Albert Serra is one of the most relevant Spanish directors on the international scene from the last decade. His first film was shown for over two years running in Parisian cinemas. Although greatly admired in France he is hardly known in his native country his work is submerged in the mystical and the absurd, an ongoing journey without beginning or end where the trip itself is fundamental. Born in Banyoles (Girona) in 1975 this multi-disciplinary artist has produced four feature films, two theatrical works as well as numerous exhibitions in museums around the world.
Was there a cinema in Banyoles where you grew up?
There were two cinemas. The film that made the greatest impact on me during my childhood was Brigadoon by Vincente Minelli.
What did you get up to between finishing university and making your first film?
I only worked summers before making my first amateur feature, ‘Crespià, the film not the village’. A film that we shot over two days without any artistic pretensions, that came later. I studied Hispanic philology and comparative reading but I never completed history of art because of the mediocrity of both the students and teachers.
What do think about Gaddafi’s death?
In my opinion Gaddafi’s death can have two interpretations; on the one hand I was happy because it proved that I was right regarding his fleeing the country, catching a flight to look for exile, predictions from quite intelligent friends of mine. I on the other hand was convinced that his end would be worthy of his life and that’s what happened. On the other hand it has an alternative political reading: someone who perpetrated so many injustices was in this case the victim of one, which as it happens is interesting from a political point of view; if you don’t have a nuclear weapon it doesn’t matter how crazy you are or how much control you have the super powers can arrive one day and in a few weeks you could be liquidated. Perhaps I am being too presumptive in my interpretation.
How do you see the current political situation in Spain?
I’m just not interested in current politics, more extreme scenarios like the one we just talked about interest me, the day to day business of politics leaves me cold. Just like 15M which didn’t instigate any real interest it all just fades into oblivion. It’s individuals that change a country I am always more interested in real people seeing as it’s the sum of all these individuals who create culture, specific people with specific projects.
Are there any other directors right now whose work is similar to yours?
I don’t think there is a single one, being original is unavoidable but also an interesting objective for me especially given that nowadays there is so much information about what everybody else out there is doing, sometimes one unconsciously corrects something. The opposite is true the directors who share my sensibility are useful in highlighting what I shouldn’t be doing. On another level there are spiritual influences but I do try to ignore these and do it my way. That is one of the keys to my films being different. What Peter Handke said in an interview struck me: “the great writers are those that can never be imitated”. These writers bar the way behind them in order to allow others that come after find to their own path. That’s one of my objectives to do something that will be impossible to imitate, although there is always the danger of falling into mannerism.
So your latest film has no connection with your previous ones … It has the same constants as the previous one but it also has some personal challenges, not for other people nor specifically to please anybody else but just for me, doing so makes my life more interesting, if not I would just do a normal and boring job with no interest for me. There has always an element of artistic self consciousness in the 20th century, I do try to forget that and always make an effort to work as simply and amusingly as possible.
What was the most entertaining criticism of your work you’ve read?
I always quote Rodríguez Marchante “a big heap of cinematic dung”, I really like that given my shared interest with Dalí in all things scatological, even though he (Marchante) said it for other reasons.
Does your focus on contemplative cinema aim to enhance the viewer’s introspective aspect?
That contemplative aspect of images is in fact an intensification of the representation of time and space. Something that be done in no other way a person that is concentrating can commune more successfully with what they are doing.
What was it like carrying out the correspondence with Lisandro Alonso? (Totes les cartes. 12th October 2011 – 19th February 2012, CCCB)
It was more like a correspondence with myself. We didn’t exchange often because I am more interested in making my own films. It was sort of a ‘making-of’ wild card for all my films from the past, present and future. In the latest Dracula film an Italian writer is taking written notes which he is going to write a book with, but with this one I’m circumventing the possibility of producing more ‘making-of’ films (unless someone approaches me with a lucrative offer).
Why do you think that your version of Quixote is considered to be a very liberal adaptation?
I think that it’s worthy of interest even though it doesn’t matter one way or another, I’m concerned with making a good film. I’m not sure if it’s a good adaptation but it’s a really good film.
Have you had any work offers from France?
I find it rather frustrating because many of my peers are getting a lot more work in France than I am. In fact it bothers me somewhat that most of the production of the latest film is Spanish, it’s alarming given the cultural level here, not one of the world’s leading producers of cinema. I think that it should all be paid for by the French in fact.
You have stated on previous occasions that museums play a critical role in the success of artistic films, do you also now think that the web can play an important role?
I was much more purist before but not now that reality is changing so quickly it’s impossible to fight against even though on the small screen these films loose something.
What was it like working as an actor?
I am quite a good actor, in films perhaps not so good but on the stage I have a lot to draw on, I am good with real time. In fact in real life I use these skills quite a lot.
What can you tell us about your latest endeavour a sort of mix between the Dracula myth and Casanova?
Not much … In fact I refuse to look at any of the recorded images during the shoot until the editing begins, as doctors say “everything went as well as can be expected, no one died.” I could say that as always the actors were really good. The actresses were chosen from the street, I did carry out auditions but in the end I stuck with the first girls. The main actor is Vicenç Altaió, the director of Arts Santa Mònica. It’s my first feature shot indoors, it’s more subdued than my other films, when people say that an interior is like a still life they are right. I had nine cameras at my disposal, more than Ridley Scott for his last film.
What do you think is the latest cinematographic movement?
Digital, it changes one’s perception completely. Actually I have written a book on this subject. I thought it would be a great success and that it would be sell like hot cakes, even in China. Cinema critics really need to be better informed. They don’t talk about digital technology because they think that it’s just too easy.
Do you think that we are more puritanical than we were twenty years ago? Nowadays we have political correctness that didn’t exist back then, we are more frightened of making a mistake, everything is recorded and registered. The people who have the power to change things have become frightened of loosing their status.
Albert Serra’s feature films:
2003 - Crespià, the film not the village
2006 - Honor de cavalleria2008 - El cant dels ocells
2011 - El senyor ha fet en mi meravelles
2012 - Historia de mi muerte