FiGa, Veiroj Re-team On ‘The Apostate’

Buzzed up comedic drama world premieres at Toronto, competes at San Sebastian

Miami-based FiGa Films re-teamed with Federico Veiroj, the Uruguayan-Spanish director of “The Apostate,” a buzzed-up title which world premiered at Toronto, playing Contemporary World Cinema, before segueing to San Sebastian, and then hitting the festival circuit.

Sandro Fiorin’s FiGa acquired international sales rights to “The Apostate,” having represented Veiroj’s second feature, the delicious “A Useful Life,” a tribute to film as inspiration.

A comedic drama, “The Apostate” rolls off strong-word-of-mouth after winning 2015’s Miami Fest pix-in-post competish Encuentros, then curated by Toronto programmer Diana Sanchez, also IFF Panama artistic director. “The Apostate” received a Special Jury Mention in competition at San Sebastian, and closed the U.S. in early April with Breaking Glass Pictures, having clinched deals for France (Paname Distribution), Brazil (Tucuman Distribuidora de Filmes) and Argentina (Tren) in initial sales, then sold to Corazon Films for Mexico and Latin American VOD. Luis Gonzalez from Palmera International has acquired rights to Central america, including Panama.

Following on Veiroj’s Directors’ Fortnight-selected “Acne,” then “Life,” “The Apostate” stars Alvaro Ogalla – also a co-scribe. Ogalla plays Gonzalo, an antihero who struggles with issues of faith, guilt and desires, attempting to escape his tempestuous past, not conform to his parents’ expectations and find his own path to a new maturity. Spain’s Marta Larralde (“Leon and Olvido”) plays his fetching cousin, for whom Gonzalo has carried a candle since childhood. and Barbara Lennie (“Magical Girl”) is the attractive single woman next door (well, one floor below) whose tween son is in aching need of a father.

“The Apostate” drinks deep at the well of Spanish and Madrid culture. It is steeped in film echoes, and tributes, channeling both nineteenth century novelist Benito Perez Galdos, Spain’s Emile Zola and a staunch critic of the entrenched powers of the church, as well as “castizo” ‘40s and ‘50s Madrid film comedy which found pleasure in the traditional sounds and scenery of the Madrid capital. This is a highly (cine-) literate film. Variety chatted to Veiroj about his third feature.

“The Apostate” chronicles one young man’s attempts to live life according to his expectations, not those and the practices of his parents and family. This emerges in Gonzalo’s refusal to lie – to agree with his college tutor, for instance, and in its most sustained and comic form in his Quixotic attempt to have his name struck off the Catholic Church baptismal register. In his behavior, Gonzalo strikes a marked contrast with other family members who live lives of lies: His mother, who lied about his class grades, cousin, who is getting back together with her boyfriend not because she loves him but, as Gonzalo points out, because she expected to buy a house and needs someone else to help pay the rent. Could you comment?

All what you mention is key to understand Tamayo’s conflict with traditions, the past, inheritance, because it’s something universal, usual in real life -especially nowadays and most of the audience would understand it or lived similar situations; so I needed those primary comprehensible elements in order to establish a complicity with the audience. So, when you believe you ‘know’ Tamayo, he will start to surprise with his unique humor, peculiar reactions and more things that I don’t want to reveal… At that point, I think it’s more important ‘how’ he will manage to continue being the person he needs to be, than all those things he wants to leave behind. In any case, I believe Tamayo is a faithful model of all he wants to apostatize from, otherwise he wouldn’t try to do it.

I think there is only one car in “The Apostate.” Your vision of Madrid is one where the past surfaces at every turn: Crannied old-part backstreets, a hidden church, nuns, a bishop, a byzantine bureaucracy, a beautifully domed office building. Such settings underscore of course both a vision of Spain, where the past weighs large on the present through the strength of such institutions as the family, and Gonzalo’s battle to slough off his past. Would you agree?

Yes, I agree on that. Those settings had to have history in them -we even thought of an Inquisition feeling – and a special personality because we needed them to also represent more things than just settings for the narration. Tamayo’s journey needed those fantastic places -Madrid de los Austrias, Instituto San Isidro, Palacio de Vistalegre, and some other traditional ones like the Basílica de San Francisco el Grande – because having images taken in those settings would give us emotional value; and that’s what really counts to me when choosing where to shoot… And Madrid has all the history we needed to combine with Tamayo’s contemporary conflict. As an example, I knew I was making the film I wanted to make when the producer came with the shoot approval from the Instituto San Isidro, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever shot at and the perfect one to narrate two particular moments of Tamayo’s journey. When I have the possibility to work in a place like that Institute, I just think what’s the best way of shooting it for our narration’s purposes, and I want the audience to enjoy it thesame wayI enjoy making it. I believe choosing settings and casting actors are the most important ingredients in order to call for inspiration while working.

The film drinks deep at the well of cinema past, such as, in its scenes of Madrid, rich orchestral overlay, and tales of the protagonist’s daily frustrations, Fernando Fernan-Gomez’s delicious ‘50s comedies. Could you talk about your influences?

For me it’s impossible not to be influenced by books, movies or songs that surface when I am in the process of working on a set. In this case, there was a book by Benito Perez Galdos called “El audaz, historia de un radical de antaño” (The Bold, Story of a Former Radical) that is masterfully funny and from which we took some passages for the scenes with the bishop. Then there are some movies that have inspired me, such as Saura’s “Cousin Angélica” because I really like the relationship between past, fantasy and present. “Opera Prima” by Fernando Trueba is another Spanish film that accompanied me in the process, it also depicts the relationship of a young man with his cousin. Marco Ferreri’s “The Audience” helped me understand the degree of conviction of our Gonzalo Tamayo. In addition, I feel close to “The Trial” by Orson Welles, “The Road” by Omirbayev, Zanussi’s early films, and some wonderful facial expressions that Fernando Rey gave in Buñuel’s films. And I also love some Spanish films by Fernando Fernán Gomez, Julio Diamante and Francisco Regueiro, so maybe they are also inside “The Apostate.” I am inspired by all that I mentioned and many more things I guess… While writing the film with Alvaro Ogalla, we imagined the pace of the film in terms of Manitas de Plata’s flamenco, which unfortunately did not make it into the final soundtrack. Sadly, Manitas died on the last day of our shoot.

Apart from the orchestral score, how did you approach directing your third feature?

The approach is the same as always: with a strong narrative and aesthetic idea that guides me… No matter the size, nor the realism, nor the possibility of making the film. Then I add many more things during the process, until the end of the making of the film. I am very proud about having such a professional crew and cast, it was a wonderful experience and a big challenge. And since you mention the score I would like to say that the music is designed to accompany and emphasize the emotions of each scene in which it appears. I thought about the variety of musical styles as if they were layers of Tamayo’s personality. It’s a great privilege to have the piano setting of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Romance Pascual de los Peregrinitos opening the film and introducing the character of Tamayo. In turn, there is orchestrated classical and incidental music taken from the NoDo – newsreels and documentaries made in Spain between 1943 and 1981. There is also a song by the Basque group Lisabö that sounds astonishingly powerful and modern. Mixed in with all this there are fragments of works by the Russian composer Prokofiev that function as a counterpoint. Lastly, there are two scenes where I used flamenco as the soundtrack, the first interpreted by singer Israel Fernández and guitarist Rafael Rodriguez ‘El Cabeza’; and over the final scene, Estrella by Enrique Morente, which I believe gives a fantastic sense of passion for the whole movie.

One of the charms of the film is, I think, how Gonzalo reaches some kind of adulthood – in his neo-paternal relationship with his neighbor’s son, for instance – while remaining something of a child. I wonder if you could comment.

In a symbolic way, Tamayo’s journey takes him deep into his own childhood in order to change those things from tradition and his past that he’s uncomfortable with; and then, he could enter into adulthood as he wants. I believe Tamayo is always evolving, even if he has some regressive attitudes or emotions. In any case, I hope Tamayo always keeps that ‘remains of a child’ way of being, because I think it’s just his connection to his soul.

What was Alvaro Ogalla’s contribution to the film? It seems multi-faceted….

Álvaro’s attempt to apostatize was the first inspiration for the film. And we wrote together, also with two other friends -Nicolás Saad and Gonzalo Delgado. Álvaro Ogalla’s contribution was crucial to make this film possible, not only as a scriptwriter but also as a positive and practical energy, and obviously as an actor -a wonderful debut I believe! If we hadn’t met Álvaro while working at the Spanish Film Archive, this film wouldn’t exist.

You made your first two films out of Uruguay. As a Uruguayan-Spaniard, this is your first European film. The film is set up as a Spain-Uruguay-France co-production.  Was that a necessity? And what are the advantages of co-production?

What convinced me to make this film was the ambiguity inherent in the formal act of apostasy of my friend Álvaro, a Spaniard born in the 70’s -almost at the end of an historical period that marked the lives of several generations. In order to convey the universal conflicts expressed in Tamayo’s character’s crisis of maturity, and his relationship with traditional institutions, it was necessary to locate them in a troubled country such as Spain was -and still is. I feel that there is a great mix of guilt, pleasure and the weight of tradition; all vital elements that inhabit the story of this film. On top of that, I have always felt that Madrid was a true home, having lived there for an important part of my life; besides, the idea of filming in the country where my ancestors came from was very alluring. In short, Madrid was the only place in which I felt I could make the film.

And I wanted to work with technicians from all the co-producers’ countries – Arauco Hernández as DP and Gonzalo Delgado as production designer from Uruguay, Fernando Franco as editor from Spain, and naturally all the Spanish actors; so a coproduction in this case was perfect. Also, it was ideal in terms of financing because we had private and public support from all three countries.

What are you working on now?

I am working on some projects, and the one I would love to be my next film has to be shot in Europe. Even if we are at the writing stage with a group of script writers -Isa Campo, Álvaro Ogalla and Gonzalo Delgado, I am starting to design with executive producer Guadalupe Balaguer Trelles the best way to develop it and make it real. It’s a bigger film than previous ones, in every way; and we’d like to work with a producer who would love the idea of a challenging and powerful movie. Hope we are lucky because in our minds it would be a beautiful film to make.

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