SAN SEBASTIAN — “Spanish Shame” is the first whole TV series to be screened at San Sebastian Film Festival. It’s also the first full series from Movistar +, the pay TV arm of Telefonica, No other European telecom has driven so much or so fast into high-end original series. As such “Spanish Shame” is a pioneer. It may also prove a milestone.
Competing at San Sebastian’s Zabaltegi-Tabakalera showcase, “Spanish Shame” stars Javier Gutiérrez (“Marshland, “The Motive”) and Malena Alterio (“Five Square Meters”). The 10-part half-hour offer a black humored romantic comedy tapping into Spanish classic movie tradition of dark comedies of frustration (think Rafael Azcona) black humor as well as, in a refreshing turn, echoing U.S. references such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or “Louie,” – something singular in contemporary Spanish TV production.
In “Spanish Shame” an aspiring art photographer with a monumental lack of talent still makes his living after 20 years of trying to scorer an exhibition as a photographer at weddings, communions. His personal life lurches from one ridiculous social embarrassment to another.
Series is written and directed by Juan Cavestany (“People in Places”) and Álvaro Fernández Armero (“Sidetracked”) and is co-produced by Apache Films, whose founder, Enrique López Lavigne, has producer credits including “28 Weeks Later” and “The Impossible.” ”In a way, it’s anti-concept –you will feel embarrassed as you watch it.”
What will the viewer find in “Shame”?
Alvaro Fernández Armero: A comedy plumbing the darkest zones of social relationships, and focusing on certain very recognizable situations, to which we’ve applied a magnifying glass.
And a romcom…
Juan Cavestany: It’s especially a romcom, a feature structured in episodes. If you watch it in one go, you’ll see that this is the love-story of a couple in permanent crisis.
The show has a distinct second half, with another dramatic tone…
Armero: The idea was to cook the tragedy over a low heat. It’s very different to watch the whole series in a one-go than one episode at a time. The second half is what we like best. At the beginning, the protagonist is presented without much ado. Viewers might think they’re going to hate him. But the final stretches are even more painful. It’s a sort of a perverse game.
It’s also a pioneering series in the sense of its deep irreverence. Would you agree?
Cavestany: Traditionally Spanish series have tried to please everyone, including advertisers, target all demos with fiction , aimed at giving viewers a good night’s sleep. Some amazing series have been made but Movistar + isn’t pursuing this line and gave us complete freedom, the capacity to establish limits just considering the limits the series we liked. This was the challenge.
Spain black humor has deep roots in literature and cinema (Luis Berlanga, Rafael Azcona, Álex de la Iglesia), but not in TV. These meet in “Spanish Shame” with with Larry David and Louis C.K. for instance. Do you agree?
Cavestany: These are references that we’ve channelled. I’m happy you’ve felt them. We were obsessed with “Curb Your Enthusiasm” ten years ago. We were also attracted to “The Office” as well. However, we’re at a specific age, we’re Spaniards and we try to assimilate both sources. We wondered why these series were working so well. Our conclusion was that they were auto-biographical, had a deep sense of honesty. We tried to do something similar with our own storytelling traditions. But it’s almost childish to do something “in the manner of.” So we used our own intuition and our own lives.
The castings of Gutiérrez and Alterio were spot on.
Cavestany: The main role was expressly written for Javier. In fact, the pilot was titled “Gutiérrez.” He is an actor capable of provoking a fast and deep empathy with the audience and he’s not afraid to put himself into the most abject and pathetic mud holes. He’s performing a tremendously racist and offensive character and inviting you to identify with him at the same time. What Javier does is pretty brave.
Where does this empathy come from in fiction?
Armero: Although it sounds odd, I believe it’s due to a terrifying sensation of identification. You imagine that you could have the same embarrassing experience that another person is living.
Cavestany: I think it’s similar to fear. What is fear about? It’s something that tickles. Good comedy is similar, you feel a tingling. Shame could be a variety of this. It’s a common territory of comedy and terror, linked to being exposed, shedding one’s mask. It hurts, but it’s also funny.
Juan, what has Álvaro’s contribution been?
Cavestany: Each cooperation is a different universe. Álvaro has an insightful vision of social and relationship matters linked to a consciousness of running the risk of making a fool of oneself. He is great at talking to actors and provides a big dose of practicality to the shoot.
And Álvaro, what was Juan’s contribution?
Armero: Juan’s big input comes from his own particular universe. He has always defended the idea of building a personal series. Juan has an eye for seductive imagery of habitual losers and defenseless human beings.