SAN SEBASTIAN — Carving out a reputation in Basque cinema as a regarded left-of-field short filmmaker over 20 years moving into features with “Ghost Ship,” essay on fiction and commoditization of pleasure, Koldo Almandoz takes a partial step towards the mainstream in his fiction feature debut, “Oreina” (Deer), which world premiered Tuesday at San Sebastian. Starring newcomer Laulad Ahmed, Patxi Bisquert (“Tasio,” “Backwoods”) and Ramon Agirre – immortalized in Alex de la Iglesia’s “El Dia de la Bestia,” a Basque cinema Zinemira Prize winner for career achievement this year at San Sebastian – “Deer” brings a documentarian’s eye and sense of revealing gesture and larger social trends to the tale of a second-generation Maghreb immigrant, Khali, who befriends a grizzled poacher living in a house beside some marshes with his estranged brother. Boasting scenes of extraordinary beauty, “Deer” is not for audiences who want on-the-nose explanation. It boasts scenes of extraordinary beauty, and a novel take on the real Basque country and a stealth phenomenon of immigration, happening now over much of Europe, but somehow ignored in much mainstream discourse. “Deer” puts it on the radar. Marian Fernández Pascal produces for Txintxua Films.
One of the singularities of the film is its portrait of the outskirts of a an unspecified big city, its a mix of the traditionally urban – trucks barraging down narrow main roads – with modern industrial complexes and ever encroaching wild nature, such as the extraordinary marshes and river of the film.
Yes, you can see this in other parts of Northern Spain, Asturias and Cantabria. My idea was to make a film set at the borderland between these areas. When I was 20something, I worked in the factory that’s seen in the movie, on an industrial estate, a metallurgical factory, and walked down that road a lot. I was struck with the thought that this world hardly figured in our ideas of the Basque Country, how it is popularly imagined.
The film offers indeed an almost an alternative vision of the contemporary Basque Country, and indeed contemporary Europe…
We always picture the Basque Country via bucolic pastoral scenes, or men fishing or at sea. The reality, however, is the landscape in which we live, in which I constantly move. Nature side-by-side with industrial parks and city centers. Developing the film, I also noted that many people who live in these spaces comes from outside the Basque Country. They don’t live in city centers because they simply can’t afford the prices. They live in working class homes on industrial estates. I was interested in not only showing this physical geography but talking about the people inhabiting this space.
The film is knit through by a sense of genres, maybe the most palpable the autumnal Western, the sense of the passage of one way of wilder life to another kind of civilization.
Yes, the film deals with the final days of two characters, at least in the Basque Country. One, José Ramón, the poacher played by Patxi Bisquert, is almost a kind of John Wayne, even in his characteristic grimace.
There’s also a sense that the film, rather like many documentaries, discovers its center as it goes along…..
I wrote this story of these two estranged brothers and created a character, a secondary character that in Khalil who bridges between the two. But, when shooting and editing, I became more interested in the character of Jalil. Some characters lived in the past, Khalil is a bit more the now and the future. When I met Laulad Ahmed, who plays Khalil, I realized that I had written his biography. The only change is that I had him as Maghrebi, and he is from the Sahara. I wanted to address immigration, but in a way we don’t see in newspapers or on the news. It is not the immigrant who crosses the Strait, or wants to go to France. It is someone who is already here and that in some ways integrated, already us.
That’s seen in language in the film…
Sure. Every time Basques address him, they speak in Spanish, because no one imagines he can speak Basque, but he does. There are people like that. In fact, there are many people like that. But we still have this thing of not having the feeling that they are us. That they are always immigrants and the immigrants in transit. I don’t know if the film vindicates them, but what it wants to show is that in the end the world is going to be like this more and more.
The amount of information you give about characters varies. We know quite a lot about Khalil, but not why the brothers don’t talk to each other….
In an earlier version of the script, I had explained why they fight. It was much more drama and comedy. Between they bitched a lot. But it seemed much more interesting to me to hide than to show. For me it was important not to underline things too much. When I go to the movies, I grate at films which emphasize everything, shepherd me. It’s a bit like magic. If you see a magic trick you don’t understand it fascinates you. I wanted the viewer to have some broad brushstrokes as to character, but not know everything.