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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2021 Competition

Icíar Bollaín • Director of Maixabel

"In the Basque Country, they still have a complex task ahead of them – that of learning to live together"

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- In her new movie – and with the complete dedication of her accomplice Blanca Portillo – the Madrilenian filmmaker reconstructs a recent real-life event linked with the terrorism suffered by Spain

Icíar Bollaín   • Director of Maixabel

Maixabel [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Icíar Bollaín
film profile
]
is the first Spanish film set to be presented in the official section of the 69th edition of the San Sebastián Film Festival, where it is in competition for the Golden Shell. To mark the occasion, its director, Icíar Bollaín, kindly answered our questions.

Cineuropa: Our generation grew up with either a direct or an indirect knowledge of the cruelty of terrorist group ETA; how did these kinds of terrible news stories, which became almost daily occurrences, affect you personally?
Icíar Bollaín:
When ETA began to kill people, I was seven or eight years old, which means I grew up – much like those from my generation – with these news stories that kept coming virtually every day. As you say, it became a daily occurrence. And as the years went by, I became more and more aware of it. But perhaps it was only recently, through reading and finding testimonies in novels such as Patria, Los peces de la amargura, and those of Edurne Portela and others, that my eyes were opened to what daily life was like in the Basque Country, a reality that I knew very little of on a deeper level. Shooting Maixabel, ten years after ETA had declared that definitive ceasefire, I realised all the pain that is still around today, from the trauma… And I realised that in the Basque Country, they still have a complex task ahead of them – that of learning to live together. For this reason, among many others, I thought it was worth telling this story, because Maixabel Lasa strives tirelessly for this coexistence.

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How do you think ETA’s surviving victims and their relatives react when they see films like yours?
No other movies have been made about this specific topic, so I don’t know. What I do know is that there are many victims who would not be willing to do a victim-terrorist meeting, which is what this film portrays, and I can understand that perfectly: I have asked myself many times whether I would do it… and I don’t know. It’s impossible for me to imagine a situation that’s as awful as the one the victims have to endure. But these meetings haven’t only taken place with ETA; it has been done, and still is, as part of what they call “restorative justice”, wherever there are violent conflicts: in South Africa, Rwanda and Northern Ireland, to mention just a few examples. Now it’s happening in Colombia as part of the peace process. And it’s also done between “average” prisoners and their victims, and has positive results on both parties.

Has Maixabel herself seen this film based on her story? How did she react? And was she involved herself in its development or production?
Yes, she was present during the whole process. When they suggested the project to us, the first thing we screenwriters did was to go and meet her. After that point, we talked to her many times, and also with María, her daughter. They read the screenplay once it was finished, they attended the shoot, and Maixabel even makes a brief appearance in the final scene, alongside many of her friends and some colleagues of Juan Mari, her husband, who was killed by ETA. They were the first to see the film as well. They say they thought it was very goodand that it’s quite hard to stomach at times…

How did Blanca Portillo go about creating the main character? Did she base her approach on imitation, like we’ve seen on the big screen in cases like Freddie Mercury, Edith Piaf and so many others?
No; right from the start, we talked about imitation not making sense, even though there is a certain aesthetic resemblance: her hair, the glasses and so on. But Blanca did some incredibly immersive work, talking to Maixabel and to many other people linked to the topic. She read a lot and watched documentaries… And she used all of that to create her character, which has a lot of Maixabel in it, especially her cool-headedness and the dignity she exudes, but it also has elements of Blanca herself, like her sensitivity and her empathy with the story that’s being told.

After writing Rosa’s Wedding [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
with Alicia Luna, this time you have signed your name to the script with Isa Campo (The Next Skin [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Isa Campo, Isaki Lacuesta
film profile
]
): what led you to form this new "artistic duo"?
The producers, Koldo Zuazua and Juan Moreno, suggested it to us both, as we didn’t know each other at the time. We went on a trip together, to meet Maixabel and get to know each other as well, and we totally clicked. Isa is a great screenwriter, with a knack for finding scenes and dramatic moments that will tell the story, and which condense real-life events that tend to stretch on through time and that need to be given a certain dramatic structure without them losing their essence.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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