San Sebastian: Elena Anaya on ‘Far From the Sea’

Spanish actress talks about absence, vengeance, burying feelings in Imanol Uribe’s “Far From the Sea”

Lejos del mar
Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

SAN SEBASTIAN – “Far From the Sea’s” was never going to be an easy role. But then Elena Anaya, ever more frequently regarded and sought after as one of the finest European actresses of her generation, hardly ducks out of a challenge. She has played in English French (“Mesrine”), a sexual vamp (“Sex and Lucia”) a vampire’s bride (“Van Helsing”). “Elena’s main feature is how far she can go in the most compromising scenes, I mean physically. She is very good at difficulties and tension. She’s very open-minded, the word ‘risk’ is part of her work. This is why I picked her,” said Pedro Almodovar’s who cast her as an a victim of abduction who undergoes horrific plastic surgery in “The Skin I Live In.” In Imanol Uribe’s “Far From the Sea,” produced by Antonio Perez, she plays a woman, whose emotional clock stopped at the age of eight, when her father, as they’re walking on the beach, is shot dead by a member of ETA. Many years later, Marina walks past the man who killed her father and faints. That is how “Far from the Sea” – the third part of Uribe’s trilogy, made over 30 years – “Mikel’s Death” (1984), “Running Out of Time” (1994) – begins. Staring Anaya and Eduard Fernandez, “Far From the Sea” has something special,” said San Sebastian Festival director José Luis Rebordinos, “Far From the Sea” world premiered Sept. 24 at San Sebastian.

How did you go about preparing such a painful role?

I was really taken by the script. It’s like you’re coming out of a calm swim in the sea, and you’re suddenly swept by a wave. You’re shaken, but then you say: “That’s great.” You don’t know whether you’ve done a somersault yourself, or whether it’s the wave that’s turned you over. So you’ve like suddenly lost your sense of where you are, because of the powerful impact of this thing that’s suddenly struck you. So, when I read the script, I was really taken. I found it a very brave script, and I was fascinated by the character of Marina. And it took me 10 minutes to call Imanol to ask him when he wanted us to meet and get started.

Which leads me to how I prepared the role. I had to look at the life of that character. The older you get the more you realise you can take a look back on the life of any character you’re going to play – 20, 30, 40, years. In this case, this girl, her childhood, how her childhood informed her principles, her values, if she’s communicative, why she’s studied medicine. Why has she studied so much? Why does she live in Almeria? Why did she marry that journalist? Why does she have the relationship she has with her son? What’s the matter with Marina? There are many questions to be asked, and the past provides the answer to many of them, almost all of them.

Is there any specific way you channel that into your character, until the moment you begin your relation with Santi? How does one interpret someone who is completely traumatized?

By going to the very origin of that harm – analysing it and seeing how that harm affects Marina here and now. We see that Marina has been able to lead a relatively normal life. She’s got a good job, a family, a husband, a son, a big house, a good car, profesional recognition. But the minute that man crosses her path, the minute destiny makes them meet, she becomes an eight year old girl again, she faints, she is plunged into a state of collapse, she is paralysed, there is something deep there that is a great shock, she can’t do anything about it, and from then on she follows her instincts for the first time in her life, in a very animalistic way. Because she is more mental, until that moment in which she decides for the first time in her life to have time for herself, decide what she really wants, change her plans, take time off work and do what she needs to do, something she’s never in her life done. And it’s not just simply grabbing and gun and shooting that man. It’s everything else that comes after that, all that implies – which is being true to herself, something which she’s never been able to do in her life.

One of the most interesting things is her absence- absence when she is with her husband and her child, a very beautiful family scene, but she avoids looking at her husband, – at times – or she avoids being with her family, or her absence from work. It seems to me like it’s as though this absence translates into a desire to be in Santi’s presence, and that what’s predominant. Everything else is secondary. She needs to be with the person who has shaped her intimate, visceral identity.

That’s exactly it. Her life is a life full of absences, of conversations that have never been fully finished, of expressing something that’s there, deep down, that hurts. Expressing that is healthy, but when expression can assume no concrete form, when expression is only carried out through silence, it becomes something unhealthy, something that’s harmful. And this character, for the first time after following instinct, feels with Santi, in Santi’s presence – with him she’s more alive than ever. That’s where she is. On the other hand, in her formal life, as a doctor, as a mother/wife having dinner with her husband and child, she is like a ghost. She’s a woman full of absences, full of unanswered questions, of places she’s not found, of people who are with her, who are her family, but who are strangers. And suddenly this stranger, whom she meets again 20 years later, that person who destroyed her life and the life of her family forever, well, it’s through that person, and far removed from everything – although she lives by the sea – that she finds her deep essence.

An actor’s great asset is knowing how to act with others, and there is a remarkable scene when your character goes to see her mother, and you admit you’ve met Santi again. I get the impression that that moment is the first time you and your mother manage to express feelings that you’d probably buried, if only for two or three seconds.

Yes, I had, once again, the enormous pleasure of working with Susy Sanchez, who is an extraordinary actress. We were there, thinking about the scene, and how to do it, and she said ‘Let’s be bold, let’s see what happens, let’s free up. I don’t know what’s going to be my reaction because you and I have never spoken about this.’ We had spoken with Imanol, but it was a sequence that had not been rehearsed, and we wanted it to be like that. What Marina’s done is so enormous, so overwhelming, that she needs to confess, tell her mother about it. First of all, because she’s got a son, and so her mother’s going to end up taking that child. But there’s a deep confession that has to be made, to her mother, more than to her husband. So we had that magic moment together, Susy and I. I think it was magical for everyone, for Imanol as well. As you say, it’s clear that in that house, in that office, under all those Persian rugs, so many emotions have been buried. But emotions can’t be buried. They’ve got to be lived; one’s got to allow them to flow, to return if they must. It was important that in the film so much silence should be seen, so much need to express, to feel, to talk about things. I think that’s what keeps us alive, allows us to deal with life on a daily basis, with emotions, with reality.

I get the impression that the process, from the time you see Santi again, is a kind of progressive alienation, almost madness where you only ever feel non-alienated in Santi’s presence….

Marina’s first reaction is to avenge her father’s death, and hers in a way: For never having been able to become a woman with a full life, a normal life. So she acts in her name and her father’s. Her impulse, when she is driven to grab her father’s gun, go up to this man and shoot him, and then save him, and then when she’s saved him, lock him up, under lock and chain, in the house, is to become the person that owns and absolutely controls him – from victim she becomes executioner – she is in charge, she is the one who decides where, how, when and if he can go anywhere or does anything, and what we’re going to do now. We’ve got here a girl of 8, a woman of 40, a father who never was able to defend himself, who never could confront that guy, because he was simply walking with his daughter along the beach, without his gun, no security, nothing. So there’s a strong element here of confrontation, of facing up to life. Now I’m the one who’s going to decide.

But then she seems to realise that she can’t live any other life but a life with him, at the same time that she realises she can’t live a life with him either. But what she does next is very personal. Imanol Uribe could have shot it on-camera but it’s a lot better for the audience to interpret what really happens, so they can also interpret the motives behind the event as well.

Suddenly, on the shoot, amongst all the people who made this film, there was a kind of desire on the part of those two: what if this could be forgotten? What if they could make their lives all over again? What if they could be free again, like being born again? The thing is though that my character, more strictly so than Santi, has a very strong link with death. She has been professionally trained to save lives, but not her own life. Her own life was twisted a long time ago, in a very awful, unhealthy way, and she doesn’t allow herself to be happy again, she can’t imagine herself with this man or anybody else. That’s just no longer possible in her life. There is a nice beautiful smile from her at the end, when Santi asks if she can imagine a life where none of this had happened. And she says: “No.” The strength of the story is such that we were all driven to end it that way – that private, intimate ending, that kind of pact, a kind of Romeo and Juliet, but knowingly so. For me, this film is like a Greek tragedy. Each character is inexorably driven to what the nature of their character leads them, and my own character has the reins of the story, and Santi follows her, out of love; love or simply to accompany her, in an almost brotherly way. There is something deep in these two characters, which is there in the silences, which suggests the vertiginous nature of the soul, how complicated human beings can be. And as well about how beautiful they can be, when two people really meet.