Tuesday, December 13, 2011

SCN: Lacuesta's & Campos' DOUBLE STEPS is a work of (documentary? narrative?) art; short interview with the film-making couple

What a treat, what a blessing, what an original is DOUBLE STEPS (Los pasos dobles), the new hybrid narrative/
documentary (is there any other kind these days?) that makes its Spanish Cinema Now debut this week (see end of post for screening times)! Together with Barcelona Before, which had but a single screening this past Sunday night, and about which I'll have more to say later), this film represents yet another Spanish "step" in fracturing what we've long thought of as the documentary form but putting it back together as filmmaking art. The movie it most reminded me of, simply for its sense of first splintering and then re-forming as something else, is Bombay Beach (from Israeli filmmaker Alma Ha'rel about a very unusual American community).

The work of the film-making twosome shown here -- Isaki Lacuesta (above, right) and Isa Campo (above, left: more about their most interesting and creative relationship appears in the interview below), the movie is ostensibly about French artist (born in Rochester, New York!) François Augiéras (click for images of his art here).  And yet, like everything in Double Steps the film doubles in and out upon itself and is, in the end, as much about the art and the subject of that art as it is about the artist.

It is also purely narrative: Everything we see, I believe, has been created for the film -- with no archival footage, nor talking heads atop "real" people. And yet, by the end of the film, the feeling that remains is one of "documentary" because some deeper sense of truth -- about art/history/culture/people/place -- has taken shape here. In its way, the movie is also a kind of post-modern bio-pic, because it takes the usual elements of movie biography, stands them on their head and then kicks them into oblivion.

Whoops: Did I say "by the end of the film."  Confession:  TrustMovies did not actually see the end of the film. After 80 minutes of this 90 minute work, the "screener" he was given to view ceased to function, and no amount of diddling would make it continue. So he will have to show up at the end of one of the public screenings and see what he missed.  Whatever that might be, what he did see was enough to convince him of the film's veracity and the talent of this unusual movie-making couple.

Though I do not enjoy giving away a lot of plot, let me tell you something of what you can expect here. This is a tale of art lost and found in the desert, of uncle/nephew love and betrayal, of exotic/erotic interaction with a culture of albino Africans (evidently there's quite a component of homosexualty/homoeroticism to Augiéras' work), and a love story of a boy a girl and a record (45 rpm). The film is a kind of road trip, as well, mysterious, colorful and full of doubles. "There lies the secret of the double steps," we are told at one point. These have two meanings, it seems: hiding your footprints in the desert, and inventing someone identical to you and having him travel in your name.

Are you mystified? Well, take a chance, anyway, and see this strange movie that's experimental in the most wondrous of ways. It plays as part of SCN at the Walter Reade Theater this Thursday, December 15, at 7pm, and again Tuesday, December 20, at 2pm.


Meeting the adorable twosome of Isaki Lacuesta and Isa Campo was nearly as much a treat as was their movie. Looking barely out of their teenage years (they certainly have the energy and enthusiasm of teen-agers), they're actually in their mid-thirties and have been together -- living and working -- since high school. How's that for an enduring relationship?! In the following short interview, TrustMovies appears in boldface and Isaki and Isa in standard type.

I have only seen about eight of the SCN films so far, but it seems to me that yours is definitely the most artistic of the bunch, and the most challenging.

Isaki: That’s the problem. And it was on The Condemned, too.

Did you both work on The Condemned as well as on this film?

Isaki: Yes, we both worked on Los Condemnados, and she is the scriptwriter of both films.

I would never have imagined that the same people did both movies. 

(They both laugh. Then a translator joins us.  And Isaki explains…)

We understand English quite well, and we speak it a little bit but… (he shrugs)

(To Isa) As I was telling Isaki earlier, I watched almost the whole movie and was really enjoying it and really concentrating because there is so much going on. Then ten minutes before it was over, it stopped, and I could not get it to play, no matter what I did. 

Isa: Maybe you can see it in the screening?

I will.  I’ll go back and watch the last, maybe, 20 minutes. I would think that something like this would be so challenging to conceive and then to write. There’s so much “double-ness in it,” as it weaves back on itself and all over the place. And it’s so fascinating.  A kind of work of art. And I say that with some hesitation because when you say “art,” people stay away in droves.

Isaki: We thought it was a very classical way of storytelling. Not like the 19th century, realistical way, but we thought more about Cervantes or Laurence Sterne and his Tristram Shandy.

Of course!

Isa: Their way of storytelling was very free and very crazy…

Filmmakers don’t do that anymore much.  Maybe like Bryan Singer did in The Usual Suspects. But most movies are content to just tell a very simple story very simply. But you went back for your inspiration to the old-timers. Classic!

Not only that, because with this kind of storytelling you can alter it and change the subject at any moment and this keeps the interest of the viewer.  Like in a normal conversation, you can change the subject at any moment. So why is this not possible in a book or film?

Yes. Why not?

Why not?

So you now show us that this is possible in a film.  Have you both worked together on other films besides these two?  Are you more than just writer and director. I mean, are you… uh… friends?  Or are you…

(Isa smiles) Yes, we are a couple.


Isa: And I am also at the shooting of the film.

That’s interesting. So do you argue sometimes about things.

Isaki: Always. All the time! She also works with the actors, too.

Like…? Explaining to them, getting them to do things you want them to do?

Isaki: Yes, and continuing to write because screenwriting arrives right until and even through the shooting.

Isa: And it keeps going. Every moment it is possible to change the scripts.

The Condemned took place in South America, right? But where? 

Isa: In Peru.

Isaki: We shoot in Peru and Argentina.

But it was more about Argentina than Peru, right.

In the film there is no name of a country or a city.

There isn’t?  I didn’t remember that. (Apoligies to the filmmakers: In my review of the film I said it was set in Argentina.) That was deliberate…? Because the same stories occur all over?

The same ones are told from country to country.

It’s interesting to me that each year at SCN, we get more and more Spanish Civil War movies. It’s a subject that seems to be limitless, bottomless.  I understand that some younger Spanish filmmakers are tired of it and want to move on to other subjects.  Yet it seems to be so much a part of the fabric of the country. But now you have elected a right-wing President. What is that about?

(The translator explains my last question -- and Isa says) I think it is a global thing.

Isaki: Yes all Europe is like that now. It is a terrible mistake. 

People never learn.

But the alternative was not so nice, either.

The left-wing alternative?  (They shake their head, yes) Just like here.  Obamsa is no big left-wing alternative, either.  Is there anything you wish that journalists would ask you but we never do?

(They laugh)  Yes. There are never concrete questions.  We never speak about concrete questions like how we have made this particular sequence.  Just general questions or subjects.

Well, if I were a filmmaker, I’m sure I would ask you about the filming process or angles or cameras.  But as an audience member, as somebody who sits there, and with your movie just tries to follow it, even to try to understand it all, because it is such as challenge.  For that, we can only speak in generalities. Maybe, if I saw it again, I could probably ask more specific questions.  I saw Nacho’s film again (Extraterrestrial), and I got more out of the second time. Your film, I could probably watch it six times and keep learning.

Isaki: We like to think that people would watch it twice.

Isa: Or more.

Yes, the first time our eyes will on the subtitles so much of the time we really cannot see everything. 

Yes, that is a problem.

Even though you don’t think you miss anything, of course you do.

Isaki: Well, even when I was a journalist I never asked concrete questions.

Ah, so you didn’t either. Then I won’t feel too bad. Tell me how to spell your names so I get it right. 

Isa: Isabel Campo.

OK and Iañki?

Isaki. It is Isaki.  But in fact, my real name is Iñaki.  Because my family is from the Basque country. But I change my name for Isaki.

Really. Why?

Because now, Isabel, she is in my name.

Oh, god -- that’s so sweet!  How long have you been together?

20 years.  (My mouth drops open, and they laugh.)

Really?  You don’t look nearly that old!  Since elementary school, I guess?

No, since high school. 

But you look so young.  That is so wonderful to think that relationships can last.

It’s also very hard.

I’m sure it is, but you are still here. 

We are 36 but we met at 15.

Well, whatever you are doing, keep it up. And, oh, yes -- tell me what  you are doing next.

We are working on a feature film.  It is about a faker. 

A fakir?

No, about an imposter.  And we are also working on a comedy for TV.

A feature-length movie or an hour-length program? How long?

A series.

Wow!   Oh, good. That way this can support you for awhile so can make other movies like Double Steps.

It was not just an economical idea. I realty want to make comedy. To break the stereotypes around me. Everybody says that I am this very strange filmmaker who makes films for nobody.

Not true. You made one for me, at least!

Isa: The comedy is about a Spanish singer who is famous, Albert Pla

Isaki: He is fantastic.  He made a movie called Airbag, a very big comedy from the 90s.

Isa: So these will be our new projects.

(We get the high sign that our time is up, and so we thank this absolutely charming, talented team for its film and its time.)

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