This has been one of the hottest summers on record in Madrid and the dog days of have come early, bringing with them Jonás Trueba’s steamy new feature “The August Virgin,” which world premiered in competition at Karlovy Vary Film Festival.
Each August, as thermometers pass 40ºC (104ºF), Madrileños flee the Spanish capital bound for the beaches of the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. “The August Virgin” turns on Eva, one of the few locals to have decided to stay and brave the city’s hottest days.
In her early-thirties and in a stage of major transition, Eva rents an apartment for the month and experiences her hometown in completely new ways thanks to a series of interactions with old friends and new acquaintances. In trying to help these people, however, she learns that she must first help herself.
The film is produced by Trueba’s Madrid-based Los Ilusos Films, with BTeam Pictures handling Spanish distribution. Trueba and co-writer-lead actress Itsaso Arana talked with Variety for the film’s Karlovy Vary premiere and Aug. 15 Spanish release.
In the credits you pay tribute to several literary influences including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Stanley Cavell. What about those books inspired you?
Trueba: When I make a movie, I try to fill it with things that I like and share those things with the audience, who I see as friends. That often includes the books I read. In his essays, Emerson talks about “self-confidence,” building an identity of one’s own based on the behavior and relationship with the space you live in. That’s something key to this movie. And Cavell always thought cinema could advance philosophical ideas better than philosophy itself.
The film has no Spanish subtitles when the characters are speaking in English. Was that a creative decision on your part?
Trueba: Yes, because there’s normally always someone nearby that translates. That’s how it is in life. Sometimes we don’t understand everything that’s said around us, and I like that to happen in the movies.
How important was it that your lead actress write along with you?
Trueba: Without Itsaso I wouldn’t have been able to make this film. It’s the first time I dared to shoot a woman as the protagonist, and I wanted the film to be told with her voice, seen through her eyes, and experienced through her way of being. I like to build my movies based on the personalities of the actors, not the other way around. That was Jean Renoir’s method and we must keep learning from the teacher.
strong>Can you talk a little about the movie title? Eva seems a virgin in many ways.
Arana: Titles often light the way for a film. “The Virgin of August” is the name of the holiday of the Assumption of the Virgin, but it also indicates the character of our protagonist. We wanted to discuss a kind of person who seems selfless in her actions, but deep down needs to help herself first. In that way, she is virginal in the root of the word. In the costumes and lighting used in the film Eva often has the appearance of the Virgin as well, as she attempts to escape the cynicism of these trying times, and to stop and take a breath.
I imagine you’ve spent a few summers in Madrid. Did any of your experiences make it into the film’s story?
Arana: The screenplay was born from having spent summers in Madrid and Jonas’ desire to portray that atmosphere of the city. The script and the film try to catch the feeling of daytime silence and loud nights, heat, parties, emptiness, possibility. In that sense, everything on screen has been lived. It’s also this specific and vital moment for Eve. We empathize with her and several of the topics that unfold during the film are questions that we ask ourselves almost daily.
What are you going to do this August?
Arana: We are staying in Madrid! It is one of the best times of the year in the city. We’ll be busy with the film’s premiere and with two other shoots. Although we will try to escape to the river from time to time.
What are your upcoming projects?
Arana: I will be working in TV and then this autumn I’m in a film shooting in the north (the Basque Country). It will be the first time I perform in the Basque language and I’m looking forward to it!