Alejandro Fernández Almendras on ‘Hra,’ a Sanfic Work in Progress

In some respects a departure, in others a variation on a theme, the latest from the Sundance Grand Jury winner stands out from his previous work

Sanfic: Alejandro Almendras On His Latest,
Stanislav Honzik

SANTIAGO, Chile  — A leading voice in Chilean auteur cinema, Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Alejandro Fernández Almendras has stepped way outside the box with his latest feature, “Hra,” a black and white film set in the Czech Republic, which participated at this year’s Santiago International Film Festival (Sanfic) Works in Progress.

The film takes place in the world of a young theater director in a diminutive town in the Czech Republic. With an upcoming performance of a play of his own writing, based on Euripide’s “Fedra,” everything begins to crumble around Petr, played by longtime Czech standout Jiří Mádl, when he gets involved with one of the actresses in the production.

A bad idea under most any circumstances, it’s all the worse since he is married, and has a newborn child at home. After his wife leaves him, Petr reevaluates his life, and desperately strives to earn back the trust and love of his family by being the best father and husband he can, if not perfect.

The film is a co-production between top Chilean single Jirafa Films, Guillaume de Seille’s Paris-based Arizona Films, a key French producer of auteurist international cinema, and Veronica Finkova’s Film & Roll in the Czech Republic.

Almendras met with Variety in Santiago to discuss the family dynamics at the heart of the film, making a film in a language he doesn’t speak, and what comes after a project like this.

You’re a new father yourself, so what was it like making this film about someone in a similar situation?

It’s not autobiographical in the literal sense, but it’s a movie that is very personal. It has many things that I feel about being a father and how a child impacts a relationship. A child always causes a re-balance in a relationship, which is not always easy. It takes a while to reach that balance again, or maybe not at all. It demands a lot, and demands the reorganization of the functions of the people within that couple.

You’re in the WIP here at Sanfic. When do you think the film will be finished?

The film should be finished by the end of October so we should release next year, with the vision I had of the film because it’s a very delicate film with a very precise, a tone which is very much infused by feeling and emotions.

In many ways this film is a departure for you, but some of its central themes can be seen in your other work.

When I look at my films, they are always about masculinity in crisis. From “Sentados frente al fuego,” to “To Kill a Man,” these are always male characters who are very conflicted about what society demands of them as an archetype at that time and in that place. The father who has to be a provider and defender of the family, the man who should be the partner who accompanies his spouse, the young man who must be aware of his role in society or who must learn his place in the world, a man who is a father and who does not understand how to live this paternity – these are the continuation of the same topic, one could almost say.

You filmed in black and white, and at one point Petr is accused of seeing the world as being all black and white. Are the two related?

To a certain extent, yes. It’s a film that is also made in black and white because of a personal choice; let’s call it formal, that is an open homage to the cinema of the 60’s. We filmed only with elements and tools of those years. For example, we used cameras on tripods. They are panning, there is no steady cam, we didn’t have any large new resources. It’s almost like we made a movie among friends, and went back to that cinematic style that was like very simple, so it pays homage to a cinema, a very careful aesthetic. I was interested in the photography being very beautiful, with careful composition. I think that in a film so raw in its emotion, or so intense in its emotion, that I was very interested in being very careful with the images.

You rarely do the same thing twice, so what’s next?

I am writing two TV projects. There is one that already has a broadcaster that is a local project here. I serve as head writer, but it’s not a project of mine. Then I have another project that I am developing, but that is still too green to talk about right now. But, I’m very interested in the format of TV. I’m very interested in the serial format. I’ve written several projects so far, acquiring the tools to write in a long format. That has also influenced what I’m doing in film. I’m interested in the first films that were very silent. I have moved on to making films with a lot of dialogue, with people who speak. I am very interested in dialogue like in TV.

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Stanislav Honzik/Jirafa