What gave you the idea of the beetle?
When I was a teenager, I read the book Como agua para Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, a novel englobed inside a genre of narrative fiction called “magical realism”. Magical realism is about portraying a realistic view of the world while adding magical elements to express certain feelings. As I read the novel, this concept caught my eye. While I was writing the script for El Escarabajo al Final de la Calle, as death was a constant element in the story, I imagined ways of portraying it in a physical way. As I wanted the tone of my film to be baroque, I couldn’t imagine my main character meditating on his own death by creating long shots and working with minimalist acting, but rather by englobing this feeling in the dynamic, rather playful way in which we were shooting all the other scenes. A way to do this was to physically portray the anguish, and let it participate in scenes, almost as if it was a character.
In my family, after having lunch, we usually converge on the sofa together and watch documentaries about animals (which eventually make us fall asleep for a while). It occurred to me to make a similar casual scene, where the main character of my story reflected his fear towards death in imagining that the insects he was watching on TV were going to eat him once he was dead. Once that scene happened, death (in the form of the beetle from the documentary) would always follow him and remind him the end was near. I never thought specifically on the beetle for death portrayal, it just came about as I was writing. Further on, I discovered that on the Egyptian society, the beetle was a symbol for resurrection (ironically), but I never intended to use pre-existing concepts about the symbolism of beetles over history.
Can you tell us a bit more about the village where the film is set? Was it a place you knew well?
In fact, we shot on several different villages in Valencia: Ontinyent, Xàtiva, Alzira, Agullent, Biar… However, the main ones were Xàtiva and Biar. We chose them for many reasons, one of them being the physiognomy of the landscape, the housing (colourful façades and old infrastructure) combined with the fact that the villages were standing on a mountain slope (which gave us an interesting distribution of the streets and perspective). Another aspect was the fact I knew many people there (Xàtiva is located near my birth town, Alzira), which gave us freedom in searching and managing shooting locations. To shoot the “documentary-like” parts of the film, we wanted authenticity, so it was convenient to shoot real people, real Valencian locals I knew from first hand, and just let them be in front of the camera (rather than looking for actors). Xàtiva and Biar are genuine traditional Valencian villages, and that’s what we wanted for this project.
What or who inspired the characters?
Many of the characters are inspired on members of my own family and close relatives. I feel comfortable imagining a real close person when approaching the creation of a character, it enables me to think better on its construction and inspires me on its further possibilities. For instance, the relationship between Amadeo and his father in law is closely based on the relationship between my father and my grandfather (whose name is also Amadeo), the fishmonger in my mother, the doctor in the local doctor of my hometown…. Even some of the characters (the narrators on the documentary-like part) are just playing themselves.
What motivated you to work with special effects? Can you tell us a bit more about how you went about creating the scenes with the beetle?
I wanted to create a story in which everything could be possible: from a genuine approach to Valencia and its people (through a documentary-like style with non actors) to introducing magical elements, and explore the ways in which they could intersect each other. I felt special effects were a useful tool to portray this magical universe, also because Sergi Rejat (one of my closest friends at film school) was very good at special effects and was willing to work on my project, so I thought we could obtain a positive outcome working together.
We wanted to create a digitally animated beetle that felt real, so we had to create real interactions between the beetle and the physical environment that surrounded it. For that reason, we created a presentation scene in which the beetle interacted with the physical elements of a real room (it crawled over a real table, and the table moved, it touched a picture on the wall and it fell…). For this reason, we had to simulate all these movements with almost invisible thread which we moved deliberately on set to generate the movement of objects. Later, on post- production we had to erase the thread and integrate the digital model of the beetle. We wanted to add a bit of personality to the beetle, not just creating a “monster-like” creature, but intentionally humanizing it and analysing its reactions, so we made different versions of the animation and we approached it in an organic way, almost treating the creature the same way as we would treat an actor.
What sort of freedom would you say the short format allows?
The short format, as a difference to feature films, removes the difficulties of maintaining the spectator’s attention for 2 hours, so you can generate unfamiliar codes or have fun experimenting with unconventional narratives without having to deal with the fear of saturating or boring the audience. Short movies allow creators to deal with avant-garde formats, or experimentation, making them less risky.
If you’ve already been to Clermont-Ferrand, could you share with us an anecdote or story from the festival? If not, what are your expectations for this year?
It’s my first time at Clermont-Ferrand, and I have great expectations towards it. I think it’s a unique chance to meet people from all around the world which are involved in the cinema business, and share different narratives and ways of communicating with cinematic language. Being in Clermont-Ferrand is certainly the best possible gift for someone who has made a short movie.
Bonus: discover the video presentation of the film by the director.