Madrid is in the throes of a brutal heat wave. An elderly woman jumps off a balcony and lies bleeding on the street below. Her widower claims a magnetic energy drove her to her suicide. His son moves him to their flat to take better care of him despite his wife’s protests, who fears the worst. Only his teenage granddaughter seems to feel real empathy for him. Thus begins “Viejos” where a mounting sense of dread pervades the atmosphere and the temperatures in Madrid rise to ominous levels.
Shot over six weeks between Madrid and the Navarra region, “Viejos” is the second joint outing by directors Raúl Cerezo and Fernando González Gómez whose previous film, “La Pasajera,” sold to Dark Star in the U.S. and more than 25 territories. “Viejos” vies for the top prize in the prominent Cheval Noir section of Montreal’s 26th Fantasia Int’l Film Festival.
Winner of the best project award at the 2016 Sitges Pitchbox, “Viejos” will be theatrically released in Spain by Filmax, which also handles international sales.
Speaking to Variety, Cerezo and Gonzalez admit that their irrational childhood fears of old people, something most people can admit to, inform their second feature together. “Our story invites us to face old age, maturity, adolescence and coexistence in a hostile environment full of conflicts that harshly attack the family nucleus, leading to the most fearsome and least expected of all endings. The forgotten, the rejected, the old… now have something to say,” they said.
“Viejos” was written by you, Raul [Cerezo], as well as Javier Trigales and Rubén Sánchez, correct? How was the collaborative process?
Cerezo: Javier [Trigales] and I wrote the film in its multiple versions for eight years. Then Rubén Sánchez joined us as we really wanted a clear vision, untainted by so many years of ups and downs in the work. The good thing is that Rubén loved our version, and he started to bring in elements that made the film even better. Once the production company came into the picture, they asked us to reduce the final climax, which was as expensive as the rest of the film and deviated a bit from the previous tone. Here, Rubén’s input was vital. Rubén’s distance from previous iterations made our collaboration perfect and we arrived at the best possible script for ‘Viejos.’ The truth is that it has been an alliance that we hope will be repeated soon; we are working on it.
Our work process was always the same: Meeting up and spending hours talking about the story, putting down hundreds of ideas and polishing them all until the three of us were fully satisfied. Then we would go on to read the script and start again: eternal online dates, long three-way phone calls, endless voice WhatsApps and a lot of hard work. But it was very gratifying because in the end we felt that we had given the best of ourselves. We are very proud of it.
What is the genesis of the film? Apart from the message about climate change, what themes did you want to explore?
Cerezo: A decade ago, I wrote what I hoped would be my next short film, ‘Viejos,’ and started asking for feedback from several people, many of whom ended up working on the film. The short had only a sequence in the film, one of the key scenes. Everyone agreed that the concept was too compelling to be just a short, that it had to be a film. So, I teamed up with Javier Trigales and we began a long and tortuous journey, which ended up being very beautiful but also turned out to be very hard. We considered shelving it several times, but we loved the story so much that we finally kept going.
Without revealing any spoilers, I can say that ‘Viejos’ is borne from that feeling that we have broken too many ties [with nature]. I believe that we humans go through life oblivious to many things and we continue to advance, stepping on everything and everyone, without fear of anything. By the time we reach old age and reflect back, it is already too late. In a way, COVID-19 transported the film to a much more complex place, without looking for it. We were referring to the pandemic without it still existing, but it really did exist, because history repeats itself. And it will be repeated. ‘Viejos’ speaks of the selfishness of humans that will surely end up extinguishing us in the end.
Are your older actors professionals? How was it to work with them?
González Gómez: All the older actors in the film are professionals. Even for the most fleeting appearances we wanted to have experienced actors and actresses. It cost us a lot because in Spain there are very few elderly actors since there are hardly any roles for them. We consider it essential to give credibility and work on each small role in the same way that we work with our protagonists. The importance of the small parts and taking care of each sequence to the maximum has been essential to ensure that the oppressive atmosphere of the film is maintained constantly throughout the entire footage.
Working with actors and actresses with experience in both film and theater has been a very enriching experience, they are professionals who know the importance of taking care of every detail in the construction of their characters. Thanks to them we have been able to give each appearance its own identity.
Actresses like Lone Fleming and Josele Román, actors with the background of Manuel de Blas or Enrique Cazorla and of course Zorion Eguileor, our lead, who we learned so much from and enjoyed creating his character.
What were the challenges on set?
FGG: Maintaining the oppressive atmosphere, almost palpable throughout the film, as well as working with the actors on the arc and evolution of their characters after the horrible events, were the main challenges.
From the beginning we were clear that the film had to give off a smell, an annoying and oppressive smell, a suffocating environment that would evolve as the temperature rose and that little by little drags the viewer towards an ending of unbearable tension.
To achieve this, we carried out exhaustive and very detailed planning work. We took care of each camera position and each movement to achieve our goal, this added, of course, to the lighting design and colorimetry by our DP Ignacio Aguilar and the art direction of Laura Lostalé. The main inspiration was the color and light of Goya’s black paintings.
Defining the overall tone of the film, the weight carried by our characters and the pain that moved them, was another challenge. Much work was done on the character of the son, Mario (Gustavo Salmeron) since he was the character on whom all burdens were reflected and around whom the main conflicts revolved.
What’s your next project together?
FGG: We have several projects that we would like to carry out together, we have begun to develop them and we’re waiting for sufficient backing to make them a reality.
The ones we have the most advanced is a film that navigates between “The Fly” and “The Good Son,” a terrifying thriller that delves into family problems and their impact on childhood. We also have another project that is an action and horror survival drama that mixes concepts from “Ready or Not” and “The Game”.
We are looking forward to facing new challenges and being able to grow telling stories, small, medium and, why not, big. Very big. We feel prepared for whatever comes and we are optimistic about the future.