Alfonso Zarauza • Director of Ons
“The island has this immense power that’s fuelled by the characters in the film”
- We talked to Galician director Alfonso Zarauza following the presentation of Ons, his latest movie, in the Extraordinary Histories section of the Seville Film Festival
Alfonso Zarauza (Santiago de Compostela, 1973) has been working in the Galician audiovisual sector for more than 25 years. Six years after his previous outing, Aces [+see also:
interview: Alfonso Zarauza
film profile], he’s back with Ons [+see also:
interview: Alfonso Zarauza
film profile], a highly mature work, which was world-premiered at the Seville Film Festival, will bring the Cineuropa Festival in his home town to a close, and will be released in Spanish theatres on 18 December, courtesy of BTeam.
Cineuropa: The island itself is omnipresent in the film, and the movie was even named after it. Was it always such a fundamental part of the story from the get-go?
Alfonso Zarauza: When I began writing the screenplay with Jaione Camborda, we did around ten drafts; in the first one, we weren’t sure about the setting. We were looking for some remote place, and we were visiting locations off the beaten track in Galicia. But actually, in Galicia, there aren’t any places that are cut off completely, as there is always a city or a motorway nearby. Then I had the idea of an island, and Ons sprang to mind. From that point on, everything started to make sense, and everything took on the true essence that it was meant to have. The nine other versions of the screenplay were written with the island as a protagonist, and gradually it took on more prominence until it almost stole the limelight from the characters. The island has this immense power that’s fuelled by the characters in the film.
We start off watching a story about a crisis-riddled couple that soon veers into something more complex and mysterious. How did you arrive at this final result?
Jaione and I spent three months talking about what we wanted to write before beginning to do so. In the end, I came to the conclusion that what I was really interested in was talking about that thing that the existentialists used to say about the essence of reality being scarcity. I started to think of the theme of the film as the scarcity of love, but not just the more romantic and clichéd aspect of it, but rather something broader that would encompass things such as emotional security, maternal instinct or sexual desire. And from there, the idea of the island arose, and it led us down unexpected paths that were thrown up by the setting itself.
How did you choose the right actors to bring your characters to life?
In arthouse cinema, it’s fashionable to work with non-professional actors, and that’s something I really like doing – I love what Oliver Laxe and Bruno Dumont are doing, for example. Non-professionals convey a great deal of truth through the physical aspect, and that’s really powerful. But what I find interesting about actors is that they can dig much deeper into their emotions, sometimes crazily so. For example, the characters played by Melania Cruz and Antonio Durán “Morris” were fleshed out a lot by the elements that they contributed to them. In fact, Melania fell into a kind of slight depression for a while; she recovered very soon, but I was worried about her. The island itself consumes so much. I am at an advantage because I know all of these “indispensable” actors in Galicia quite well, and that helped me to find a very dedicated cast who were able to adapt to a complicated shooting schedule.
The film plays with never revealing everything that the characters know to the viewer. Did this make it harder to work with the cast?
With many of the characters, we had to balance out the information that we gave the viewer and the things that we would conceal from them, but the actors needed to have all the information at their disposal in order to be able to mete it out in their performances. And that can be seen in some very subtle details, in which the actors give you precise chunks of information in small doses so that the viewer can form their own overview of the situation. It was complicated for everyone, but in the end, they trusted a great deal in me and in the story, and everything turned out well.
In the film, you subtly incorporate elements of the modern lives of the island’s real-life inhabitants. Why did you decide to bring in these little touches of reality?
During the shoot on the island, the people living there were engrossed in a struggle for ownership of the houses and their rights to the island. None of this was in the script, but we thought it would be interesting to include it once we had realised just how important this struggle was. I think it’s nice that it ends up being a kind of historical outline of what was happening on Ons at that time. The surnames of the characters, the professions, the people… I tried to ensure that the entire film was steeped in truth.
(Translated from Spanish)
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