» Alicia Scherson “The idea of a national cinema is in crisis”
“Il Futuro”, the third feature film from director Alicia Scherson, comes to theaters this month after having been at Sundance, Cartagena, Miami, Bafici and Rotterdam Festivals, where it received the Big Screen KNF Award. Defined by international critics as perverse and seductive, the film is an adaptation of “A Lumpen novelette ” by Roberto Bolaño and it has been screened in several international film and literature meetings. Its director talks today with CinemaChile on the national premiere of this dark erotic film.
Why were you interested in making an adaptation of “A Lumpen novelette” by Bolaño? What’s in it that comes across with your filmmaker eyes?
When I read the novel I really liked Bianca’s voice, her lucidity at an early age. I find it interesting, her ability to look at misfortune and trauma from a stark distance, and also the novel’s atmosphere, decadent but highly erotic, dangerous, it fascinated me. It is an intimate and fragile story, but it is closely linked to the Western culture on the brink of collapse. I started developing this film even before filming “Turistas” (2009) and it was because I fell in love with the novel, so I started clearing rights and working on an adaptation.
“Il Futuro” is perhaps a more overtly erotic film. It touches on much darker areas than your previous films. What accounts for this shift?
I do not consider it a shift, it simply is the material I worked with this time and I was at the service of what it demanded. The story is sexual, provocative, erotic, and those were the feelings that I wanted to build and transmit.
Along with Bruno Bettati you managed a big international co-production. You shot in Italy, Germany and also worked in Spain and the United States. How did you deploy such a scale?
It was a giant puzzle over two or three years, and Bruno was essential to the process. We shot in Italy out of necessity, the story takes place there and that’s where we needed to be, but the other countries came for financial reasons, also out of interest in Bolaño’s work and in my point of view as a filmmaker. We filmed in Germany, and also in Chile, and also did a few things in Spain and the United States. Most of the actors did not speak Spanish, so I took Italian lessons from the beginning, and although I took the necessary precautions, I had to face them as they came up. If I had thought about this from the start I would have panicked, but when I had to manage it in situ I just did it and even though it was hard, it wasn’t that terrible. Finally the story is about that international horizon, two orphans of a Chilean immigrant couple in Europe in a fully globalized world. The film is also about this on another reading level.
The film features Rutger Hauer’s presence, a renowned international actor, and there’s a Patti Smith song that closes the film. How do you see the inclusion of a Chilean filmmaker into the international industry?
Look, if you want us to get to the point of the matter, the central issue in my discourse is that I question the idea of ‘national cinema’. It’s something that made sense in the sixties but film theory already institutionalized it, the idea of national or peripheral cinemas is fully canonized, chewed, I find it completely devoid of danger. And it is also beneficial especially if you are, for example, from Latin America, but what I see is that this notion is in outright crisis.
Reality always goes further than institutions. At festivals I get to see genuinely multinational movies, and I do not mean forced co-productions that are finally local but with shared financing, but multinational films originally aimed at a global culture, questioning it from that standpoint. I’d say we’re at a very interesting stage, a transition to a new concept of nation and cinema, with a less conservative idea of what is national. That comes from Bolaño too; a guy who is Spanish, Mexican, Chilean, and I also see that in other directors. For example, I spoke in Rotterdam with an English director who directed a film in Dubai about a Chinese prostitute, that is, characters with no fixed territory, struggling on the horizon of the global village. It is even problematic for film programmers who do not know where to put these films, how to catalog them.
When a well-known director does it, nobody says anything. No one asks Olivier Assayas or Nobuhiro Suwa what nationality is their film, but relatively more peripheral filmmakers are required to do something “local” and I find that that’s out of place, and is a requirement from an academic common sense, belonging to national and institutional discourses.
In “Play” you already had a growing critique of the notion of local identity with Cristina Llancaleo’s character, and we also see it in Ulrich from “Tourists”.
Right. What happens is that in “Il Futuro” that does not happen in the characters, it is placed in the atmosphere. I’m going to deviate from the word “identity” because I’m not interested in it, but there is something in common in “Play”, “Tourists” and “Il Futuro” which is that I’m interested in creating characters who intentionally or accidentally lose their “character” or “role”, or what they should “be”, or identity, if we think of identity as a suit, a dress. I like to see what happens to them when you take away their base and leave them in the air, having to seek survival strategies without an artificial support.
You had already been present at several international festivals with “Play” and “Tourists”, but you never premiered at Sundance. What does it mean to you?
I studied in the U.S., so my proximity to independent American cinema was established from my early years as a filmmaker. In fact I was in Tribeca with “Play” which also is a very important festival. Regarding Sundance, even though at first it seems overwhelming it becomes quite familiar and comfortable, but what surprised me is that the World Competition section, which was where ‘Il Futuro’ was premiered, was much more innovative and daring than the U.S. section. North American cinema in competition might have had an independent label but there was nothing but convention. In another section, however, called Next, relegated to a parallel category, I could see a kind of American cinema much more interesting, at least the kind of film you’d expect to see at a film festival.
What about the Festival, what is your opinion of the work of CinemaChile as representative and coordinator of the local industry?
Well, after having criticized so much the idea of national cinema, you might think that I have a negative opinion (laughs), but it’s a matter of discourse. The truth is that the existence of CinemaChile has been critical in positioning and strengthening the presence of Chilean cinema around the world. Unfortunately efforts remain scarce and what CinemaChile does is to rationalize state support, organize it, make it effective, make it bear real fruits and they have been very successful in this task. I wish I could have been with CinemaChile at Sundance, but for now the state does not consider funding for this festival, hopefully they will change their stance. There were four Chilean films this year. The previous one had “Violet went to heaven” and “Young and Wild”, and the North American market is a good opportunity that we should truly promote.