Celia Rico on Family, Loving Freely, Being Part of a ‘Generation Without Role Models’

Part of an exciting generation of young women cineastes based in Barcelona, the director world premieres her debut feature, “Journey To a Mother’s Room,” at San Sebastian

Celia Rico: Family, Loving Freely, a ‘Generation Without Role Models’
Celia Rico

SAN SEBASTIAN  — Acquired by Paris-based Loco Films just before San Sebastian, Celia Rico’s first feature, the contemporary Andalusian village-set “JourneyTo a Mother’s Room,” traces the evolution of two women’s relationship, from mutually dependent mother and daughter to, after the daughter takes an au pair job in London, more healthily independent friendship. Here, mother and daughter are not an emotional weight to each other, but a source of strength. That, however, means with saying goodbye to the daughter’s childhood. Ibon Cormenzano’s Barcelona-based Arcadia Motion Pictures and Amoros Producciones lead produce. Rico, Andalusia-born but Barcelona-settled, is often cited as one of the on-the-rise of a young – often women-lead – Catalan cinema. Variety chatted to her before the world premiere of “Journey To a Mother’s Room” in the New Directors competition at San Sebastian.

When we interviewed you last year for a profile of 10 women to track in in Spanish film, you quoted Yasujiro Ozu: “Life’s tragedy begins with parent-child emotional ties.” “Journey to a Mother’s Room” seems the story of two women who, little by little, learn to navigate and mitigate that tragedy, however. Could you comment?

The ties that bind together parents and children are delicate and fraught with conflict: the greatest love imaginable flows through it, but also the greatest fears. Unconditional love does not necessarily make us stronger; we often overprotect our loved ones out of concern for them. Mother and daughter are caught between thinking of the other or of themselves. And when they finally find a balance, no matter how frail, they face the difficult and healthy work of loving well, of loving freely.

The tension between mother and daughter seems partly a question of generations: Estrella feels offended Leonor does not want to spend the rest of her life in the village, or work as a seamstress. Again, could you comment. 

Estrella finds it hard to accept that Leonor’s life no longer belongs to her, and Leonor can no longer find in her mother the role model she needs. This is a universal, irresolvable dilemma. However, the film tries to bridge the generation gap: when the two separate for the first time, we learn that, deep down, they’re not so different. They both have to face an uncertain life where, when all is said and done, they still have each other.

The film seems packed with knowing autobiographical observances. The childhood friends returning to the village for Christmas; the heater under the table; the gas cylinders; the daughter’s stuffing her face with Spanish food when she gets back to Spain. Her contentment to spend most of her time back in Spain with her mother without seeing friends. That said, would you call “Journey to a Mother’s Room” autobiographical? I doubt it. 

I live six hundred miles away from my parents; I’m sad that I’m not close to them and yet, it comforts me to feel so far away. This film, though not autobiographical, is profoundly intimate; I dove into my most conflicting emotions to write it. Vivian Gornick says that narrators describe themselves through the thing about which they write. Those details that you mention partly stems from my nostalgia for a family life I can no longer have.

What were your major decisions when it came to directing the film?  

Directing a film already was a major decision, an all-encompassing one. Asking my mother to teach actor Lola Dueñas to sew was another fundamental choice. This decision brought together fiction and life; my own mother has left her mark on the film. My biggest bet as a director was to focus on the lonely mother and keep the entire narrative tension of the film hinging on one character. Quite a challenge.

You are sometime quoted, quite rightly I think, as part of a Catalan cinema’s exciting new generation of young women directors. Do you feel part of this generation? And what could explain the fact that considerable number of relatively young women directors are working out of Barcelona?

I feel part of a generation without role models. There have never been enough female directors, not because of a lack of talent, just because nobody believed in us. Every time a female filmmaker gets a film made, we celebrate and support her. That’s the best way to assert ourselves as a generation. We don’t all come from the same schools, not all of us were born in Catalonia, but we’re here, we’re a part of this. That’s definitely exciting.

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Celia Rico