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Fernando Colomo on the Pleasures of Filmmaking Freedom

‘Isla Bonita,” the Spanish director’s 20th feature, world premieres at San Sebastian

SAN SEBASTIAN – In Spaniard Fernando Colomo’s “Isla Bonita,” Fer, a washed up adman emerging from his third divorce but still an-incurable romantic, receives an invite from his old friend Miguel Angel to visits him the Mediterranean island of Menorca. He puts up at a neighbor’s house: And suddenly discovers paradise, his place in the world, or so he thinks: An attractive anti-system artist mother, Nuria (Nuria Roman), a feisty daughter, Olivia (Olivia Declan), who has her own problems of the heart. Trouble is Nuria doesn’t seem to think that Fer’s place in the world should be her place.

Shot over two years on location on a picture perfect Menorca –  “Isla Bonita” is in some ways vintage Colomo a sun-bathed comedy of manners and fish-in-water tale that delivers a forgiving take on man’s incorrigible romantic optimism.

In other ways, however, for Colomo, “Isla Bonita” signals a departure. And it’s this that really, one senses, interested the director. Variety chatted to Colomo as “Isla Bonita,” on which Imagina Intl. Sales has world sales rights and Surtsey Films Spanish distribution, world premiered at San Sebastian. It stars also stars Tim Bettermann, Luis Marques, Miguel Angel Furones and Lilian Caro.

Just to set the record straight, though the protagonist is called Fer and played by you, this film is not out-and-out autobiography_

True, though I’ve made films based on personal experiences, which are later elaborated upon, like “Paper Tigers,” “What’s A Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” “The Black Hand” and “Skyline.” I used many things which had something to do with me. But had I not played the protagonist, whon is called Fernando, no one would be asking me if it was autobiographical or not.

You’re not a washed-up, penniless commercials director

Well, penniless… Everything I say about TV commercials is true. They are commercials that I have shot. But I created a character that was, first of all, easy for me to interpret, and then made him a bit more pathetic: But the guy who so easily falls in love – three marriages – all that is part of the fiction.

Fer is part, one imagines, of a liberal generation that put through the transition to democracy. But he’s spent his life making commercials and in a way seems to have sold out….

The idea of opposing art and publicity appealed to me. So the character of Nuria is a pure artist, who refuses to be bought, and my character is the complete opposite. He’s always been easily bought. That’s a conflict my character doesn’t think about. For her, however, it’s a conflict.…

After his third divorce, your character discovers an idyllic world, suddenly has a house, a neo-daughter who’s a friend…

Exactly, it’s like suddenly finding everything, a wonderful little island where you can begin a nice new life. Though it’s not that simple. My character really is quite naïve, in the sense that he thinks he knows Nuria, her work, and so on, that there is a mutual attraction, that whole romantic thing.

Your direction is a departure  

The aim was to give priority to the actor. There were no marks set down to hit, there were hardly any hard and fast directions. I wanted the mise-en-scene to be very clean, very simple. And also shot with two cameras all the time, so as to be able to use shots and reverse shots at the same time, like for TV. So the actor doesn’t have to repeat shots. So we never repeated a shot. We changed for every take, even if they turned out more or less all right. The problem, normally with professional actors, is that unless they’re really, really very good, it’s very clear that they are repeating a scene or a take, that they’re waiting for the actor in front of them to say the word for them to reply.

As in life….And scenes were often broadly directed improvisation..

Yes. For example, th scene in the kitchen between me and Nuria, when she rejects my advances…we hadn’t rehearsed anything. The only thing the script said, the original script, was “Fer and Nuria talk about the divine and the human.” I knew she was going to reject me, but I had to pretend I didn’t. But we didn’t know exactly how. The scene before that, when we’re having dinner, and I say I felt very good there, that shot lasted 18 minutes – the entire take. We started to talk, and I was more or less leading the direction the conversation was going, and at one point I thought: “This is going to be good.” I thought that I’d shot about five minutes. The technicians were exhausted.

Had you ever done anything like that in any other film – without a detailed script?

Just on ‘Skyline,’ but here I also play one of the protagonists. I wanted to make a film with the type of freedom with which we made films before. I was really fed up of writing so many scripts so often for so many films when you didn’t even know whether they were going to be made or not, but most of all because I wasn’t working with a cast who weren’t all professional actors. If they had been given a script to work with, they might have done it badly. So I tried to put it all together to work in the film’s favor, not just because I was too lazy to write a script.

How did you prepare the film?

The preparation of the film was very long – almost three years. So during the first year, I went to Menorca several times, to get to know Miguel Angel more, and Nuria a bit as well, not much. She’d never acted before. She’s a sculptor, Olivia’s ’s mother in real-life. In this film I just wanted to take full advantage of all those real-life links and relationships. Olivia Delcan, as an actress, was very interested from the beginning. A good friendship developed between Olivia and me. We saw each other a lot in Madrid. Then, about a year or so later, Xmas 2013, I went to Menorca with a camera, and lived a while in their house with them, so I got to know more things, like about the dog, etc.

And financing?

“Isla Bonita” is co-produced by Paco Mollet, who is from La Periférica Produccions, a production company from the Balearic islands, who we got a small aid from, when the film was already up and running. The film was shot without the aid of any television or any aid from Spain’s Ministry of Culture. My obsession was to not write a script for people to start giving their opinion about its aidability. Coca Cola and the Atlantic Copper Foundation put some money into it. With the money we had, we could tackle the shoot, but they didn’t ask for any previous script or anything like that.

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