Paco Plaza, director of the Spanish horror film “La Abuela” (“The Grandmother”), remembers distinctly how Coco Chanel’s favorite model, Vera Valdez, who co-stars in his latest film, responded before boarding a plane to Paris to sit out the pandemic when their production shut down early last year: “I will stay alive.”
Although they did not know, at that time, if they would be able to shoot again, Valdez’s promise gave him hope that the film would continue.
Born in 1936, the Brazilian debuted in Paris for fashion house Elsa Schiaparelli and worked for a number of other designers from Dior to Chanel.
“In March we had to cancel the shoot. Vera had to leave. We didn’t know if we could do it. Vera before she left for Paris said, ‘I will stay alive.’ We called her to make sure she was still there,” he recalled.
Their fear rubbed off to create an amusing and sometimes scary film.
“We were really fearful throughout the process because we were fighting something we didn’t know,” he said. “We sent her to an apartment in Paris because we thought it would be better but it was one of the countries most affected by the pandemic.”
Valdez told reporters at a press conference Thursday in San Sebastian, where the French-Spanish film plays in Official Selection, that she was seeing the film for the first time that evening.
Set in Madrid, the film co-stars new Spanish actress Almadena Amor as a model and granddaughter who returns to Madrid from Paris to look after her grandmother, played by Valdez.
Instead of sending her to a care home, she chooses to look after her at her home, whilst looking for a caregiver, so she can return to further her career in the French capital.
Although her grandmother is completely out of it, and has to be spoon fed, she still swings a few mysteriously murderous magic tricks, once in a while, and the house becomes more and more haunted.
“I made a film but I haven’t seen it. I will see it this evening with all of you. I’m very happy to be here and thank you for being here,” said Valdez.
“It will be a surprise to see it. It’s going to kill me because I will be frightened to death. The audience is the most important thing to me,” she added.
There’s a play on aging and beauty within the film with the gorgeous young Amor playing against her creepy cracked grandmother whose portrait from her glory days hangs on the wall of her home.
“Getting old. Age. We are constantly glorifying youth and beauty,” said Plaza. “I was very interested in how someone else’s aging horrified us. I was interested in the two-sided mirror when looking at getting old.”
He added: “Life has changed in the pandemic. How we have seen each other changes. How long has it been that we’ve seen a grandmother with everything we have lived through?”
Amor was inspired by her co-star. “I most liked her strength. There are many qualities she has that I would like to have at her age. I was very grateful for the opportunity. I feel infinite gratitude,” she said.
Sony is distributing the film in Spain.