El peor programa de la semana, La buena vida, Obra maestra, Soldados de Salamina, Bienvenido a casa, ¿Qué fue de Jorge Sanz?, Madrid 1987, Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados… It doesn’t matter if you are speaking about films or television, at this point in time, the career of David Trueba really doesn’t need any formal presentations. His latest production for film is called Casi 40, a road-movie that takes us to the Spanish meseta and in which two characters He and She (portrayed by Fernando Ramallo and Lucía Jiménez) look back to what their lives have been up to the age revealed by the title. He is a beauty product seller. She has a stable life, although she might still hold some of that childish hope of becoming a famous singer. With their bags full of old hopes and dreams, they both start a small concert tour where they will revise their past and find out what the future brings.
Five years have passed since Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados (Living is easy with eyes closed), your last fiction film. Why this long wait?
Well, an important part of it has been my work on Tierra de campos, which is my latest novel, and these years have been important to finish it. And added to that, I had some projects that had run into the typical difficulties you run into when filmmaking in Spain and when you want to do what you want and what you believe in.
Casi 40 starts from that moment when one is about to cross the threshold of turning 40. Does everything end at 40? What comes after that?
(laughter) No, of course not. Being 40 is like being any other age, nothing ends. But when you get to 40 you reconsider certain things, you ask yourself what you’ve achieved, what you’ve managed to get of what you dreamt about and what you haven’t managed, as it is sort of the middle of life. The middle of the journey. There is the same amount [of time] behind you than in front of you, and it is normal that you ask relevant questions.
The film has a pleasant tone, it appears as a mix between a diary and a comedy, but it also has a sort of ‘farewell’ feeling to it, including certain cultural references from the 80s. I’m referring to the scene in which characters are revising all those things that were theirs and no longer exist.
Well, for me that is an innate part of the living experience. I mean, in life all that you progress and all that you add is achieved by leaving other things behind. When one observes their time and their own personal life, the two impulses are present and I think that it is positive, because it has, at a time, a melancholic element and a thrust towards living. But any of the overemphasis towards one direction or the other would be a mistake. It is a question of balance among both. And, indeed, when one reviews [their life] or characters review [their lives], they realize how many things have been left behind at both a social and a personal level.
It is interesting that the characters have no name. Has this been a conscious decision?
It is a conscious decision that was born from the question many people make whether there is some sort of relation between La buena vida [The Good Life, Trueba’s first feature film, also starring Lucía Jiménez and Fernando Ramallo] and this film. I wanted them to be independent films and leave it open. If, for a member of the audience, La buena vida was a relevant film, they could project on these characters something of that film. And for the vast majority, for those who La buena vida is irrelevant or they don’t even know it, the film doesn’t need any special code to be understood.
Regardless of what you mention, you bring the same actors together. It has been over 20 years since La buena vida was released. How has meeting again been? In what ways do you feel you’ve matured, them as actors and you as a director, and in your relationship?
They look fantastic, because actors in general are like wine, they get better with time almost always. Of course, I met them when they were young, I somewhat took them out of high school for that film. In fact, at that time, neither of them had actually considered acting, and they both ended up becoming performers. I’ve found them to be mature, professional, but also wanting to get that freedom and enthusiasm for the ‘first time’ back. I think the conditions have taken place for that to happen. Perhaps if they were two actors that worked daily or that are filming movies all the time and are extremely successful, their work would’ve been more functional. But as that is not the case, for them the film has been a chance to debut again, which is what I say about my own work when they ask about my mechanism to stay enthusiastic at work. In novels as well as in films, it is to debut again each time. When you’ve spent time at a novel and you go back to filmmaking, it is like your first film, like starting again. And the same thing happens when you go back to literature.
Did the years of experience influence the script of the final result in any way?
I am sure they had an influence in the way I wrote the characters. I’m sure about it, because, in general, although I don’t do it too often anymore, when you write for actors that you know, you somehow work with their personal elements. Since the Lucía that I had met wanted to be a singer and she had a band, well there is a certain amount of projection of what her life would’ve been if she’d done that. The same thing happens with the character of Fernando. But at the end of the day the characters speak to you and tell you who they are. So, you have to have that original impulse, but then you have to let them become themselves.
I don’t know if it’s a topic, but they always say that characters have, in some ways, a part of their author. What part of He and what part of She do you have in you or do you recognize?
Yes, I think that, in general, the writer leaves little pieces of him or herself in all of the characters that he or she writes. I find the character of Lucia to be very close to me, because she has a very skeptical relation with the professional and artistic world, she has always prioritized her personal life over everything else, and I feel very identified with this. When she says: “I didn’t have the ambition of chase success, what I wanted was my work to be an extension of my life.” The character of Fernando I feel less identified with, but I have run into many people in my life that have that sort of feeling of defeat, like everything has slipped through their fingers, and to whom I’ve always wanted to say, somehow, what the movie says. I mean, nothing has slipped through your fingers, it just wasn’t as you remember it, life means keep on fighting every day.
The film doesn’t seem to answer the questions the characters present. I mean, it creates a doubt, but it doesn’t give a precise solution, it is as if you wanted to leave the story open to any answer.
Well, it is more [an issue] that it comes from a type of films that doesn’t have a resolution structure, it intends to resituate the characters at a different place than they were when you took them, although it may geographically be the same. I mean, She returns to her home, and He returns to his van and his solitude. But, for me, they are completely different. She has felt the need to perform again, to reconsider that calling. And He has been freed from the idealization he had created of the past. These are not films one builds for resolution, one builds them with circular elements, where the characters run into the same place, but they are different people. Those things that we call questions should always stay open. My way of working is always: the characters present questions that are projected on the audience or the reader and it is he or she that has to answer them. They show an experience, but an experience is not complete without the feeling of the one who watches.
The script is built with scenes united by the journey from one city to another, that circular coming and going, more than following a traditional script, or a traditional conflict to start the plot. In relation to this, how was the writing process?
Writing repeats itself consistently. I mean, it is writing the script first structurally and then resolving every scene. In this case there was some sort of weightlessness, as we already considered it a film that we weren’t very sure if we would ever premiere, if we would produce professionally, if we would enter a convectional commercial circuit, and that gave us a lot of serenity when laying it out. I mean, we didn’t have to add all the elements that, I would say, signified the film conventions. All films have to include these conventions because if not we can’t go to a TV channel to ask for money, but, since we’d decided initially that we wouldn’t, that we were not going to follow this path, that made us be very free, the actors in their performances and me in my writing, [we were] macho more honest towards the tone we wanted to give. I think the word is weightlessness, like something that floats in the air without falling. It is like a tennis match in which, instead of competing against the other player, you intend to have the ball stay in the air for as long as possible.
Casi 40 escapes the urban environment and looks for that other, rural, Spain. Is it simply part of the plot or was there any other reason to explore this landscape? Well, initially the story demanded it, but I’ve always liked films that show what I consider is the wealth of our country. I mean, it is not all Madrid and Barcelona, there are many more things and when you get on [a car] and travel and go out… I’ve made a film in Gerona, a film in Almeria and I’ve always preferred to incorporate this wealth. It’s always bothered me that we are so familiar with Winsconsin and we know nothing about Castile. Therefore, the movie portrays a trip between Palencia and Plasencia and Salamanca and Segovia and so on, and I really felt like adding elements of cities that are not typically filmed. The opportunity arose to travel around those areas and I said, let’s!
You’ve already mentioned there is no plot connection with La buena vida, but in Casi 40 there is some sort of continuity with your filmography. In the way you present the scenes or in your work with the actors, your filmmaking is very thoughtful and these elements are present here. It feels as if you were filling in the boxes of a set that is being built with time, one project after the other.
Yes, I see it as you say. More than a continuity with a specific film, it is a more general continuity that has to do with expressing yourself 360 degrees, by always doing it through things that are linked to your interests, to your sensibility. I would like to think that the things I do are like pictures in my life album. And when one looks at their life album, they are evidently no longer that 14-year-old kid, that 20-year-old dude, but they recognize themselves. I would also like to recognize myself in what I’ve done from a distance. For this to happen, there has to be certain honesty and you have to speak about what goes on in your head.