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Facetime: Isabel Coixet, writer-director of ‘The Bookshop’

On Feb. 4, Isabel Coixet became the only women to win two Spanish Academy best picture Goyas. She did so with “The Bookshop,” starring Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson and Bill Nighy, and in 2005 with “The Secret Life of Words,” which she also directed, the only English-language film ever to win a best picture Goya. In “The Bookshop,” Coixet unravels the story of a widow, Florence, who battles provincialism as she opens a bookstore in Hardborough, a sleepy 1950s Suffolk seaside town. The film, an adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel, was a Spanish box office hit. “The Bookshop” plays in the Berlinale Special section.

Someone said that books allow readers to discover new realms. Movies too?

I believe so. Storytelling, through words or images, along with love, are both irrefutable proof that a human being is an incomplete being. We need stories and images to find references and clues to live. The discovery of images and the power of words change you forever.

What attracted you to Penelope Fitgerald’s novel?

The dryness of the style: There was such little sentimentality to it  when it tackled something that could have been very tearful and mushy. Also, the heroine. Remembering Gustave Flaubert — “Madame Bovary is me,” and I thought: “That woman is me, in my stubbornness, naivety in thinking that what you’re doing helps a little, a nanoparticle making this world better. And how these sentiments are damaged by a wave of hatred, couldn’t-care-less-ness and rejection.

“The Bookshop” turns on books and love. What’s the relation?

Books link many people in many ways. Only a few books are mentioned in “The Bookshop.” However, Florence’s recommendation for Edmund [Nighy], “Fahrenheit 451,” is not casual. It was one of the books that marked my adolescence, along with Ursula K. Le Guin’s [books]. The voiceover in “The Bookshop” is Julie Christie’s. I offered it to her as a tribute to Truffaut’s movie. [Christie starred in the 1966 Francois Truffaut adaptation of the novel.]

What was it like to shoot with Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson and Bill Nighy?

A big pleasure. When I see Emily’s works I always end up asking myself why she isn’t the main character. She is delicate, sharp and very smart. Bill has a great ironic sense of humor, is intelligent and very generous. I had planned to shoot the story told by the letters between Florence and Edmund in a different way, but decided to have a three-minute shot of Bill reading the letters with Florence’s voiceover of what she wrote. When we were making “Learning to Drive,” I told Patricia she had to play a villain one day. In “The Bookshop,” I think she had a great time playing a horrible bitch.

 

Did you incorporate substantial changes in the adaptation?

There are some aspects of the book that I decided not to include because they could deflect attention in a film story. In the book there’s a supernatural presence, for instance, beautifully and precisely developed. I also felt the need to inject some fresh new air and hope at the end.

You’ve been backing, mentoring young female directors from your production companies. We’re now seeing in Catalonia the emergence of a young generation of producers and directors who are often women.

It was about time, and let’s talk about historical reparation and not positive discrimination. Also, I remember Agnieszka Holland telling me some time ago: “You can be sure that when we women make the expensive movies that they will begin to respect us.” So we have to see if it’s just a flash in the pan or something more solid.

What’s next?

“Elisa y Marcela,” produced by Barcelona’s Rodar y Rodar, starring María Valverde and Natalia de Molina, about two women getting married in 1910 in Galicia. I have another feature, to be produced by Lanube in Andalusia. Shooting is scheduled for May. And a third with Patricia Clarkson, produced by Daniel Dreyfuss, “Light on Broken Glass.” It will be the fourth time I work with Patricia.

CREDIT: Lisbeth Salas

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