Making its bow at the Malaga Festival’s Spanish Screenings is “Trains Bound for the Sea,” the feature debut from directorial duo Hugo Obregón and Manuel Álvarez-Diestro.
The film tells the story of Lee Fan Bao – firstly through his grandfather’s quest to find him a suitable bride and later through the grandson’s experiences of finding love in London. The final vignette takes place in a rain-soaked Hong Kong and is flooded with a former boyfriend’s reminiscences of Fan Bao.
According to the two directors, who went to high school together in Santander before moving Stateside to study at Boston University, the deliberately oblique narrative was originally a trilogy of short films they had previously worked on, before reediting them from scratch, to make the feature.
The directors, who are currently seeking a distribution deal, talked with Variety about their directorial style and the continuity challenges involved in segueing from the three short films.
Hugo, what inspired you to reedit your shorts trilogy into a feature and what challenges did you face?
Obregón: We wanted to link up the stories, but via oblique angles. We’re inspired by the minimalism of Hou Hsiao-hsien and also Ozu Yasujiro and Michelangelo Antonioni. Our films are more about experiencing than knowing; and therefore feelings are felt, hopefully, rather than told or even seen.
Our first short set in Hong Kong, “Never Again This Flower,” did well on the short film festival circuit but the story was a bit obscure, even by our standards. So Manuel came up with the idea of telling the story of the departed from the first film.
The second film, “Last Days of Margaret Thatcher,” was shot in London, where Manuel was based there, and we wanted to use the landscape to convey a funereal mood rather than give it through action, dialogue or even through the expression of the actors.
Our third piece, “Another Year Without Love,”, was challenging because Manuel – the perennial traveller – was now living in Seoul, so we had to come up with a Korean link and explain that.
There were continuity issues in joining these together – for instance, Lady Thatcher’s funeral and the Peaceful Revolution in South Korea took place three years apart and, worse yet, in reverse order to our interests, but we wanted to incorporate them anyway, because it was part of our general scheme: To draw a parallel between the personal and the historical.
Manuel, you’re a celebrated built environment photographer – what role do buildings and place play in your films?
Álvarez-Diestro: Usually I know the buildings from my photographic work and show them to Hugo and we integrate them into the films. In a way, we first fall in love with the cities and the locations and then we bring the actors and [build] the story around it.
My experience taking photos of the built environment in many cities and Hugo’s appetite for walking with me through the metropolis has helped us in creating this film where the city has a central role as a backstage for human emotion.