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Spain’s Cesc Gay Drills Down on Canneseries Competition Entry ‘Félix’

Released yesterday in Spain, ‘Felix’ represents the flagship spring title from Movistar +

On a plateau high up in Andorra’s Pyrenees, Felix (Leonardo Sbaraglia) gets out of a car There’s ice on the ground. But that does not explain entirely the way he walks, a near piteous shuffle, arms turned in, the gait of a meek man treating reality cautiously.

Felix is knocking 50. In Andorra, the mountain principality locked between France and Spain, he’s a fish-out-of-water, Argentine, a novelist, married, a father, though he hasn’t plucked up the courage to tell his son. The only thing that gets him out of bed in the morning is that he’s fallen in love, profoundly, with a Chinese woman (newcomer Mi Hoa), with whom he’s spent one night.

But she’s mixed up with the Chinese mafia. And she’s disappeared.

“Felix” is, like many modern series, a genre blender, a romantic comedy thriller. Ultimately, it weighs in as a date series, an adult coming of age tale, of a man discovering how in a global world of Madrid politicians, Andorran bumpkins, French cops and Chinese cartel, it’s love that transforms and defines Felix, gives him his identity.

Sold by ITV Global Studios Ent., shot for 11 weeks in Andorra, eight in Barcelona – a vastly longer time than most Spanish TV series – “Felix” is also the flagship Spring series from Spain’s Movistar +, the pay TV unit of Spain-based Telefonica, Europe’s second or third largest telecom which has driven more into scripted drama than any other telco operator on the continent. That commitment looks to be paying dividends in early pay TV results. But the series’ selection for main competition at Canneseries is still a coup for Movistar +, which only started releasing series, at the demanding rhythm of one a month, just before last October’s Mipcom.

Variety chatted with Cesc Gay, a film director making his move over to TV, in the run-up to “Felix’s” intentional premiere in Cannes.

If somebody asked what Felix” about, I’d say that it’s about identity via love, not in terms of of nationality, or profession: How a man who’s adrift in life finds himself via an anchor love relationship which defines and inspires him. But maybe I’m just utterly too romantic?

‘Felix’ was born from my fascination for the films of Alfred Hitchcock and their protagonists, especially those played by James Stewart. A cocktail of suspense, humor and good manners. From that, and as access with any project, things take on their own form and become something on their own.

Episodes can begin or end with a corpse, clanging organ music, a camera’s slow crawl in towards a scene or body, mark of horror cinema. Yet the tone of the series is usually comedic. One of your main challenges, you told me in the past, was to maintain the balance between comedy and thriller. Could you comment?

It’s a combination that I like a lot, that I enjoy as a spectator and wanted to transfer to ‘Felix.’ But you have to be attentive because it’s a really delicate balance to pull off. Dialogue, mise-en-scène, acting, framing, costume. music, just a few frames more or less before cutting…everything has to come together to achieve this, nothing can be out of tone   

Having said that the comedy-thriller balance is important, the real suspense of “Felix” is, and i think it’s crucial, a psychological question: Putting himself through so much, transformed by love, is he a better or happier person? Again, any reaction appreciated.

Possibly neither. Felix is transformed, despite himself, into a stranger to himself: a man who is valiant, obsessive, romantic, even tormented. You’re who you are despite yourself. That’s what Felix discovers.

The series has a singular love story between an Argentine man and Chinese woman, in a world of Andorran, Spanish and French secondary characters. With this I sense you’re celebrating both cultural diversity and the far greater similarity of people from different cultures than is often imagined….

I’m conscious of this mix which I developed, along with other decisions, throughout the project. I thought it was the best way of shaping the world of the series, at a visual and other levels.

If “Felix” had a second creator, it would be Leonardo Sbaraglia. How did you direct him? What key guidelines did you give?

We sat down for a week, every morning, and read and spoke about his character, about the series, and about ourselves, which always happens in the intimacy of a rehearsal room. Each of us gaining the confidence in  the other to take on a marriage of five months of daily work. After lunch, we would have costume tests, which I thought essential. Finding the right cloths for a character is the first step to understanding them.

‘Felix’ is set in Andorra, between Spain and France, in steep backed valleys, snowy peaks. It seems to me that you use the contrasts of the Pyrenees, their warm beauty when the sun is out, cruelty of cold when not, to also contribute to tone…

Mountains put everybody in their place, as people say. They are vast, liberating, unsettling, unpredictable. Elements that dovetailed marvelously and with which I played throughout the episodes.

“Felix” is also of course a flagship Movistar + series. It has numerous and lovely aerial shots of Andorra’s peaks, a fantasy sequence transforming a street in Toulouse and involving a massive flock of doves. The key thing in monetary terms about a series is not its budget but that this is high enough to give the creator the resources he requires to shoot the story he wants to tell. How did you or producer Marta Esteban talk this through with Movistar +?

A director always wants more resources, more of everything, but in this sense I’m conscious and thanks the large economic effort that Movistar + has made not only with mu series, but the whole project of Movistar + Original Series. That and, above all, the creative freedom I’ve had.

An obvious so penultimate question. This is your first major TV series, I think. As a film director, how was the crossover? What were the creative pleasures, and pressures?

A film is a 90-minute pact with spectators. You know you have their attention, their concentration, for a while. A TV series is the opposite, an examine, taken sequence by sequence. We sit on the sofa at home yp see them with the remote control while the sword goes on around us. That’s the big difference with theatrical cinema.

 

Like other series at Canneseries – Gael García Bernal’s “Here On Earth,” for example – “Felix” expands in reach to throw into doubt the propriety and honesty of Spain’s ruling elite, suggesting the need for a second transition. Without too many spoilers, could you comment?   

Money rules the world. We live and kill for it. That’s the way it goes.

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