An interview with Ana Piterbarg, director of Everybody Has a Plan.
Ana Piterbarg is one of the most impressive new female filmmakers of the last two years. Everybody Has a Plan features exceptionally strong, Denisian atmospheres and textures, and she draws a terrific Spanish performance from lead Viggo Mortensen. Connecting exclusively (in New Zealand) with The Lumière Reader from her Buenos Aires home, the 42-year-old Argentinian talked in a charming Spanish lilt about Mortensen, duality, atmosphere, whether Buenos Aires is romantic, and suffering for your art.
* * *
ALEXANDER BISLEY: There’s a dynamic connection between your film Everybody Has a Plan and A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and The Road.
ANA PITERBARG: In those films, Viggo works with contradictions of character, all of the characters have two sides; a light side, and a dark side. In Everybody has a Plan, his twin brother characters Agustin and Pedro both have two sides. All of these movies have abnormal atmosphere, something strange in the earth, talk about stuff that goes differently, take a different way into the ordinary life. I don’t know how to say this [all as precisely as I mean when not speaking Spanish]. My English, Alex, it’s a horror.
AB: No; your English has a winning cadence. These films are all strong explorations of violence.
AP: I think the violence in this case, and in the other films too, is a way to talk about something different. I don’t think it’s violence for violence.
AB: You’re quoted as saying, “Everybody Has a Plan is a story about two contradictions, about the two sides that live within us all and about our needs… to find a way to merge them”, and “the story that I wrote, that has so much to do with my own story.”
AP: [laughs] I said that?
AB: [laughs] Maybe? It’s in press materials.
AP: My own story, I don’t know. Maybe the contradictions in my life? Sometimes I ask if this is the life that I want, and sometimes I have to change it. Maybe it’s because I started to study medicine, and sometimes you have to break a model, a plan. I think the story tells about how it’s difficult to change the plans.
AB: Buenos Aires paediatrician Agustin tires of life in the city, and assumes his mysterious beekeeper twin brother Pedro’s rural identity. Why did you give up medicine?
AP: When I studied I went to the emergency room; when I watched the blood I felt very bad. I started to see some movies like Dead Ringers, I felt the movies can make you feel something you can’t explain with words, a lot of sensations.
AB: Everybody Has a Plan’s charismatic Rosa says, “we all have some evil inside”? You agree?
AP: Yes, it’s true. Rosa is the only character in the movie who can say something about what she thinks, she has a plan and she can talk about that, she’s the only one.
AB: Is Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water an influence?
AP: Maybe, I like this movie. Roman Polanski’s dark and really elegant. The films [emphasises], not the person.
AB: I like the idea of internal travel in your film, travelling inside yourself.
AP: Yes, I think it is a trip, it’s the beginning, it’s an essence.
AB: Speaking of travel, I asked my last subject, The Human Scale’s director “what’s the most romantic city in the world?” and he said “Buenos Aires.”
AP: [laughs, palpably surprised] Why!? Why did he say that?
AB: He said: “Buenos Aires has a really nice mixture of small streets where it’s nice to walk. It was mainly built around 1910 to 1920 so it has this Art Deco architecture, really wonderful craftsmanship. Great rooms, great buildings, you walk around the city with this wonderful architecture that’s really inviting. You feel it, you want to touch it, and it’s full of wonderful restaurants.”
AP: Yes that’s true, all of that is true. But I don’t think it’s romantic because it’s a really heavy city. There’s a lot of violence, the people are always pressured about the time and the money. Maybe all of this is romantic too, I don’t know, maybe it’s an explosive combination? It’s like the tango, extreme. We are very passionate people, you can feel that in the street.
AB: Passionate is romantic.
AP: Yes, yes it is. For me, yes.
AB: The romance between Agustin and Rosa is really nice, especially among the bleakness. What do you think the most romantic city in the world is?
AP: Maybe Prague. It’s beautiful. I’ve been there 20 years ago in winter.
AB: The Secret in Their Eyes’ Soledad Villamil also has a strong presence as Agustin’s wife Claudia.
AP: Si! She has a very strong presence. When I talked to Soledad to do the movie I thought of her because she’s a strong woman. She is an icon for women and Claudia is a character who needed that. Someone told me they wanted to watch more of Soledad in my movie; she has so much presence that the people miss her.
AB: The scene where Pedro dies, that was outstanding.
AP: Yes it was hard to do. It was a pity. It was sad.
AB: As a critic I’ve seen so many films where people are killed, people dying in all manner of horrible ways, and that was still really unsettling for me.
AP: Thank you. I liked this scene a lot. Viggo and me always talked about this scene as the most difficult to do for the movie. For if this scene doesn’t work, nothing in the movie works. So we were a little nervous to do it, but yes Viggo was great, and it’s only Viggo, so—
AB: He was well directed.
AP: We made a good team.
AB: He’s worked repeatedly for directors, Peter Jackson, David Cronenberg (who’s an influence on the film). You’ll work with him again?
AP: I hope so. I know that depends upon projects and life. He’s very busy but yes I hope like another dream, it was a dream and I don’t know when we’ll have another dream to come true.
AB: There’s the story of how Viggo Mortenson got involved. He often gets handed scripts by strangers, but this time at a Buenos Aires swimming pool it worked. “Generally speaking, they’re earnest efforts, they’re never gonna make a good movie. I read ‘em, eventually,” he has said. Now you’re a successful filmmaker, do you have people handing you scripts?
AP: Yes, some. I received a script to do in Prague. I like it but it’s just an idea. Right now I am working on another project about a young woman who makes a trip in the north of Argentina. The north of Argentina is a very strange place because it’s very different from Buenos Aries. It’s like Bolivia or Peru, it’s Altiplano. The people are really different from the people of Buenos Aries because there are no Europeans there.
AB: Can you describe your creative instinct?
AP: I like to work at first with the image. An image comes to me, only an image. I think when you come to imagine something like this, it is because there is something to discover there and you have to follow that. I like the process to discover.
AB: Could you tell me about one of the images from Everybody Has a Plan that you started with?
AP: Rosa alone on the island. I didn’t know what happened, why she’s there alone. The scene where Adrián returns, I thought with this image.
AB: Can you tell me about your earliest film memory?
AP: As a child I went to the popular cinema of my neighbour. You went there to see two movies, with a break between. Fellini, the Italian movies, were very important for me.
AB: Have you seen any films from New Zealand?
AP: When I was a child I watched a movie from there. It was really strong to me because it was a terror movie, an Australian terror movie about a group of Cavaliers. I remember the sunset—no, the late afternoon, when the sun goes out like a landscape, a really red landscape with gorse and really bloody fields.
AB: Atmosphere—particularly Le Tigre Delta—is as important as character for you in Everybody Has a Plan?
AP: Yes, the place was really important for the story. As a child I went there some times, when I was writing I went there again.
AB: It’s an intense, bleak film and you were on Le Tigre shooting in Winter.
AP: It was hard and really cold but it was amazing. The scenes with the bees were difficult, too.
AB: It’s good suffering for your art?
AP: For me it’s impossible not to suffer. But I don’t think it’s needed to be an artist. I think the artist, a lot of times, has to feel and think a lot, to live a lot. To be open, to live or think or feel something different, and maybe this is like your need to take your imagination to find something, to talk. But I don’t think it’s necessary to suffer.
AB: Good art is hard, but worth it?
AP: Yes, we have to think more to be amazing, and to feel hard and to do hard stuff, but not suffer too much.