Chile’s Alejandro Fernández Almendras, winner of a Sundance Grand Jury Prize (“To Kill a Man”), has kicked off filming in the Czech Republic on his upcoming drama, “The Play.”
For his latest production, Almendras has left the class system and machismo of his native Chile behind, in a departure as grand in subject as it is in provenance. Electing to step far outside his comfort zone, “The Play” will be shot in black and white, in Czech – a language he doesn’t speak – and in a crazy-tight time frame so it will be ready to world premiere in May at the 18th Jeonju Film Festival, which partly funded the project.
“The Play” is produced by top Chilean single Jirafa Films, Guillaume de Seille’s Paris-based Arizona Films, one of France’s most cosmopolitan producers, and Veronica Finkova’s Film & Roll in the Czech Republic.
“It’s a very different film for me,” Almendras told Variety explaining that, “it’s a totally different language which requires a completely different approach to directing. I would say it’s the most demanding movie I’ve made in terms of directing actors. And we are shooting with a super tight schedule, the whole thing in just 14 days”
Rather than being deterred, however, Almendras is using the self-inflicted tough calls to help him see things from another perspective. “I like the challenge of trying to do different things,” he explained, “It allows me to focus on mise en scène and photography a little more, and to try and decipher more the emotions on the faces of the actors.”
Almendras has assembled a half-Chilean, half-Czech production team for shooting. “I’m really happy working with the Czech actors and technicians,” he said, “they are really professional and they were so excited to work on something this crazy!”
“The Play” will tell the tale of a small-town playwright, Peter, in the Czech Republic who, after years of floundering with shallow crowd-pleasers, challenges himself to update Unamuno’s 1930 adaptation of Euripides’ classic “Fedra,” but this time set against the privatization process of Czech enterprises in 1991-92.
As opening night approaches, the director makes a series of inadvisable decisions in his private life that begin to impose on the work being done in the theater. Relationships are strained to a point that on opening night Peter is forced to contemplate if it’s possible to repair something that has been profoundly broken.
Once filming has finished, Almendras and his crew will head back to Chile where they will finish post-production.
“As soon I get home I’m gonna start editing. We have to work very quickly. The coming months are gonna be really busy,” Almendras predicted, before quickly perking back up, “But it’s good to work like this. It’s refreshing.”
“Some films get so big and take so long to get off the ground. With this movie, I have total freedom to do whatever I want, to make the choices I think are best for the movie,” he explained, “It’s like grabbing a piece of paper and writing something down or picking up a guitar and creating a song. It’s an unplugged movie.”