Colombian-raised and French-educated Franco Lolli is returning to familiar territory at Cannes’ Critics’ Week to world premiere “Litigante,” his second directorial feature.
In 2014 his debut feature “Gente de bien” also competed in the Semaine de la Critique before going on to win the prestigious San Sebastian Horizontes Latinos award and the Colombian Academy Macondo Awards for best feature, director, screenplay, editing and actress.
With “Litigante,” Lolli takes an intimate look at the life of a single mother and lawyer in Bogata, Colombia. Silvia is balancing raising a son on her own, taking care of her ill-tempered mother battling lung cancer, and dealing with the stresses of a high-stakes job at a law firm currently involved in a corruption scandal case. On the verge of break down, Silvia sparks an sometimes begrudging relationship which could prove too much, or exactly what she needs.
The film features strong performances from non-professional actresses in Carolina Sanín and Lolli’s own mother, Leticia Gómez. It’s produced by Lolli’s Bogota-based Evidencia Films, with Srab Films and Les Films du Worso in France. Paris-based Kinology is handling international sales; Ad Vitam will distribute in France.
Variety talked with Lolli in the lead-up to Critics’ Week about his filmmaking process, directing his mother in a traumatic role and telling the every-day stories of Colombians.
The film is led by two incredibly strong performances from its leads. Can you talk about casting those parts?
Neither are actresses in real life. Carolina is a writer with a PhD from Yale in Spanish literature and is a very important writer in Colombia. My mother is a retired lawyer but she always wanted to act. I often work with non-actors. I know there are people in life that they can act, and if they are close to the character and I love them enough, I know I can direct them.
So far you’ve only filmed in Colombia, but you studied and lived in France. Do you have a desire to film in other parts of the world?
I think sometime I’m going to make a film in France. I already have an idea here. I have been to L.A. a couple of times and I love that city. Sometimes, if I had the chance to live there a while… well, you never know what might happen.
Interesting, so do you think you need to live somewhere a while before making a film there?
I think it’s essential. You have to know what you’re talking about and understand it. I really believe in research. For instance, my mother is a lawyer, I know a lot of lawyers, but I’m not a lawyer. I had these legal scenes in the film which revolve around a corruption scandal, so I did a lot of research and had a legal consultant with me. I wrote and filmed in a way that if a lawyer sees the film, she can say this is what it’s like in real life.
What was it like directing your own mother in the role of a long-suffering cancer patient?
It was horrible. I cried a lot while shooting this film. I had to put her in a terrifying situation for me. I really like to have the scenes as authentic as possible, and I believe my actors, even if they are non-professional, should use a method process; that they live their life as the character. There was a confusion of feelings through the whole shooting of the film that was really difficult for me. I was happy to shoot the film, but I really suffered while doing it.
The film feels very personal, where did the narrative come from?
Many places. My mom had cancer herself, and that inspired me in a way. For Silvia I’m not entirely sure where I came up with this very strong single mother. She’s a combination of many people that I’ve met. The casting process was nine months long, so during casting I was re-writing while meeting real lawyers and single mothers.
So did Carolina influence the character too?
I think she co-created the character in a way. I give a lot of freedom to my actors. I don’t give them a script with dialogues, we do it with improvisation and through a scene that I have in mind, and we find the final words together. I have the final say, but I think Carolina was very smart and directed her own character. There were scenes where she wanted to act one way that I hadn’t planned, but in the end it worked. You can only direct an actor to a point then, they have to be free to do whatever they want.
Your film eschews the typical violent, narco-trafficking narratives so popular in Colombian productions lately. I imagine that’s intentional?
Someone else asked me that in France where I do my post-production. I told him not that much actually. As Colombia is a young industry, I think we feel obligated to touch on big subjects, but why not make films like Woody Allen? My film isn’t a comedy like Woody Allen’s, but it has that kind of intimacy which is important for me.