World premiering at the Seville European Film Festival, Santi Amodeo’s latest production “The Gentiles” is a robust reminder of the director’s vibrant and idiosyncratic voice which hasn’t always attracted the notice it merits on the Spanish film scene. After having made cult pieces such as “Astronauts” (2003) and “Doghead” (2006), Amodeo turns again to a portrait of adolescence with “The Gentiles,” this time with a generation of full-on digital natives.
Produced by Grupo Tranquilo and Sacromonte Films, headed by Gervasio Iglesias, the film follows Ana – played by Africa de la Cruz – a teenager who, while struggling with the typical problems of adolescence, is thunderstruck by her charismatic friend Corrales – played by Paula Díaz – who fantasizes with taking her own life.
Amodeo imbues his characters with a spontaneity that you’d expect from a younger filmmaker, someone much closer to the age of its characters. Álex Catalán, a DP on Alejandro Amenábar’s “While at War” and “La Fortuna” and all of Alberto Rodriguez’s movies, serves as cinematographer. Alongside art director Ana Medina, he creates a sensuous Seville, brimming with color.
Variety talked with Amodeo in the build up to the film’s world premieres in main competition at Seville.
Both the choice of analog film as of the lenses give the movie an aesthetic that is modern while reminiscent of a classical cinema. How did you strive to find the right visuals and texture for the film?
From the first moment the DP Álex Catalán and I were clear that we wanted to shoot in 16mm. Almost everything is better when you shoot in analog, from the colors to the textures. But also analog in some way pushes you to a way of shooting, by the type of camera, the processes of the negative, the lenses, the same chassis that has a certain duration… Everything conditions you, for me in a good sense. And as you say, something shot in 16mm has two faces, one that transports you towards a somewhat more classic cinema, and the other that provides a certain look, I don’t know if modern, but certainly different. I think this movie suited it very well; but in reality I’ve shot almost all my films in analog and my idea is to continue doing it while I can.
The film manages to be both an adolescent portrait as as well as a take on suicide and unrequited love but maintaining a lightness and acid sweetness very typical of the protagonist herself. How did construct the portrait of a teenage girl? And what tones were you looking for when making the film?
In this film there were two things that conditioned the tone: a high percentage of what happens in the film is taken from real teenagers, in many cases girls who committed suicide. And the other thing is how the story itself came to me: normally I was nourished by things told in the first person on social networks. The tone was already there: For example, in one publication a teenager spoke with enthusiasm about some new Vans she’d bought and in the next post she said that she was going to kill herself by drowning in the river. Many times there were no more clues, you were the one who had to complete the story. I have tried to reflect that, giving it logical dramatic structure, but trying to make the viewer feel similar to how I felt.
As filmmakers we are continually confronted with how to portray this new digital reality. You explore with great interest the digital world in which this new generation grows up and embrace its aesthetics. What was the aesthetic approach that you had when portraying this virtual space?
Although it may seem otherwise, there are few references, at least inspiring ones, on how to treat social networks in the cinema. In the script it was clear, because the writing emanated from the networks themselves. But putting it on screen was not that simple. Although there were things that we were clear about from the beginning, it was in editing where we managed to fully squeeze the social networks to try to catch their essence. And I’m not just talking about aesthetics, but about the philosophy that moves them, about what’s behind. The truth is that the only thing we were clear about was that we did not want to drink from movies, but from the networks themselves. And this brings us back to tone. Because networks have their own language. Very few people post “I’m sad” just plain. Instead, they may sing a song on Tik Tok.
A key to the film is the actresses’ work. What was the preparation with them? What were the hardest parts of that work?
Truth be told the casting directors had found very good raw material and from there everything is easier. From the profiles we were looking for – very young people – we knew that they had to be “non-professionals”. But I was surprised by the maturity and natural talent of such young actresses, that by the way none of them are just ‘actresses’, one plays the viola, another dances, another does circus, another writes … But they are also digital natives. So they not only understood the story but brought a point of view that solidified it. Everything improved with their contact. The most difficult thing with them has been to help them maintain stability in the wheel of emotions that is shooting a movie, which on the other hand is logical.