“Las niñas” (Schoolgirls), which premiered in Berlinale’s Generation Kplus section and screens this week at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, is a coming-of-age story and a generational portrait of Spanish women who would now be in their forties.
The tale of sexual awakening takes place in a Catholic school at the beginning of the 90s when Spain’s democracy was also in it adolescence: 15 years old. Spain had experienced galloping modernity, yet older customs and beliefs remained deeply rooted.
The feature debut of Pilar Palomero, “La niñas” is produced by Spain’s Inicia Films, behind Carla Simón’s Berlin-prized “Summer 1993,” and Bteam Pictures, which backed Isaki Lacuesta’s “Between Two Waters.”
Zaragoza-born Palomero studied at Madrid’s ECAM and in 2013 was selected by Hungarian master Béla Tarr to participate in his training facility, film.factory, in Sarajevo. He directed multi-prized shorts “Balcony Boy” and “The Night of All Things.”
As a project, “Las niñas” was invited to multiple development initiatives: Holland Film Meeting at the Netherlands Film Festival; Small is Beautiful – Espagnolas en Paris; Pack&Pitch – Sarajevo Talents 2016; and Pustnik Writers Residency, among others. Vicente Canales’ Film Factory handles world sales.
Variety chatted to Palomero.
Have the tensions of adolescence changed from a girl in Spain’s ‘90s and one nowadays?
They have changed in some ways, especially in the way that teens relate to the world through new technologies. They have all the information in the palm of their hand and that makes them freer than many of us were. But adolescence remains the same in essence: doubts, restlessness, euphoria, fun and many discoveries…
How did you work with the actresses?
We saw almost a thousand girls between Zaragoza and Barcelona and finished writing the script after the rehearsals, adapting the characters to the features and strengths of the actresses. We particularly instilled the idea that they had to play and have fun. None of them read the script, not even Andrea Fandos, who plays Celia, the main character. We were lucky to have her enormous talent, as well as that of Natalia de Molina’s. A very special bond was created between them, full of generosity and fellowship.
You opted for the 4:3 ratio. What were the reasons?
The format was proposed by the d.p. Daniela Cajías. It was an aesthetic and also a narrative choice — we wanted to convey a ’90s atmosphere in the film but also to close in on faces, details, gestures and expressions; as well as isolating Celia in the most open shots, in which the environment weighs on her.
Could you give us some more details about the movie’s visual concept?
When Celia is with her friends, we tried to have the camerawork which was free and energetic, like them, to keep up with her and her games. It’s a camera which searches for and accompanies Celia in her teenage years. For that same reason, we tried to look for a certain stiffness while she is at school or at home, in order to communicate her feelings and emotions in these other spaces.
As other first features, “Las niñas” feeds on your own experiences. How did you arrange them in a fiction?
I started from the context in which I lived. My memories of those years are the setting of the film and Celia is a bit like me at her age, but it’s not an autobiographical film. I did experience a lot of the things that happen in the film, but there are others that are inspired by friends and their families, in situations that I knew of and have been told about.
What’s the kind of cinema you’re interested in doing in the future? Do you have any ongoing project?
Valerie Delpierre (Inicia Films), Alex Lafuente (Bteam Pictures) and I are already talking about our next script. We’ve just begun, so it’s too soon to give a synopsis, but we do want to work together again. I’ve enjoyed working with the girls, with the combination of professional and non-professional actors, and mixing more scripted scenes with improvised ones, so much so that I believe I would like to keep exploring this way of working.