The maturity of the dry and contained drama of Julieta Ledesma’s Being Awake hardly gives away that it is a debut film. For her first incursion in direction, the producer has developed a stunning staging, which becomes a deserving heir of the 1960s Argentinian historical avant-garde films.
It makes sense, therefore, that the script-writer and producer Leopoldo Torre Nilsson is cited as an influence. She also refers to the filmmaking of Leonardo Favio, or to the more recent work by Lucrecia Martel and Diego Lerman. The movie was filmed in Santiago del Estero, a Northern province of Argentina where the landscapes veil a nightmarish story over dry terrains, and where images acquire a large symbolic relevance.
Being Awake is the story of a duel between a father and a son. The tensions that have taken them to this violent split are homosexuality, gender violence, and the power relations inside the family structure, as well as the impact of a recent war that could be the Falklands war. The film won the Opera Prima Award of the National Film and Audiovisual Arts Institute of Argentina, and the Latinoamérica Primera Copia Award at the Havana Festival.
The word ‘Vigilia’ [the original title] has several different meanings. It refers to the state of sleeplessness, or insomnia, as well as the vigil that takes place on the eve of some saint’s days. Which of the meanings do you keep?
I keep both, because a sleeplessness state has to do with the structure of the film and its dreamy touches, while the second meaning has a ritual character that I relate directly to the film’s topic.
What moved you to tell this story?
It took me many years to write the script. There was no previous idea; the story seemed to unfold while I was telling it. One of the first images that appeared from the script was the sacrifice of the dog on the mountain. I started to investigate that image and discovered that the owner had to sacrifice the dog to protect the rest of the animals and his family. His trustworthy dog, in which he trusted, had become a threat. Then I discovered that the image condensed the entire story. I wrote with not chronology, individual scenes that belonged to the same universe. Scenes that appeared to be strongly symbolic. I am interested in working with internal images without having a clear direction. When I was writing this story, I had strong memories of my childhood, or of my holidays in Santiago del Estero (a province from the interior of Argentina), or of the many magical stories we were told during sleepless nights or during the siesta time. I work from generative images. I don’t write a story in a linear way, or with a previous logic. I am truly diving into the darkness when I story tell. I am not interested in knowing what I am going to say. I only want to bring out the stories that are inside me.
Being Awake is a very physical film, where earth and dirt have a very significant role, one can almost feel them. What role do they have in the construction of what you want to say?
The sensory and physical dimensions were very present throughout the filming. We wanted those bodies to show a lot of things that weren’t going to be told, but that had to be present in the images. The atmosphere of the film, the draught, the dust, the heat, they were fundamental narrative elements for me and I was very aware of them during the filming. Many of the perceptions were very developed throughout the filming, with a very detailed sound recording, with cicadas, wind, water, dryness, silence. The house and the space were as important on a narrative level as the characters. We took special care of every detail, because in this small universe, every element mattered.
In Being Awake magic mixes with reality, breaking the boundaries between both realms. What does the magical dimension bring to your story?
I come from a country family, and the blurry limit between reality and magic are present in any daily conversation. It might surprise [the viewer] but both realms are in the same narration, they are not two overlapping stories. What is extraordinary becomes normal. That is why I was interested in that magical dimension as part of reality for these characters.
The film shows two worlds confronting the same drama. One, the masculine one, the father’s one, marked by violence. The other, the feminine one, the mother, marked by madness. What comes out of this collision?
Patriarchy doesn’t leave many options open, the way for these women to rebel is through negation and madness. Feelings of blame and regret exist, but there is an impossibility of escaping or reverting them. Sexist patriarchy is an affront against life and sanity. The collision is tragedy.
After Being Awake, you have other pieces in mind. Could you give us some insight about them?
My second film works with entirely in feminine universes, the family bonds are present, but from women’s perspectives. After my first film, I felt a need to express myself this way.