La Semaine de la Critique was created in 1962 by the French Union of Film Critics as a parallel section of the Cannes Film Festival. It focuses on discovering new talents and previous winners include Alejandro González Iñarritu, Ken Loach, François Ozon and Wong Kar Wai. In collaboration between Leica Camera AG and CW Sonderoptik, the Leica Cine Discovery Prize is bestowed to the best short film and was won this year by Spanish director Laura Ferrés for her film Los Desheredados.
Los Desheredados is a portrait of Ferrés’ father, who is confronted with the end of his family business. A lack of money forces him to drive clients to bachelor parties, who invariably destroy his vehicle with their boisterous behavior. Nevertheless, in spite of the hardship he must endure, he is not prepared to surrender his dignity.
We caught up with award-winner Laura Ferrés to find out about her inspiration, her particular style of cinematography and how winning the Leica Cine Discovery Prize has aided her career.
Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Barcelona in 1989 but raised in a city on the outskirts, El Prat de Llobregat. I was really shy until I got to university, so I spent many years being a kind of observer. For that reason, I guess I love cinema.
What was the moment you knew you wanted to become a director?
No member of my family was ever involved in anything related to art. Actually, all of them worked in the bus company featured in “Los Desheredados”, but my mother always loved cinema. When I was 8 years old my parents got divorced and I went to live with her. We would stay up until midnight watching a TV program called ¡Qué grande es el cine! (Cinema is Amazing!), hosted by the filmmaker José Luis Garci. I would arrive late to school because my mother would let me stay up, discovering new films and that was how my love for cinema came about. The movies I loved the most in my life, made me feel less alone because I realized that someone had worried about the same things as me. This connection between humans through art has always moved me. My first intention was to specialize as a director of photography, but after some practical experience at university, I realized that telling my own stories, in my own way, was what I preferred.
Do you have a favorite film?
Some people call me a “film bookworm” so it is impossible to have only one favorite movie, but nowadays I have “Whisky” by Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll stuck in my mind.
Which directors have inspired your work the most?
This is forever changing, but Aki Kaurismaki would definitely be on my list. I love his aesthetics, sense of humor and his characters, who always strive to keep their dignity. But I also find inspiration in other things such as Raymond Carver’s stories, my neighborhood and family.
Which methods of cinematography have inspired you as well?
I prefer to find inspiration in paintings and pictures because if you are making a movie, I believe it is better to find inspiration in other art forms. But besides Aki Kaurismaki, I like Lucrecia Martel for her use of the off-camera, Ulrich Seidl for his beautiful framing and documentary approach, even in his feature films, and Pedro Costa for the chiaroscuro treatment of the light, to name just a few.
I love working with natural light whenever possible. You only need to scout the right moment. That moment when the light is telling something about how the character feels and all you need to do is place the camera at the right distance. I know it is easy to say but, for “Los Desheredados”, the creation process was really instinctive because I know my father and every location.
What does this prize mean personally to you as well as to you as a director?
This prize is an amazing reward after so much work and something I will never forget. The main difficulty I faced was that my father told he had to close the business only three months in advance. So I only had that time to develop the idea, write the script, find the team, locations and everything else on my own. Budget-wise, it was difficult because I shot an initial part with my savings until I received funding. “Los Desheredados” is a really small project about a sad and personal event, so just being selected in the Semaine de la Critique – Cannes 2017 was totally surprising (they received 1700 short films!) and really touching because I was able to celebrate the prize with my family there. Closing his business and finding a new job at the age of 53 is really tough, but my father told me that it is wonderful how something that was initially sad turned into a reason for joy in the end.
What was the idea behind your film “Los Desheredados”?
Family is usually the central theme of my work and I tend to include personal anecdotes in my writing. However, I take a step forward with “Los Desheredados” in that I have created a portrait of both my father and grandmother. Shooting with my family I wanted to blur the line between fiction and documentary: I enjoy working with real elements, but shaping them at will, using strategies from fiction to create a better truth.
This idea has been percolating in my mind, for years, although until now, I never dared to really take it on. When my father told me he had to close up shop due to the financial crisis however, I realized that, now more than ever, it was time to make a cinematic record of him. That initial urge turned into a need, which subsequently stirred many things inside me, which became impossible to ignore.
Among other things, I recalled a picture of me at the age of 8 with a friend, pretending to be boarding a bus to school. My father wanted to use it to promote his company in the local paper. So, way before cinema would first catch my eye, way before I even knew what an extra was, my father made me stand there, with my back turned, holding my backpack. It occurred to me then that he could be the main character of my new short film, a snapshot of the end of a big moment in his life and closing of this cinematic circle. In this way, reflecting my belief that parents sow and children reap, that we start where they end.
How did you use cinematography to tell the story in “Los Desheredados”?
I find it interesting to present a mise en scène that takes into consideration the off-camera to outline the character with the sound that comes from outside the frame. Making the most out of details from the exterior to explain how the character feels as he goes through that crucial moment of his life. Our society prioritizes image over sound, but in reality, sound is a very powerful weapon that completes our perception of the action and even distorts it (“Sight is effortless; sight requires spatial distance; sight can be turned off. We have lids on our eyes, we do not have doors on our ears” Susan Sontag, “Regarding the Pain of Others”). The first scene already contains this idea. Pere, my father, is a driver, and as such, his contact with his passengers is through the sound of their voices coming from behind. Every frame is static, on a tripod, but the camera borders do not limit the characters, who come and go at will to work with the off-camera again. Besides, a hand-held shooting would have intrusive, particularly for someone like my father and grandmother, who were in front of a camera for the first time, so I tried to make it invisible; for example, there are many long-shots to locate Pere in space and strengthen the weight of the places over him. I also like the counterpoint between his depressing routine and the brightness of the scenes, which explain the character he truly is: full of hope. To finish, I would like to thank Agnès Piqué, the director of photography, who helped me to bring these ideas to life.
What was the message you wanted to transfer with the film?
The financial crisis has taken its toll on my family’s situation and especially my parents generation. Pere lives on the fringe, the periphery, both mentally and physically (the film was shot in my hometown, El Prat de Llobregat, on the outskirts of Barcelona). So, this individual portrait also tries to be a generational one, which I hope both women and men my father’s age and people from his socio-economic background can relate to. The truth is that I do not have any solutions to this social problem, but I would like to think that people, even in periods of crisis, do not conform. I think it is the right moment to construct characters with this mindset. I believe that “Los Desheredados” is an ode to dignity seen through the eyes of an individual man, who has been his own boss for his entire life, a truly self-made man.
The main character is your father. How was it working with him?
The main characters are both my father and grandmother. Working with them was easy and beautiful. Honestly, it was a surprise that they acted so well and all the wonderful things they contributed to the film. Actually, my father and I have not lived together since I was 8 years old. In fact, until we shot “Los Desheredados”, we had not spent a week together in a long time. Maybe because of that I wanted to make something about him.
As I said before, it was the first time they were in front of a camera, but they re-enacted some memories of their life or just improvised. I initially wrote about memories in an instinctive way, to later display them in a strategic manner. The story is built taking the character and his state of mind as a starting point. In other words, it doesn’t just follow the logic of cause-and-effect because Pere finds himself in a sort of limbo.
When developing a project, I do not really think in terms of the story I want to tell, but rather in the character I want to construct. Besides that, as it usually happens in most portraits, there is a fair amount of both the portrayed and the portraitist. I have channeled several traits of my own personality and my own fears through my father.
Which competition entries did you like the most and why?
I enjoyed Matthew Rankin’s “The Tesla World Light”, a funny and elaborate work made with manipulated film and amazing sound design, and Oliver Adam Kusio’s “Ela – Sketches on a Departure”, beautifully framed and touching.
Has the Leica Cine Discovery Award already supported you, concerning visibility, prize money for financing new projects and the like?
The Leica Cine Discovery Award has definitely supported me, especially, visibility-wise. “Los Desheredados” is being selected by amazing festivals in the world after Semaine de la Critique – Cannes 2017, such as Curtas Vila do Conde International Film Festival where it won Best European Short and therefore being nominated for the European Film Awards at the end of the year, and the New York Film Festival. Moreover, it will also premiere at theaters in Spain this December, something that is not common with short films in my country. Besides that, I have also been told that part of the prize includes the opportunity to use Leica lenses on my future project and that is awesome!
Do you have any new and exciting projects you are working on?
It is in an embryonic stage at the moment but I am writing my first feature film, “The Permanent Picture”, a project about family and the advertising world, exploring who we are, who we want to be and what others expect us to be.
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