Celina Murga, filmmakerTuesday, March 11, 2014
‘I’m not interested in love stories’
Born: 1973, Paraná, Entre Ríos province.
Studies: Film School
(Universidad del Cine — FUC).
Filmography: Ana y los otros, Una semana solos, Escuela normal, La tercera orilla.
Top films: El dependiente by Leonardo Favio, Tiempo de revancha by Adolfo Aristarain, La ciénaga by Lucrecia Martel
Just a few days before the release of her fourth film, La tercera orilla (The Third Side of the River, released earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival), Celina Murga met with the Herald to speak about her student years, the stories she loves to tell, psychology, and Buddhism — add Leonardo Favio to the list. No small talk.
Do you recall the moment when you first realized you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Yes, quite well, and it sounds so clichéd, but it’s true. I was 14 or 15, and a friend and I were always fantasizing about being filmmakers. We didn’t really know what it actually meant, we only felt this huge fascination when we went to the movies. Back then we still had double bills and the movie theatre was only three blocks from my house. It’s all tinted with nostalgia now. I can’t really describe it any better in words, it was pure fascination. It’s like: “I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker.”
What are your memories of your days at the Universidad del Cine?
I feel it was very good for me to leave university; obviously it was also very good to be there. I think I really capitalized on what I learned only after I left film school. I don’t mean to underestimate its value, not at all; but I’m quite shy, I’m an only child, and I’m not used to big crowds. I get lost in groups.
So you had a tough time?
No, it’s not that. I was always a good, responsible student. But I was never the gifted, talented student. I think nobody thought anything special of me. None of my scripts were ever picked to be shot as part of the curricula. So leaving film school allowed me to find a place for myself to grow with a low profile. I revealed myself. At the same time, I am deeply grateful to Manuel Antín, the Dean of the Universidad del Cine, for what he did for me and so many others.
Let’s talk about the stories you tell.
What I choose to tell has to do with a certain idiosyncrasy, a desire to depict closed, endogenous communities that create asphyxiated environments. I’m interested in exposing the social placement of different people. Once I was asked: “Why do you always focus on people?” What else could I focus on? I’m concerned with exploring conflicts in their most intimate spheres, for this is where you develop as a human being.
What does the title The Third Side of the River refer to?
Obviously, a river only has two sides. This third side would be a nonexistent place, and it refers to the place Nicolás doesn’t have, but wishes he did. He’s a character torn between two worlds: that of the father with all its quirks, strict rules and tyranny, and that of the mother and his siblings with its own rules and codes. In view of this, Nicolás tries to decide which road to follow. The third side of the river is a place he has yet to build.
Do you see yourself in Nicolás?
There are elements of both Nicolás and Jorge, his father, in me. We all have a tyrant and a victim inside. I can see those two roles at play in myself. Of course, Jorge and Nicolás are pretty polarized. Jorge doesn’t even question himself about the role of being a parent, I don’t think he recognizes the needs and wants of those in front of him.
You seem to want viewers to witness your characters behave rather than prompting psychological introspection. You focus on situations and actions, but not necessarily on cause and effect. Why?
I want to portray situations of everyday life with as much realism as possible. That’s why the characters don’t talk much about what’s really going on. I believe there’s cause and effect in real life, but not in a linear manner as a certain dramaturgy pretends. That’s what I run away from.
I understand you’ve been going to therapy for many years, and yet believe that while it’s very helpful to accompany you through life, it doesn’t bring about radical changes.
Yes, I think so. It’s true that I’ve been in therapy for many years, but I’ve also practiced Buddhism for 12 years. And I’ve learned more from Buddhism than from psychoanalysis. I’m talking about huge changes in my personal and professional life. And Buddhists too speak of laws of cause and effect, but as seen across time during the entire life, or lives, of a person. On the other hand, my father was a psychiatrist, so I guess this is where the other part comes from. To me, psychoanalysis gives me a space for introspection, but not for transformation.
Going back to cinema, you are interested in what happens to people in their most intimate areas. Why haven’t you shot a love story ever?
Good question... I’m not interested in love stories, I know it’s a horrible thing to say. I believe there are far more interesting topics involving people than love stories... it sounds awful, right? I like to watch them, but I don’t any motivation to make them.
You enjoyed the privileged company of Martin Scorsese in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, and will now be meeting Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami in Colombia for a special presentation.
Because the Festival de Cartagena will feature The Third Side of the River, and there will be a retrospective of Kiarostami’s work. The organizers wanted to have a Latin American director to dialogue with him, and so they invited me. The funny thing is that the person who invited me didn’t know that my opera prima Ana and the Others is totally influenced by Kiarostami. I had to choose some fragments of my films and some of his. They’ll screen one fragment after the next, and see what kind of dialogue comes out of it.
Do you feel intimidated about meeting him?
No, not at all. I don’t think he’ll expect me to dazzle him, that’s for sure. I felt the same way with Scorsese, he’s the kind of person who breaks the ice immediately. He speaks about his family with you as though you were a relative too, just like that.
Can a film festival somehow boost a film to do better in the box office?
It’s not a guarantee of anything at all. For a director, a festival expands the number of people that will know about your movie, even if they don’t see it. For viewers, it can be the chance to find out something about a film made by a famous or an unknown director. Then it’s up to viewers to pay the ticket and go see the movie. In the end, it comes down to viewers’ personal tastes.
Is Argentine cinema trendy now?
I feel that some years ago you could say that Argentine cinema was going through a fad, it was even something to fear. Then came Chilean cinema and many wondered if our cinema would keep its place. Take a look now: there’s an Argentine movie in almost every single major film festival, at least in a parallel section. So I don’t think you can say it’s a trend.
Because of its diversity?
In part, yes. It’s very hard to label what Argentine cinema is. There are different themes, aesthetics, and production formats, mainstream films like that of Campanella, which wins an Oscar and makes huge profits, but also small films made during the course of a weekend with small cameras and then shown just a few times in places other than movie theatres. It’s not fading, on the contrary. Instead, fads fade.
Is it a commonplace to say that Leonardo Favio was the best Argentine director ever? Or even if it’s a commonplace it still is true?
I think there’s a good deal of truth in that. To me, he’s the most stimulating. I’m not enthralled by all his films, and his cinema doesn’t have much to do with my cinema. That said, no matter how you looked at him he was inspiring. And he was so fascinating because he was extremely genuine and visceral, he exposed himself in every single thing he did. He never speculated. He was real. I guess that’s why his figure and his work has reached so many generations.