In Los miembros de la familia, by Argentinian Mateo Bendesky, two siblings, obsessed respectively with the bodily and the mystical become trapped in an almost deserted coastal town to try to fulfil their mother’s passing wishes.
Off-season summer holiday locations are a common backdrop that young Argentinian and Uruguayan filmmakers are keen on. Bendesky justifies this coincidence by the “strong melancholic component [they offer], something abundant in these coastal sceneries.”
The Argentinian director was able to develop the script of Los miembros de la familia thanks to a MacDowell grant he was awarded in 2016 at the Toronto Festival. It is not the first time the director focuses on sibling relationships. His two previous short films, El ser magnético and the initiation tale Nosotros solos, also starred siblings.
Why do you think family is one of the most important themes in Argentinian filmmaking?
I think bonds in general – and the family ones in particular – are some of the most relevant themes in film history, regardless of the country of origin. In the case of Argentinian cinematography, I think films of this type – with an intimate character and a focus on the relationships between the characters and their environment – are more widespread due, mostly,to the size of the productions, rather than a thematic affinity that has to do with country itself. In this sense, I feel like similar cases take place in film industries of a comparable size as the Argentinian one, such as the Romanian one, for example.
Off-season coastal locations are a setting that seems to be of preference for young Argentinian and Uruguayan filmmakers (Whisky, Miramar, Balnearios, ¿Sabésnadar?). What is so attractive of these settings?
It is difficult to talk in the name of other filmmakers, but I think Argentinian and Uruguayancinematographies are defined by incorporating a large component of melancholy, which is abundant found in these coastal settings.
In my particular case, I was interested in filming off-season coastal areas for two reasons: on the one hand, the aesthetical quality of these run-down beach towns which drew me in to tell the story of these characters. In a way, the journey of Lucas and Gilda in the film is the opposite of holidays, and I feel like these spa resort locations that are stuck in time were the perfect stage to portray this idea. On the other hand, there is some certain type of desolation in off-season locations that I was interested in showing as a type of rarely used loyalty to the solitude in which these characters are currently immersed, now that their mother is missing.
After your debut, you filmed two short films starring siblings, El sermagnético and the coming of age Nosotros solos. Why this interest in sibling relationships?
Siblings are the people you are normally closest to in your life, and at the same time, they are relationships that are, to a certain extent, imposed upon you. The dichotomy this presents, as well as the tensions they can generate and the possibility of preserving or undoing these “given” bonds (as they depend on the will of both sides to be sustained) is something that I have always found intriguing and that I’ve wanted to explore through my films.
Which is your favorite coming of age film and book?
How difficult to choose only one! As far as books, I would have to choose Helen DeWitt’ The Last Samurai; as for films, I would say Rushmore, by Wes Anderson and The Squid and theWhale by Noah Baumbach.
What common characteristics are shared by the generation of directors following the ‘New Argentine Cinema’?
It is difficult for me to make a stylistic analysis that encompasses an entire generation, but if I had to think about an element that is repeated and that I definitely share, it would be a certain awareness about film history, including the New Argentine Cinema, and a search that intends to rethink different genres and categories from this awareness. Anyway, I am not a film theoretician, so what I am saying might not make any sense to my colleagues.
How much in common do you have with directors such as Aki Kaurismakiand Martín Rejtmanin your preference towards dry comedy?
A lot! They both were, with their different ways of approaching dry comedy, great influences in my work.
By alluding instead of showing, you generate a feeling of suspense in the viewer. How have you worked on rationing the information?
On of the key questions that I considered while I was developing the script was how to tell a story in which the two main characters wouldn’t have to tell anything of what had happened. Starting from this idea, and convinced that the central narrative elements (what are they doing in the house, what has happened, etc…) could be filtered through the characters’ behaviors without needing them to explain in words, I started to build the structure of the film. Afterwards, I looked for the moments where I could introduce different clues on each of their backstories, as if I was building a puzzle, offering a way for the film to be seen where the viewer connects the pieces of the past of the characters while the story develops.
The film lays out a mystery that is alsoapplicable to the main characters, as they live through a process of self-awareness. How did you work the personal journey of their characters with the actors?
The work with the actors was peculiar, as they both come from very different acting traditions: Tomás Wicz (Lucas) has a much more classical tradition, linked to the previous composition of the character, while Laila Maltz (Laila) came from a school much closer to improvisation, and I didn’t want to work with either of those options in the film. Starting from there, and considering that the tone I was looking for in their characters was very specific, what we did was work very intensely during the rehearsals previous to the shooting. During more or less three months we got together to work on different scenes with the aim of, on the one hand, work on the script and the tone of the scenes and, on the other, nurture the bond between the actors, so the relationship they would subsequently have on screen would gain authenticity.
What inspired you for the oneiric element of the film? (Without giving out any spoilers, would you explain if your intention was to awaken a feeling of something supernatural or if you have dreamt yourself of a hole in the sand or communicating with your loved ones after death).
From the very beginning I had the idea that the oneiric part of the film should be as similar as possible to reality, except with some displaced elements. I am convinced that part of the mourning process travels to the subconscious, and I was interested in portraying this without falling into the classical “dreamlike aesthetic” that certain films use for these moments, which I associate more strongly with films than dreams. From this premise is where, for example, the idea of the mother not having a traditional image or voice but still being present in Lucas’ dream was born.
One of the strong points in the film is the director of photography. It is the second time you work with Roman Kasseroller. What are his virtues?
I’ve worked together with Roman for several years: “Family Members” is our third collaboration and we are already preparing the fourth, which I hope to film next year. I think he is an admirable director of photography, not only due to the sensitivity that he displays and the enormous quality of his work, but also for his ability to interpret what I am looking for in each project. Through the years, this ability has transformed into a common language between the two of us which – I think- has become very beneficial for our work together.