Thursday, December 18, 2008

A conversation with the RATED-R group: Mar Flores, Félix Sabroso and Dunia Ayaso

The RATED-R girls: left to right, Candela Peña, Mar Flores and Goya Toledo -- surrounded by admirers.

As the Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual Spanish Cinema Now heads into its final week, I want to share a conversation that TrustMovies had with the co-directors and one of the stars of the new film RATED-R (Los Años Desnudos). Featuring two of Spain's most glamorous actresses (Mar Flores and Goya Toledo) and one of its most awarded (Candela Peña), the movie is a spot-on look at the Spanish soft-core film industry that blossomed once Generalissimo Franco had left the building. An engaging/funny/sad mix of melodrama and relatively recent history, the film might not get a pick-up from our some of our tonier foreign-film distributors. But I should think it would prove at least a moderate success for a company like Lionsgate -- as did such Spanish language films as La Mujer de mi hermano and Ladrón que roba a ladrón. (My earlier review of Rated-R for GreenCine appears here.)

Just post the opening-day press conference, we talked with co-directors Dunia Ayaso and Félix Sabroso, as well as the incredibly svelte and glamorous Ms Flores, who seemed as shy as she was sweet and consequently did not say a whole lot.

TrustMovies: I am really glad to be meeting you in person because I could not help wondering how old you two directors were, and whether you had actually even been around during this period of Spain's history (the late 1970s). It’s clear you were around but you must have been children or teenagers, right?

Félix Sabroso: We lived through the Franco period, yes, but we were just kids. We got some of our information and background for the film from our time in school but mostly we got it from our upbringing by our parents who had themselves lived through Franco and had been repressed both religiously and from a cultural perspective. Dunia and I are in our 40s, and we decided that we had enough perspective now to talk about men and women and the Spanish tradition of that period -- but above all about the women, who were our mothers.

Ah... This is very interesting to me as an American who has yet in his lifetime to to live under a dictatorship like Franco's. Although I do wonder, if the Republicans -- ours, not yours -- had won this past election, how long it would be before we found ourselves living under a dictatorship like Spain's? The one time I had the opportunity to go to Spain, back in the mid 1960s, I decided not to because of the Franco regime.

Dunia: Well, in those times the tourists were usually well taken care of.

Of course. Tourists usually are. But if you knew what was going on in terms of the Spanish people, I think that made it more difficult to want to go there. For me, anyway.

Félix: Yes, you would have had to deny what was happening. Spain was pretty gray, pretty bleak in those years. What someone like Hemingway experienced was quite a different Spain: the bulls, and all that.

Ah, those 70s! From left: Candela Peña, Antonio de la Torre, Goya Toledo and Mar Flores.

Your movie Rated-R really took me back to a similar time in our country, where people like Linda Lovelace and Gerard Damiano were in the news and Deep Throat -- the one before Watergate -- was so popular. I found it fascinating to see how things were in Spain. One of the most interesting points about your film was how you showed Spain dealing with its new freedom -- of speech, expression, art. How Spaniards used it and maybe abused it.

Félix: There is a word that we use a lot that perhaps defines how we handled eroticism and the new freedom of the characters in our film -- naïveté. There was a lot of this around, so we tried to talk about sexual freedom from a very basic perspective.

How did you decide to use those -- what I would call -- "pull quotes" on screen that come from the characters themselves -- rather than from famous people, as is more often the case.

Dunia: They came out of the fact that these people, when they finally got a life of their own, were all just representative of real people. These quotes sprouted out of the writing process. They were in the script originally.

My favorite is the one quoted by the gay cabaret singer to his friend and co-performer (played so well by Candela Pena). "You think you've got freedom because you're able to show your tits on screen. But the guys you are showing them to are the same repressed assholes who were there 20 years ago!" I think you could make that statement here in America, too.

Félix: We always say that in Spain, under Franco, for men and women and the roles they played in that society, that Spain was a fundamentalist country.

Certainly in many respects -- like the way that Church and politics seemed to come from the same place. Can you tell me what the "S" classification in your film signified? Did it mean a "Sex" film?

Dunia: Well, the classification only existed in the 1970s, and the S meant that these films could effect the "sensitivity" of the spectator.

Well, that's an interesting way to put it: a lot more subtle that we have over here.

Dunia: When "X" films finally arrived in Spain, this "S" classification disappeared.

So the films that these women were making then were more like soft-core porn films?

Félix: Exactly.

Nuns gone wild! From left: Mar Flores, Goya Toledo and Candela Peña.

You mentioned in the press conference that you didn't really go into the "transition" period after Franco. Yet to me, the scene in the police station seemed very "transition."

Dunia: Yes, because we were very aware when we were teenagers that we were really in this kind of special area where there was this explosion of freedom all over the place. And the police were very angry about this.

Police often get angry about too much freedom.

Félix: Young people would go out in the evening and would find a policeman in the street, and instead of feeling safe, we would feel afraid. Because, with the police, anything could happen at any time.

Yes, you definitely get that feeling from this film. The scene with Mar Flores in the police station was truly frightening and upsetting. The viewer, just like Mar's character, is kept very off balance.

Félix: Yes, Mar was exceptional in that scene.

Mar, during the press conference, you said you were really a beginning actress. I didn't believe this but when I looked on the IMDB, sure enough, you have not had that much experience. Telenovelas and the like but not a lot of films.

Mar Flores: No, it is true.

The other actress Goya Toledo was very good, too. The manner in which the movie shows us the introduction of AIDS into Spain was quite moving and impressive.

Mar: People experienced that in the 80s, with friends who contracted the disease.

Did you two cast the film before or after you finished the script? And did you have these particular actresses in mind?

Dunia and Félix (at the same time): Oh, we wrote this script while thinking about these actresses! We wanted them for the film!

How was the film accepted in Spain?

Félix: We had very good critical reviews and the box-office result has been acceptable. Taking into consideration what is happening with Spanish cinema now, we really can't complain.

Is Spanish cinema going downhill at the boxoffice?

Dunia: In general, there has been a drop. People have stopped going to the movies. They watch films now at home.

Maybe, when the movie is released to DVD, it'll have a even bigger audience.

Félix: Well, Mar got an award as best actress.

The Goya? (For the uninitiated, that's Spain's "Oscar.")

Félix: No, at one of the festivals. Dunia: The Goyas will come in January, we hope!

For those keeping up with my GreenCine reviews of all the Spanish Cinema Now films, the latest post can be found here.

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