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Director is not a fan of scary movies

Santiago Fernández Calvete directing Ricardo Díaz Mourelle during the shooting of La segunda muerte.
By Pablo Suárez
For the Herald
Santiago Fernández Calvete says La segunda muerte has atypical traits

ominous secret for many years. A lonely police woman has just arrived from the city, also concealing a secret of her own. Another outsider comes into town, a kid who can see someone’s past by touching their photos. And there’s a series of weird deaths involving an entire family, whose members are found completely charred — and praying on their knees. However, what’s stranger is that they burned from inside out, as it happens, with spontaneous combustion. To top it off, there’s an apparition of no less than Virgin Mary each time someone is set on fire. Or, at least, people say it’s her.

Thus is born a truly original cinematic universe in Argentine Santiago Fernández Calvete’s La segunda muerte (The Second Death), now commercially released and previously featured at many notable film festivals, including the BAFICI, Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre and Sitges. Fernández Calvete spoke with the Herald about the many sides of his unusual opera prima.

What do you like so much about fantastique and horror cinema?

They both provoke basic feelings: astonishment and fear, respectively. I enjoy these feelings, they make me feel alive. There’s a film by Kurosawa, I think it’s Madadayo, in which one of the students laughs at the professor because he’s afraid of the dark. The reply of the professor really impressed me: he says that those who don’t fear the dark have no imagination. What I like about cinema is fantasy and illusion, instead of a slice of life I can see every day. I like to be surprised, afraid.

In terms of genre, how can you describe La segunda muerte?

It’s a feature that crossbreeds many genres, but I never thought it was going to be totally faithful to any of them. I wanted to flirt with some elements, and not be enslaved by a formula. I wrote it the way I wanted it to be, regardless of genres.

What are the elements from fantastique?

I took the liberty of using characters with supernatural qualities, like the kid and the apparitions of Virgin Mary. But many people also find traits from horror cinema. I think sometimes the frontiers between both genres are not too well defined.

Which are the influences from horror cinema that you included in the film?

I’ll be very honest with you: I’m not a big fan of scary movies. I’ve seen horror movies and will keep on watching them, but I’m not an expert. Before making this film, I saw lots of Korean and Japanese thrillers and horror movies. But I also watched good old classics such as Kubrick’s The Shinning, Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which also tackles the struggle between faith and religion. Nonetheless, at the time of making the film, I forgot all about them (at least consciously), and dreamed of achieving an atmosphere somewhat similar to that of Miller’s Crossing, by the Coen brothers.

You said La segunda muerte is an auteur film too. Why?

Because it doesn’t have the typical traits viewers are expecting to find. Genre movies of this type have blood, shooting, and eventually nudity. You won’t see any of that in La segunda muerte. It doesn’t need it. You see dry blood, no weapon is ever fired, and people are wearing clothes. What matters is what happens inside the characters, not outside. It’s more important if they have inner wounds than if they bleed while being chased.

The cinematography is particularly gripping. It says a lot about what’s going on.

Cinematographer Dario Sabina is a true master. Not only in technical issues, such as lenses and lighting, but also conceptually. For instance, the scenes taking place in the present have washed out colours, whereas those from the past are depicted in vibrant shades. It makes sense, for the story is about strong and unsolved matters from the past that have more weight than the present itself.

How about the sound design?

Sergio Korin and I knew exactly what we wanted, meaning an atmospherically disturbing film. Korin took clues from the sound design of an old videogame called Silent Hill. Victoria Pedemonte was in charge of the art direction. She knew perfectly how to find what the film needed in the smallest details and perfect locations. She’s done a lot with very little.

Is mystery itself the main characteristic of La segunda muerte?

La segunda muerte has mystery, that’s true, but I think it’s secondary. What the movie tackles is how to deal with the past, especially when there’s something dark, when it’s unwanted pressure. Can you lead a normal life after having killed someone? After having taken revenge? Does it make sense to have a lifeless existence enslaved by the past? I think these are the main questions La segunda muerte poses.

@pablosuarez
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