Friday, December 9, 2011

SCN: COUSINHOOD by Daniel Sánchez Arévalo--men behaving badly & the women who stand by; interview w/director & star

One the basis of but two full-length films (Dark Blue Almost Black and Gordos) and one short (Traumalogía),  Daniel Sánchez Arévalo has quickly become one of TM's favorite Spanish filmmakers -- one who is full of energy, ideas and style. So hopes were very high for his new film COUSINHOOD (Primos), which is making its US debut this weekend as part of the FSLC's Spanish Cinema Now series.

The good news is that the movie indeed delivers. It's funny, romantic, and full of energy & speed. The not-so-good news is that, for those of us who have loved the earlier work of this filmmaker (pictured at left), his new film is over-the-top without being nearly as complex or interesting as his earlier work. Cousinhood -- cute translated title! -- is fun, the performers give their all (a little less would be enough) and the theme (the Spanish male achieving automomy) is pertinent. But what Sánchez Arévalo does with this is pretty much the expected. (And what you'd expect from a Warner Bros movie.)

The film is distributed in Italy by Warners, and so comparison to the Hangover movies is perhaps not so far out of line. In Cousinhood, three cousins -- one of whom (Quim Gutiérrez, above, of Bloody May and Dark Blue Almost Black) has been stood up at his wedding -- decide to head back to their childhood village to "reconnect." Which they do, in spades. The other two primos are played by the filmmaker's regular, Raúl Arévalo (below), and by Adrián Lastra, both of whom have problems of their own.The former has trouble connecting with women he truly might care about, the latter is besieged with medical problems, some real some not so.

Also in the cast is another Sánchez Arévalo regular, Antonio de la Torre (below, from Gordos and The Last Circus) and, in the leading female role, the lovely Inma Cuesta, who helps keep the movie grounded. There's plenty of color, scenery, food and events. But finally, all of it seems more manufactured than organic. Still, this is the filmmaker's most successful movie so far, box-office-wise, and attention is being paid. (See the interview below for more specifics on the ups and down of success, and letting go of the dark side.)

Cousinhood  will screen Sunday, December 11, at 7:00 pm and Thursday, December 15, at 1:00 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.


After the press conference for Spanish Cinema Now,  TrustMovies met with Daniel Sánchez Arévalo and his star (though this is pretty much an ensemble film, as are all of the filmmaker's works), Quim (pronounced Kim) Gutiérrez, for a short but interesting conversation. Below, TM appears in boldface, while the filmmaker and actor, each identified by name, are in standard type.

Was Primos your most successful movie commercially?

Daniel: Absolutely. Right now, it is in the top five Spanish movies at the box-office. Torrente is of course first.

I am not surprised that it is the most successful. Because it is your simplest. Your other movies are all over the place and take in so much and make us think about so many things. This one is just a nice, straight-ahead rom-com. With a theme.

Daniel: It was the main purpose for me. I come from doing Gordos, and you said it: all over the place. A film about excesses, very extreme. I was really exhausted afterwards so I needed something like…lighter. In the sense of light, also.

Quim: Yes. Lighter.

Daniel: I really wanted to do a comedy from beginning to end. All my films are light and dark -- with drama and comedy.

Quim: They are balancing all the time. For an actor, that’s the challenge. You are balancing between comedy and drama every moment.

Interesting…. And in this one you didn’t have to do that?

Daniel: Well, no and yes. Quim really had to be in that position in this film, too.  Because he was jilted at the altar  So he is sad most of the time.

Yes, but the audience does not look at it that way.

Quim: No, but the character must. The audience laughs about your tradgey, but as an actor you cannot play only the joke.  You have to be really feeling the tragedy, and probably increasing the level of energy because that is what gives the comedy to it. But you cannot, like, betray the tragedy part of what is really happening.

Daniel: Your character has to take it all seriously, so it was a huge effort to shoot the film, particularly for Quim. He has, like, a teardrop almost always in his face.

In terms of your film history, there was Dark Blue Almost Black, and then something between that and Gordos (shown below), right?

Daniel: No just those two.

What about that fabulous short you made. about the father in the hospital and the wedding and...

Daniel: Oh, yes.  Traumalogía.

That was wonderful. That was when I really understood what a short can be. And why they seem to be so important to Spanish audiences.  It was equivalent, better in some ways – richer -- than lots of full-length films I’ve seen.

Daniel: The film I am writing now has a lot to do with Traumalogía. I am starting at the same point -- the wedding, the father getting sick -- but then go to a total different place. 

Will this one also be all over the place, and light and dark and....

Daniel: Yes.  I think I am recovering.

(We all laugh)

I have to say that I enjoyed Cousinhood. But I missed…

Quim: The dark side?

Yes. So I am glad he is going back to it.  (To Daniel) But I also also glad you made a lot more money on this one.  Everybody should be happy.

Daniel: But you have to pay for that. It is crazy: On one side, it is great because it gives you more power. But once you have a really big success in Spain, it should let you do whatever you want.

But you already do whatever you want?!

Daniel: But now I am kind of trapped because they want me to do it all over again. And suddenly I find myself feeling like producers are thinking, 'If you have been able to manage to do this, then you should be able to do it again.'  But no, I cannot just do this again and again…

Maybe you can work out a deal of doing one for three. One you want and two they want. Or even one for two....

Daniel: That’s a good ratio.  The film I am doing now is a comedy, but is it is more on the emotional side. And it is darker.

Well, if you are dealing with any kind of reality, which your films usually do, then of course there will be some dark. Another thing I love about your movies is how you treat everything from homosexuality to weight loss in a way that is less judgmental. We end up liking everybody and understanding them.

Daniel: I really appreciate you are telling me this because this is my main goal when I write. I don’t want to ever judge my characters. I need to understand what they are doing and not judge them. I try to do this is real life, too. When something is really wrong, try to understand a little bit what is going on in that mind. Later, maybe, you will have to go to jail. (We all laugh) But for now….

Yes, we try to understand.

Daniel: For now, it is just people trapped in their circumstance. Making mistakes. Like here; this guy is jilted, so he goes to his former village, finds that first girl and immediately tells her, 'I am in love with you.'

Crazy, but so like some men. So, Quim: What are you doing next?

Quim: Right now I just finished doing a film for José Luis Cuerda -- Todo es silencio -- a very old and big director in Spain.  He did Butterfly, The Education of Fairies, Blind Sunflowers. He is a really heavyweight director in Spanish history,

Good. So you will get paid for this one.  And correctly?  (We laugh again, because this refers to an earlier part of our conversation, which was not recorded.)

Quim: Well…..

Daniel: In the Spanish economy, you don’t get paid what you really work for. 

Quim: Living on just cinema work in Spain is a real challenge. It is not easy. Most actors go into TV. They have to.  But if you want to do interesting things that challenge you, well, this is not easy.

Have you done TV?

Quim: Not much, no.

Daniel: If you want to make your career in only doing cinema, it is almost impossible.

(Suddenly, it’s time to go, the PR person tell us)

Daniel: Thank you for having us, and for having so much interest in our work.  It feels good.

Quim: It does. Thank you.

Well, you know, it’s great for me, too. It’s so much fun: meeting all of you after seeing your work over and over through the years. It’s like seeing a small repertory in which the actors and directors are all so talented. You can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.  So keep it up!


ChrisAguirre180 said...

Good stuff. I was looking for some background on the director regarding this particular film.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Chris. I hope you get to see some other of this director's films. They're very good, so is he.

I went to your blog and found it lots of fun. We have something in common: I eat fruit salad and yogurt everyday, too!