Why were you interested in picturing the main character in such a mysterious way?
The way we pictured the main character has a lot to do with adolescence itself. To me it is the most mysterious time in life; full of boundaries and unsolved questions. Teenagers always appear to me as huge and gorgeous mysteries, I think I wouldn’t be able to approach them without a sense of mystique. The main character in Günst ul vándrafoo is somebody who moves through the story with a lot of questions in mind. Picturing him in a way that would build gaps in his portrayal, felt the best way to print on the film that need for answers and get the audience to ask themselves questions more than having answers coming easy. I wanted the audience to be as close to the hero as possible, so the mystery in his mind had to make it through the screen, and that lack of answers the whole film has in its form, I feel, does the job.
Is a caravan a symbol of liberty or of confinement?
A caravan could, generally speaking, be a symbol of freedom. But in this case we chose it for all the opposite reasons. A caravan is a moving house, but the one onscreen barely feels like a house and it can’t move. It’s more like a prison, with all those locks… and it has no vehicle attached, so it’s stuck in the middle of that property, behind those walls. In our case, the caravan became a symbol of confinement and captivity, and I thought it was specially powerful to film how youth, curiosity and nature were strong enough to find their way out of the cage. There are many scenes where the character has been able to scape the locks with ease, despite his father’s attempts to keep him inside such an oppressive space. The father’s attempt proves to be impossible. You can’t put boundaries to human experience. Life always breaks through walls.
How much are you interested in the theme of emancipation and do you have further projects picturing young male characters building up their autonomy?
I’m utterly interested in adolescence and all its stages, especially emancipation and the search for identity. I believe there is an enormous amount of exceptional cinematic material in teenagers, in the never-ending universe that surrounds them; and also in the way their bodies appear unfinished; in how they dress to conquer their own particular portion of the world; in the way they observe life with their thick eyelashes; and in the way they talk and listen. Everything I write or attempt to film involves teenage years in one way or another. Now I’m working on my first feature-length film and, again, the main character is a teenager searching for identity and his place in the world. But in that new case, it’s about a whole different set of emotions and places.
How did you decide the age of your character and why were you interested in that age?
That decision felt pretty organic to me and to what the film was telling me it needed. In the early stages, it was a much younger character, but at a point I thought he needed more urgency, curiosity and thirst for freedom, and all those ingredients were massively in teenage hormones. Those years are times of extreme and giddy changes, of fear and vulnerability, of wild reckless bravery… To me the character couldn’t had been in any other age range.
Are you interested in the question of peer pressure? Is youth a pivot to established rules?
Peer pressure is definitely something that drives teenage years. But in the case of this film, I wasn’t that interested in questioning how a group of people can influence an individual to act in a certain way. It was a lot more about exploring a primitive impulse: the need to feel part of something, being a key ring of the chain, finding identity. The main character desires this so much that at some point the film even feels like a dream, and we don’t know if the guy has really met this group of crazy teenagers, or if he has only been dreaming so. But what I did have in mind a lot through the whole process was this “youth being a pivot to established rules” topic you mention. The universe of the film is all built under the weight of a very strict set of rules a father establishes, and it moves on by following the needs of a character to free himself from those rules and walls. Youth is the perfect time to question and break rules. I even think it is mandatory and inevitable, somehow biological. In Güeros (Alonso Ruizpalacios, 2014), a quote by Salvador Allende is shown at a student riot: “Ser joven y no ser revolucionario es una contradicción” (“Being young and not revolutionary is a contradiction”). Younger generations should constantly and deeply examine their society’s status quo in order to demolish whatever isn’t working anymore. Only that way can things change and move forward.
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
Yes, absolutely. I find it crucial to identify the ideas that can work as a compass to walk you through the making of a film and answer all the hard questions. In our case, format worked a little like that. We knew we wanted to frame all the story into the state of mind and point of view of the kid. This had a lot to do with being able to see only a confining tiny portion of the world, and about longing for freedom. We even ended up making our format a replica of the size of the windows of the caravan, which were round-corner squares. Throughout the film, sounds and characters constantly tend to situate outside the frame, and often space gets deconstructed and broken into small pieces, as if the film itself could not see the whole picture. It isn’t until the end, when the kid gets freed, that the film shows a wide shot… as if not until then had he been able to get a bigger view of the world. The moments of the film I’m more in peace with are the ones that were more determined by these core ideas. And also the ones I’m still not happy about are those were we walked without looking on the compass too much.
What are your reference works?
Talking about references is always intriguing to me because there’s something magical that goes on about it. I feel it doesn’t really matter what works you have in mind during the process, your film becomes a very different and independent being. Then comes the audience always surprising you spotting other references that make your film grow because although they were never on your mind, unconsciously they did influence the film. This even works with films you haven’t watched. I swear. Throughout the whole process of this film, my mind was constantly occupied by titles like My childhood (Bill Douglas, 1972-1978), Güeros (Alonso Ruizpalacios, 2014), Little Fugitive (Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin, 1953), El Pas del Riu (Lluis de Sola, 2013), Violet (Bas Devos, 2014) and of course Canino (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009) which I love and is basically all over Günst ul vándrafoo. But others have seen titles like Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012), Beau travail (Claire Denis, 1999) or A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017), and yes… these are all in our film in many ways.