Adding to an ever-growing original series lineup, Movistar +, Telefonica’s pay TV operator, will release the family tragidramedy “Matar al Padre” on May 25. World premiering at Spain’s Malaga Festival, then selected for Lille’s Series Mania, Europe’s biggest TV festival, the miniseries is quite a different proposition to Movistar + other early shows. This time a relatively young director, Mar Coll, conducts through four episodes a highly thorough, almost surgical analysis of the relationships of a upper-class family down the years.
Taking place in Catalonia over four periods between 1996 and 2012, the four-part “Matar al padre” focuses mainly on the character of the father, Jacobo Vidal – brought to life by Gonzalo de Castro in what is being greeted as a tour de force performance – and the impact of his conception of the world, hence actions, on the lives of his wife and children.
This could easily have become a simple father-son narrative arc, laced with clichés, happy endings and morally redeemable actions. Instead, Coll develops a highly human overview of flawed beings who struggle with their own lives, their emotional scars and their relationships. Both the screenplay and the feminine directorial approach to the subject of paternity create multi-faceted, three-dimensional characters.
Movistar +’s seventh original series, made by the pay TV service in a drive to mark itself apart from rivals in and outside Spain, “Matar al padre” suggests that part of this differentiation, when it comes to Spain, may not refer just to scale or budget but the distinctive capacity of high-end drama to develop character to such lengths, given its running time. Like other series seen at Series Mania, it begs the question of what new and exciting formats upscale drama has yet to invent.
“Matar al padre” is produced by Movistar + and Sergi Casamitjana’s Escandalo Films, a company dedicated to nurse the careers of former students at Barcelona’s Catalan Film School (ESCAC), such as Coll, now a teacher there. Variety interviewed Mar Coll, Movistar + original series’ first women director, just after “Matar al padre” screened at Series Mania.
The script relies on a well-known father-children narrative arc, but avoids solving the lives of the characters. How did you develop the screenplay? What was the initial idea when developing the series’ structure?
The series portrays a father-son relationship over 16 years. It does not tell a story with a particular plot and resolution; rather it explores the changes that take place in that relationship down the years and through the characters’ development process. The main figure, the obsessive father, hopes to control his life and that of his children, in order to protect them. The idea was to confront this goal over time, to see if he succeeds. That’s why the series is structured in four chapters with time jumps. Obviously, it is a story of disappointment: the unpredictable ends up winning out, the future is always uncertain.
In then context of contemporary Spain, it’s very interesting to watch a series that unfolds in the context of a pre and post-financial crisis Catalonia. While depicting these characters and their relationships, you are also analyzing almost three different generations (including Jacobo’s father). Could you comment?
At the end of the series, Jacobo feels bewildered by the changes that have taken place in the world. The solid Spain of economic growth in which he trusted has collapsed, new generations arrive with a new order of priorities. It’s the confirmation of a generational change, with a consequent loss of power and influence – which is especially difficult to cope with for a control freak.
On the other hand, it’s true that the different generations not only oppose one other but are intimately linked by the weight of inheritance: the characters are comprehensible via their relation not only to the times but also their family heritage.
Gonzalo de Castro’s work throughout four episodes of fifty minutes has been acclaimed as a tour de force. What was your approach to developing the character as a director and writer?
The challenge was to empathize with a character who causes pain. We thought that the fear of the uncertain, expressed pathologically by Jacobo, is deeply human. The series begins with the news of the death of a teenager in a traffic accident. For Jacobo, that’s simply unacceptable: He can’t comprehend that such an event is not the fault of something that should have been avoided. The battle that Jacobo wages against the unforeseeable is moving in its futility. His actions generate pain, but their origin is a noble soul who won’t take misfortune lying down.
How was the work schedule on a Movistar + series? In other words, to what extent did it allow for the craft of what might be considered a new three-hour film?
A self-concluding mini-series format is certainly an exception in Movistar +’s current original series lineup. My understanding is that it responds to Movistar +’s desire to offer a wide variety of products. What stood out in the project’s development was the creative freedom we enjoyed, the respect we were given as creators. Movistar + adapted at all times to our way of working and to our tempos.
John Hopewell contributed to this article.