Nely Reguera on ‘Maria (And The Others),’ Barbara Lennie and Family Dynamics

Reguera explores the ironies of woman trying to live her life, for the first time, for herself

Nely Reguera, “Maria (and the Others)
Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Fest

The only feature by a Spanish woman director at last September’s San Sebastian – which, given the seven by men, might say something about the Spanish film industry – “Maria (And the Others)” represents the awaited debut, for those in the know in Spain, of Nely Reguera, director of two prized shorts, the “La Ronde”-ish “Ausencias,” where Tomas loves Maria who loves Sergio who loves Miguel, and schizophrenia portrait “Pablo.” “Spain hasn’t got so many women directors of weight. Nely Reguera will get tongues wagging,” predicts Jonas Trueba, one of the leading lights of a new generation of directors, defined as much as anything by their crisis-hit industrial context, exacerbated in Spain this decade.

“Maria (And the Others)” turns on a 35-year-old, María, whose mother died when she was 15, and has cared for her family ever since. When her father, whom she treats like a child, suddenly declares he is taking a second wife, Maria has no excuses for not living life for herself.  The paths of protagonists in coming-of-age films, from illusory fantasy to a grounded emotional reality, is a well-worn road. But Reguera brings an often comic touch to the potentially tragic tale of a traumatised neo-child who determines to come of a age in a couple of months. If growing up were that easy.

“Maria (And the Others)” is also a showcase for the manifold acting talents of Barbara Lennie who, after Carlos Vermut’s San Sebastian Golden Shell winning “Magical Girl,” is finally being recognised as one of the finest Spanish actresses of her generation. “Maria (and the Others) is produced by Frida Films and co-produced by Avalon, a production-distribution house which is rapidly becoming a mainstay of Spain’s fragile arthouse scene. Variety chatted to Reguera as she prepared to present her feature debut at San Sebastian’s major New Directors sidebar.

“Maria (And The Others)” appears at first sight to be about a 35-year-old woman who, having lost her mother battles to not lose her father and puts off one of life’s most difficult decisions, especially for a dutiful duty: How, having lived one’s life for others, to learn to live one’s life for oneself. Could you comment? 

That is one of the most difficult challenges for the character. Maria has dedicated so much time to caring for her family that this has become a way of not confronting her own life. Her fears are the primary obstacle for her to live her life. But her family, especially her father, also play an important role. The dependence of her father and her siblings only makes it more difficult for Maria to take off. I have always been fascinated with the family universe, especially the roles that are generated and the interdependence between family members. It is very interesting to see how when one of the members changes their role in the structure of the family, this can unbalance and affect everyone. This is why the decision of Antonio to get married again finishes up helping Maria. Although Maria receives the news as a tragedy, the change in attitude of her father is the best thing that could have happened. It gave her the space she needs to consider herself and decide to change.

One key to the film, I think, is its tone: Some of the affecting scenes in the film, such as when Maria explains to an imaginary book presentation audience, why she wrote her first book, are also shot as if comedy. And some of the most comic, as when boy-friend explains why he can’t wait f0r her first book to come out, are taken in all seriousness by María. This mix of comedy and drama makes for a more entertaining film. It also, I think, expresses the confusion of a woman as she attempts to come-of-age in romantic and professional terms in a matter of months. Again, could you comment?

That’s it, the tone is something that characterises the film, and that is very important to me. It was very clear that this little drama that the main character suffers had to be played for its humor. That is why, if there is a dramatic moment, we needed something to break the drama and get us to laugh or smile.

Maria is a complicated character who is at a very complicated point in her life. She is a very mature in some ways, very childish in others. She is generous but also jealous and self-centered. She is her own worst enemy. Her life is not the drama she’s going through. If she knew how to act in a different way, everything would be easier but she cannot help but to feel the way she does. This tone, between drama and comedy, was the key for the spectator to both empathise with her and laugh at her at themselves the same time.

The film stars Barbara Lennie who, after “Magical Girl,” is finally being recognised as one of the finest Spanish actresses of her generation. How did you direct her? 

Barbara is a fantastic actress: Working with her is very exciting.

For me, it was necessary for Barbara to understand the character of Maria from the start. We spent a lot of time talking about Maria, her complexes, her fears, her concerns, her silliest hobbies, and her favorite food. Her relationship with her family, friends and lover. We spent a lot of time reading together and discussing the reactions of the character, however crazy that seemed at first.

After that, we had a few days rehearsing with the actors. Barbara is a very intelligent and hard-working actress. It was very impressive to see how her relationship with the character changed from one rehearsal to the next. I felt that she was very easy and above all fun to direct. Barbara has a great comic vision and encouraging her to let that go was a pleasure. We had a great time bringing Maria to life.

Do you sense that in any way – if just because of commercial and financial conditions – you form part of a new generation of directors in Spain and, if so, what would be any of its hallmarks?

I think that Spanish cinema is in a very good place now as far as creativity is concerned. There are directors with very distinct perspectives managing to make films. Its this variety of attitudes which is most interesting and enriching. Even though it’s true that what we have a common, although at different, levels, are the difficulties we have is advancing on our projects. Many never get to see the light.

Jonas Trueba predicted that “you will get people talking.” He also observed that there are still not that many women directors in Spain. What do you think are the reasons, and what can be done about this?

Jonah is a good friend! I hope that he will be right! Yes, it is true that in relation to men there are far fewer women directors, and when you speak about directors of photography the ratio is even worse. I don’t think the reasons are different in film than in any other disciplines in which the same thing occurs or has occured. We live in a society that has evolve very rapidly in recent years but we cannot forget that Spain has and is a machista country. For me, the fundamental change must be in education. If we make a society based on equality, in a few years we won’t be talking about this.

You’ve studied and then worked with Barcelona’s Escac film school on the shoots of two of its co-productions, “Three Days With the Family” and “Blog,” and have collaborated with A Bao A Qu. Could you talk briefly about both of these experiences.

Working as an assistant director on “Three Days With the Family” and “Blog” was a great experience and helped me so much at the time I directed my first film. Not only did I enjoy working with crews made up of friends, but I learned so much. Also, the films being so different made the experience even more profitable. With “Three Days With the Family,” it was very stimulating to work with actors like Eduardo Fernandez or Nausica Bonin and see Mar directing them. Then with “Blog” helping Elena work with a group of teenage girls, most of whom weren’t actresses, was very interesting. Mar and Elena are directors I appreciate professionally and personally. To be with them on their first films was beautiful and exciting.

With A Abo a Qu, I have benn collaborating for seven years and hope to continue for a long time. I firmly believe in the need to work on projects that are going to contribute to improving the quality of education, and give children the tools to promote creativity, form their own outlook, gain in self-confidence. Also, I personally enjoy working with the students and the teachers who do the workshop.