Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sebastián Silva/Pedro Peirano's OLD CATS opens in NYC--3 years late but still welcome --plus a Q&A with the filmmakers

Good movies will out. Some of 'em, at least. OLD CATS, the follow-up film by Sebastián Silva (co-written and co-directed by Pedro Peirano) to his wonderful The Maid, was first seen here in New York City at the 48th New York Film Festival in 2010, with a supposed U.S. theatrical release to follow that winter. We're still waiting. Or we were -- until today, when the film finally opened for a week-long run as part of MoMA's film program.

In assessing these two films, as well as his follow-up to Old Cats -- Crystal Fairy, which already opened here last month to good reviews and pretty good box-office -- it is now clear to those of us who appreciate this filmmaker's work that he has maybe never created a movie character he didn't like (at least to some extent). Look for a villain in his films and you'll come a cropper. These are all folk on the road to learning, and if that sounds preachy or tiresome, it's not. The films of Silva (above, right) and Peirano (above, left) offer too much fun and are far too interesting to be mistaken for sermons.

In Old Cats, which really is a lovely movie, the filmmakers shows us yet another dysfunctional family: an older couple, Isadora and Enrique (Bélgica Castro and Alejandro Sieveking, with those titular cats), well into their 80s, when their building's elevator breaks down, leaving Isadora, who is now coping with the onset of dementia, a kind of prisoner, ten flights up.

This is also the day that Isadora's daughter Rosario (Claudia Celedón, above, right) and her butch lover who likes to be called Hugo (the wonderful Catalina Saavedro, above, left, who starred in The Maid) arrive on the scene with a plan (yet another cockamamie scheme, it would seem) that will supposedly make everyone rich.

What happens is both expected and then not. The filmmakers observe their characters well and discover flawed folk who keep trying to make things work but fail as often as they win. Silva and Peirano do not judge, but they do see clearly and allow us to do the same. We come out of their film happy, sad and chastened. Things are never easy, particularly as age and its ravages overcome us.

Much of the film takes place, by necessity, in the older couple's apartment. But smartly -- both plot-wise and visually, for a wonderfully enjoy-able and sometimes frightening outing -- the characters and we take to the streets. There, Silva and Peirano prove just as knowing and sly, with the same fine understanding of human nature, as they are when boxed into the apartment. There's an epiphany of sorts, but nothing major. Silva's too subtle for that.

As I mentioned earlier, the movie opens today, Tuesday, August 20, for a week's run at MoMA. So for all you Silva completists out there, don't let this one go by unseen. I would hope there will be a DVD release eventually. More on that when I get some answers from the distributor...


At the Q&A back in October of 2010, following the NYFF screening of Old Cats, both Sebastián Silva (below, right) and Pedro Peirano (below, left) were present and happy to answer a number of questions from various viewers. Below is what I have now, three years later, been able to retain from my scribbled notes taken during the pair's Q&A....

Your film deals with the claustrophobia of family. What draws you to this subject? 

SS: I have a huge family (Editor's note: See The Maid for verification of this.) Relationships are strong and sometimes terrifying. And there are no boundaries. For me family relationships are so universal, and they mirror that of the whole society.

PP: I come from a small family. All women. It's a horrible situation! (Everyone laughs.) Part of my idea here was to use a kind of "thriller" format for this movie.

Can you talk a bit about your collaboration?

SS: Pedro is very experienced in collaborating. He does amazing writing, and he always knows every detail. I'm dyslexic, and so maybe more daring and not afraid to make mistakes. But he always knows what's right and wrong!

PP: The main things is always how to get the characters into trouble. In terms of writing, Sebastián always creates the problems for the characters that I must then come and save.

I have two questions: You have three strong and famous women playing these characters. How was that to deal with?  And also, since the one couple is lesbian, how it is for homosexuals in your country?

PP: The three are actually very good and very old friends, so that made it easier. What was really interesting here is that we had three generations and thus three different styles of acting.

SS: For instance, Bélgica Castro who plays Isadora is 92 years old and has never improvised on film, so this was very difficult for her. She'd suddenly stop and say, "Just give me the line!"

PP: Regarding the question of homosexuality, things are changing. Discussions are taking place, on top of the remains of older discussions.

SS: In any case, our film is not categorized on the web as a gay film. No! That's only a part of it.

You do old age so well. Was this due to the script or to the actress?

SS: When you're 92, like Bélgica, you know old age. We were actually worried about this, so we researched, too, about the portrayal of mental illness.

PP: I also am upset by the theme of age and I liked the opportunity to work on this. Our older actors who play the couple are actually married -- they're 92 and 87 -- and the film was shot in their apart-ment in which they've lived for 30 years, so in a sense we got a lot of research from that alone. A lot of real data: all the pills and the dynamics of how they lived. How they wake up in the morning and what they do each day. We invaded their house and learned a lot!

What about the animals?

SS: Oh, boy. We had no experience directing animals. When we wanted the cats to move, we had to use these cans of air, which we had to squirt at them. Then they moved.

PP: And when the elevator broke, we had to carry everything downstairs.

SS: The Maid was shot in my father's house, and now this film was shot in the actors' apartment. From now on, I want to find locations that are lived in!

PP: The hardest part, in a way, was that the apartment was real and so were the actors who lived in it. But the characters were not. They were so different from the actors, and that made it very odd.

Is this part of a new wave of Chilean cinema?

SS: I don't believe in this. Now it is all more individual, random. In Mexico, yes; Uruguay, yes. But in Chile there us no new wave yet. Small films are being made, with not much support from audiences. But fortunately, because of video, movies are cheaper to make!

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