a new economy and understanding of labor. We make films just because. This is not good per se, but at least it allows some films to exist that wouldn´t do otherwise. I believe that constant revision of that creative procedure and pact between the parts involved must take place each time to adjust to each new film.
But I also went to film school and was formed in that context. At Universidad del Cine, the influence of some professors was vital. They taught many of us that we could make a film with 200 dollars. Film School introduced me to the film community that today I call my friends and family, and with which I have been making films for more than ten years now. Also, the university have always helped us with equipment and facilities of post-production to do our films. It was also in film school where I read and studied What is Cinema? by André Bazin. Its articles about the impurity of cinema would have a similar liberating energy to that of the work of the translators. Cinema can expand and not retract by relating closely to other disciplines. The interaction between elements that at first can seem to be meant to grow separately can actually potentiate their development by contaminating each other. This interaction proposes a method for cinema to watch itself again to display another form of being than the one expected. This possibility for an alternativity seemed always to me very liberating.
Filming at the theatre (Viola, 2012)
What can Cinema do with Theater? How can Cinema find new ways of displaying itself, of telling the story that it needs to tell, thanks to its relationship with Theater? I trust that from this interaction new alternatives for narrative can appear without anyone having to force originality upon it. In Viola, I thought: what can I do in cinema that I can´t do in theater? I thought of the closeness between Actor and viewer. I thought of the close-up. Of course, it´s being years since screens have been incorporated to theater, or that performers act just inches away from its audiences, but still the film´s close-up can provide something different. Furthermore, if we add other elements, time and staticity, we would be able to liberate that close-up from conventional procedures. In theater we tend to look to the actor that talks. “The tyranny of the sync”, Serge Daney would say in reference to what Bresson and Straub overturned with their use of voice in cinema. So, in Cinema we can undo that reflect of seeing the person that talks by just staying longer in somebody´s face once they finished talking. Or we can also move away from that talking head to show something else. Similarly, André Bazin talks about camera movement and the length of a shot in Jean Cocteau´s mise-en-scène of his film Les Enfants Terribles. From staying close to theater, cinema finds a new breathing. This can apply to any interaction of cinema with another art or discipline. We can start thinking now new films that follow painting or music or architecture or dance or journalism or athletics or economics, and nurture their mise-en-scène from these interactions.
I am now preparing a new Shakespearead. I started talking to actor María Villar again. She is in all our films. We now live in different countries but we are meeting through the phone every Wednesday morning. The film is called Portia and it is based in The Merchant of Venice.
The Shakespearead is the name I informally put to these series of films around the female roles in Shakespeare Comedies. I found in the comedies a strong material for the actors I tend to work with. It all started with Rosalind, the character in As You Like It. I noted that the role had an energy that I thought would be interesting to watch María dealing with in front of a camera. It may be a personal idea on photogenie.
In the comedies, women have a central role. In the comedies, women are intelligent. They use reason, sometimes in a topsy-turvy way but reason in the end in order to fulfill their desires. This reason prevents them from going mad or suicidal. In the comedies, I found certain ideas about love and human relationships that I found close to my doubts and researches on those topics. In my experience, the comedies remain in the shadow of Shakespeare´s other plays. If I would be to ask a group of random people to name five plays by William Shakespeare, I very much doubt that Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Henry V, Macbeth, Richard III would not be among the most mentioned. Maybe A Midsummer Night´s Dream would make a high positioning in the rank, but I doubt that many other comedies would come near. The tragedies and historical plays bare the name of the male leads, the comedies don´t do the same for their female parts. In thinking about my own series, and following the structural organization of Gerard de Nerval´s Les Filles du feu, I decided to name the ladies. And so they came: Rosalinda, Viola, The Princess Of France, Hermia & Helena. And in a near future: Portia, Isabella, Imogen and, to break my own system as it is not particularly a woman, Ariel.
Now I am preparing Portia, and I would like to share part of the process towards it. Today I requested camera and sound for a fifteen day shoot next January to my university. I haven´t written much yet but I know I will do so. I trust again that a film will come out of this experience. For that reason, we are meeting every Wednesday with actor María Villar to talk about the film we want to do together. I may start conversations as well with fellow actor Agustina Muñoz.
The first decision I make is which play I will work with. That decision comes from which female role I am most curious about and that curiosity comes first from the scene I find most challenging. From a scene, a role is chosen and so is the play, and so is the title of the actual film. So, in this occasion it means the three caskets scene took me to The Merchant of Venice and so to Portia.
It may be important to mention that even though I don´t come from a theater background I was invited after the production of the film Rosalinda to do my first play, for which I chose to do a pastiche of five comedies by William Shakespeare.
Y cuando no te quiera, será de nuevo el caos (play, 2010)
In 2010, we did a play for three months with Agustina Muñoz, Elisa Carricajo, Laura Paredes and Gabi Saidon. This ended up being the main narrative engine of the films that were to come afterwards. The play was called Y cuando no te quiera, será de nuevo el caos. It was the work of an editor. I chose one scene from one act from five different plays and applied a Frankensteinean procedure of cutting and sewing back together the pieces of the many plays into a 45 minutes piece. You can see a bit of the actual play in Viola and also in The Princess Of France. All the Shakespeare that is in the films comes from the play we did seven years ago. Sometimes it comes to my mind that now that many years have gone by I should stop using those texts as the energy from its performances might have dimmed. Maybe it is time to work on The Tempest.
La Princesa de Francia (2014)
Hermia & Helena (2016)
For Portia I am taking the scene of the caskets from The Merchant of Venice. Portia receives at her place multiple suitors that ask her to marry them but for that she submits them into a challenge. She hides a portrait of herself in one of three caskets that then the suitor needs to find. Each of these caskets is made of different metals: gold, silver and lead. They have to choose the right casket. The scene that I picked up for my film is the one in which Portia´s love interest, Bassanio, confronts the contest. From this scene I extract the act of choosing and the challenge itself. The situation reminded me a little of an audition, an actor having to audition for a role. Then a series of questions start to polish the choices: what if instead of a man choosing between three caskets, we have a man choosing between three actors? I quickly turned all roles into women. I have talked to some actors about an essential hardship of being an actor that consists of, in comparison to being a director or a novelist or a painter, of being called, being selected in order to start acting. I don´t know now exactly how I´ll use this but I will focus on an audition. The work of an actor with a text. In an audition you are not performing the play as if you´d be actually on the stage. It is a different challenge. So is the preparation of that text. As my previous film, Hermia & Helena had voluntarily not any Shakespeare verse performed, the new film should be all about working a certain text. I have a tendency to build the new film in response to the previous one. I could also have multiple actors performing the same text. I want the camera to capture something of the interaction between the body of the performers and the text. I think that I insist with Shakespeare because I feel that something can still come out of this interaction. I am vague now but I hope to polish and find something more concrete. Maybe this film can be a documentary, or nurture from that predisposition. I feel the need for the camera to produce an emotion from the combination of these actors and this text.
A sudden interest in Shakespeare and filmmaking introduced me to a tradition that pushes me to keep an eye on the films that work with these texts. There is a sense of responsibility that grows from my own doings. And so, I research about the adaptations. From them, I enjoy the works of Grigori Kozintsev as they are translations and I can still enjoy the performances and mise-en-scène in a language I can´t understand. I was also surprised by the modernist realism of Laurence Olivier´s Henry V. It reminded me much of Eric Rohmer´s Perceval. Orson Welles´s The Merchant Of Venice is hard to forget. Specially his close ups and its repetitions. The way he produced the films is quixotically inspiring. And so is the way he cut and edited the original text. He eliminated everything that he seemed not been able to work with at that moment but kept all the rest of it with no alterations. Gus van Sant´s profanation of Welles´ Chimes At Midnight reverberates in my mind as it adds new imagery and pulsion to how can we still expand Shakespeare´s universe.
But I find in some American Comedies a sub-genre of Shakespearean variations, what I like to refer as the Shakespeareads. I can mention a few. It first came to my mind after shooting Rosalinda when I watched Ernst Lubitsch´s Design For Living and suddenly was hit by a scene in which all of a sudden Miriam Hopkins starts following Rosalind´s gestures in As You Like It in her plan to annoy her wooers: “I’ll be more jealous of you than a wild rooster over his hen; more noisy than a parrot chattering about the rain; more fond of new things than an ape.” The words are not the same but the structure and tone of the scenes reflect upon each other. And in Howard Hawk´s Ball Of Fire, Barbara Stanwyck flirts with the plot of Love´s Labour´s Lost as a Princess of France that fools around a group of monastic and ridiculous academics. Not to mention the great delivery of Shylock´s famous monologue in Ernst Lubistch´s To Be Or Not To Be, or the great drunken “audition” scene in Lowell Sherman´s Morning Glory where Katherine Hepburn´s immense Shakespearean talent is documented inside a small fictional piece. George Cukor´s Sylvia Scarlett also drinks from As You Like it as Kiss Me Kate by George Sidney does so more evidently but still most effectively from The Taming of the Shrew.
In Elia Kazan´s A Tree Grows In Brooklyn the young female protagonist reads Troilus & Cressida most insistently. Her little brother is irritated by her attitude. He picks on her adducing that she really doesn´t understand what she is reading. In state of vague anxiety, the young girl answers: “I don´t need to understand something in order to like it.” I can´t fully put my finger in my liking of this line, maybe it is the idea of subverting an order no-matter-how in terms of what we can incorporate to our daily life and joy, but I can say that it sets me in motion, looking forward to new films.
Tomorrow I have a new meeting with María 9am New York time. I haven´t written a thing this week. I can´t seem to find a writing schedule for me to work and I complain too much. I usually work under pressure. Film after film, I finish my scripts closer to the day of shooting. I don´t enjoy that way of proceeding. I think that choosing to work with a play by William Shakespeare helps me to start writing. It is a way of avoiding the white page. It is only a first push away from it, but if I wouldn´t have that I wouldn´t know how to start. I have a very good team that I can rely on. But I truly wish I could find great excitement in the fact of putting one word after the another and just start writing the bloody script.