A packed-to-overflowing press conference on Saturday morning at the San Sebastian Festival can be read as one sign of the potential popularity of the eight-part series.
The panel sneak-peek was attended by “Patria” creator and writer Aitor Gabilondo (“El Príncipe”), actresses Elena Irureta and Ane Gabarain, who play the leads, the series HBO producers Miguel Salvat and Steve Matthews, head of development HBO Europe.
“Patria” weighs in as HBO’s signature Spanish series. It was HBO’s first series announced out of Spain, two years ago on the eve of 2017’s San Sebastian Festival, when it was still in development.
That development proved characteristically lengthy.
“Steve worked with Aitor on the development of the scripts from a distance,” Salvat said in San Sebastian. “He hadn’t read the book as it wasn’t published yet in English. For us the development is the most important part, it is the foundation of what we are building.”
Matthews commented: “This is a very complex book. I think this book is about armed conflict, but it’s also about memory, aging, forgiving and forgetting.”
Also indicative is the series’ artistic ambition, enhancing the HBO viewing experience for Spaniards and beyond as a small-screen adaptation of Fernando Aramburu’s 646-page novel, published in 2016 and one of the most acclaimed takes on the biggest conflict in the recent history of Spain.
Equally characteristically, “Patria,” slated for release in 2020, turns on character.
“The personal aspect is key to the series,” says “Patria” producer Miguel Salvat.
“Patria” focuses on a 60something woman, Bittori, who has cancer, who returns to her native village in the Basque Country Gipuzkoa and seeks reconciliation with her best friend, after they were torn part by the Basque conflict.
“Patria’ is not about ETA. It’s a journey towards an embrace,” Gabilondo told the Spanish press at San Sebastian.
“The novel describes how normal people lived, people who weren’t politicians, in the military nor police, nor terrorists,” Gabilondo told Variety.
“It turns on the suffering on the street, how everybody was worried about what was going out, and didn’t talk, couldn’t really comment, or feel, without running the risk of being said to be on this side of the fence, and being used.”
“‘Patria’ isn’t so much about a fact,” he added. “Everybody knows the Chernobyl reactor blew up. The series is more about the wound or wounds that something left, which fiction can maybe do better than journalism.”
“We show that violence destroys everything. Violence and the victims, it harms both sides. Relationships, self esteem, everything is destroyed,” said Gabilondo. The series “focuses on what moved me most about the novel,” he added.”We have two sisters, very normal women in a small and normal town. For it to be representative, we had to show what they lived, when they split up and how they end in an embrace.”
He added: “We wanted to show themes from two points of view. What interested me about the story is that it’s about two families both with whom we could identify.”
A silence fell over the audience as Salvat and Gabilondo revealed the first images ever seen from the series. In what will be the series’ title sequence, Bittori runs towards an inert body – her husband Taxto’s – on a bridge under pouring rain. She screams in anguish for help, but nobody in her own native village comes to help her. Her solitude, and the hostility of the village, is plain.
In a second sequence shown at San Sebastian, a detainee, ETA member Joxe Mari, Miren’s son, is bound naked on a floor as police come into the interrogation room chatting. blithe to his predicament. about the coffee, and other tittle-tattle.
Another show reel showed the characters at the two major time periods in the series. The contrast is telling, sometimes shocking. Bittori appears in present wizened by cancer, Joxe Mari, Miren’s son, appears in the present a seemingly broken pot-bellied middle-aged man. An arrogant, confident, challenging young woman, Aeantxa is seen after a stroke reduced to a wheel chair, half her face paralyzed, mouth drooping.
“What we’re interested in is telling stories from new points of view. Shuttling between past and present, the first four episodes, which established the production design, were directed by Felix Viscarret.
Another video underscored the challenges of recreating the past, more particularly riots in the old part of San Sebastian as a bus is set on fire, and police charge rock and molotov cocktail throwing young ETA supporters.
A final clip mixed scenes from the series’ past and present: Miren and Bittori being escorted of a bus, and realizing that Joxe Mari is among young Basque rioters, having thought he had nothing to do with the conflict; Miren and Arantxa arguing bitterly; a scene in a prison; a shot of Bittori in her home hearing gun-shots, fearing immediately what has happened, and then running towards the body, camera behind her, then turning over Taxto’s body, his face awash in blood.
Each period uses different lenses,framing and color designs. The present is shot in a more composed static manner, with wider frames showing more physical context. The past is more convulsive, the camera closing in tighter on characters.