Gabriel Abrantes returned to the Croisette this year to attend the screening of his 20-minute fantasy short, Directors’ Fortnight “The Marvelous Misadventures of The Stone Lady.” about a female statue that escapes from the Louvre and ventures into the streets of Paris.
The U.S.-born Portuguese director wowed audiences at Cannes last year with his wacky soccer-themed feature, “Diamantino,” co-directed with Daniel Schmidt.
“Diamantino’s” deranged mixture of queer sci-fi, romantic reverie, fairytale pastiche and CGI spectacle won the duo the Grand Prix in Cannes Critics Week, followed by major success on the festival circuit, and sales to over a dozen territories.
“Stone Lady” was earmarked by several critics as a key title to watch at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and received strong applause at its screening on Sunday.
In an interview with Variety, Abrantes explains how he came to choose this follow-up project to “Diamantino” and his plans for his first solo feature – an English language horror pic to be shot in the North of Portugal.
How did this new project come about?
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I started developing “The Marvelous Misadventures of the Stone Lady” a few months before we shot “Diamantino.” I had been researching fairy tales for a while, especially as a source of inspiration for the world of “Diamantino,” which was inspired by Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Little Mermaid, etc. “Stone Lady” came out of that research. I was reading Hans Christian Andersen’s Collected Fairy Tales, and a very short and tragic story, “The Fir Tree,” about a small pine tree that wishes it was a Christmas tree, really moved me, and I knew I wanted to do something with it. I changed the tree to a sculpture and the forest to the museum, and that was the start of the project!
What did you learn from the reaction in festivals and theatrical release of “Diamantino”?
“Diamantino” has been a huge learning experience. Daniel and I have been really humbled by the experience, and of course we were naive about a lot of aspects of production, post, sales and distribution. We have been accompanied by our producers and also by the many distribution teams, which has been really wonderful. We were lucky to sell the film through our sales agent Charades to over a dozen territories, which is really great, and surprising for such an out-there movie.
“Diamantino” has a strong fantasy element. In “Stone Lady” there is an equally powerful flight of fancy. Are there any links between the two films in terms of the creative approach? What were your main inspirations for this story?
The films really are similar in terms of their inspiration being fairy tales. I also wanted in both films to really focus on a very naif character that is confronted by an aggressive political reality, and has to deal with it with their limited tools. I think what I like about these childlike characters is they seem very open minded and don’t really come to these political situations with preconceived notions, but confront them on a very direct and intuitive level.
One of the subtexts of your new short is that art is locked away in museums and the story is about an art work coming into contact with the real world. How do you think cinema can engage with the real world?
I think art’s political impact, its direct relationship to power or wealth, and its potential as an instrument or proxy for oppression or liberation has always been a concern of mine. I started making films at art school, and at the time it was sort of a reaction against the association to luxury and an elite economic niche that I associated to the fine arts. I think this new film reflects these concerns in a simple way.
“Stone Lady” has striking visual effects. Who did your work with for the visual effects, and what were the main challenges in this process?
IrmaLucia is a small VFX company in Lisbon, and we have worked together on my last three films. I really love working with them. They have worked with historic Portuguese auteurs such as Manuel de Oliveira, or Pedro Costa, for example. They have a real understanding and passion for auteur cinema, and so it is a huge pleasure to work with them. The film was hugely ambitious, and we hit a lot of speed-bumps along the way. But it was a huge learning experience and I really can’t wait to make a longer form animation in the same style.
You were born in the U.S. and studied in the U.S. and France and have lived and worked in these countries and also in Portugal and the UK. How has this shaped your approach to film?
I think moving around throughout my life has always placed me in the position of an outsider. When I got to the States when I was a kid, I didn’t know how to speak English, and was somewhat ostracized for being foreign. After university I moved back to Portugal and had the same reaction, but this time as an American. I think this not assimilating into the nation or culture where I work and live has inspired a lot of the stories I have written.
What will be your next projects?
I’m working on an English language horror film to shoot in the mountainous region in the north of Portugal at the end of 2019, and also starting to develop a live-action/animation film in the style of the short I presented at the Director’s Fortnight this year, and a fully VFX 3D digital animation to develop over a longer period of time.