Off the heels of a world premiere at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, where he scooped the Proxima Special Jury Prize, writer-director Eduardo Casanova arrives in Montreal to screen his latest feature “La Piedad” (“La Pietà”) as part of the Queer Genre Cinema Spotlight at Fantasia. The screening marks its North American debut.
The film offers a delightfully bizarre peek into the lives of manic and obsessive Libertad (Ángela Molina), a mother with an insatiable desire to be needed, and her son, Mateo (Manel Llunell), who warily leans into her toxic trappings as the pair become increasingly entwined.
A personal story unfurls in tandem with a poignant subplot that likens their familial relationship to that of a populace and its dictator, showing that those in control of a mere few can use propaganda just as readily as a sadistic leader to manipulate their wards into submission.
“The syndrome I worked from was Munchausen By Proxy, where the caretaker sickens her child so that he doesn’t leave her. In the film, this ends up turning around and creating a relationship of absolute dependency. This syndrome seems to have a lot in common with how dictators relate to and condition people. That syndrome was the starting point, but I suppose that in the end, it transformed into something else,” Casanova told Variety.
Llunell (“Malnazidos”) and Molina (“That Obscure Object Of Desire”), an Almodóvar alum, are joined by Antonio Durán (“Cocaine Coast”), Daniel Freire (“Sex And Lucía”), Macarena Gómez (“Dagon”), Alberto Jo Lee (“La Fuga”), Songa Park (“The Minestry of Time”) and Ana Polvorosa (“La Fortuna).
“La Piedad” presents an unconventional dichotomy through sticky-sweet soft pink and pastel stylized sets, with a retro feel, utilized when portraying the absurdly wild and cruel abuse Libertad and the North Korean dictatorship dole out. In contrast, bleak gray and dull surroundings predominate when characters escape their captors, essentially painting a grim future for anyone who dares step into the real world after the high illusion of faux happiness is fully ingested.
Produced by director Álex de la Iglesia (“30 Coins”) and actress Carolina Bang at Madrid-based Pokeepsie Films, who also handled Casanova’s first feature, “Pieles,” and co-produced by Argentina’s Crudo Films and Spain’s Gente Seria, the effort features hallmarks the young filmmaker has wrapped into his burgeoning aesthetic. Casanova remarked that he consistently aims to include “something deeply horrible, cruel and dark, which is deeply beautiful and pink at the same time.”
A Freudian field day, the campy-dark humor blends softly into surreal depictions of simulated birth, shared baths, full frontal bits on display and savage scenes of Mateo’s declining will to reject his mother’s authority. He sways between defiance and acquiescence. In one scene, he opens a nearly-healed wound on his toe in the bath so that his mother, who’d cut it in the first place, can tend to him.
Speaking about the high art of the set and costume design and whether it develops alongside the narrative, Casanova noted, “An image always appears in my head first, then I develop it to give it meaning, that image that fascinates me. I like aesthetics, but I’m concerned that aesthetics don’t count for anything. That’s why I work like this.”
Spain’s Film Factory Entertainment handles international sales of “La Piedad,” which stands as Casanova’s second feature, following a run of pertinent short films that would inform his process. “Eat My Shit,” an ingenious quick take on internet censorship, was awarded best short film at SXSW and went on to inspire “Pieles,” which premiered at Berlinale, garnering high praise on the festival circuit. It debuted to wider audiences on Netflix.
“My short films were rehearsals for my films, a way of learning how to shoot. In fact, my short film “Eat My Shit” became “Pieles” and “Jamás Me Echarás De Ti” mixed with “Fidel,” “Lo Siento Mi Amor” became “La Pietà,” Casanova relayed.
A multi-talent who creates groundbreaking and memorable cinema, Casanova feels independent filmmaking allows far more freedom and asserts that no matter the budget, he’s been able to achieve a tremendous amount despite it.
“The more money you have, the less free you are. I also shoot series and advertising with a large budget and the process is different. Everything is combinable. In any case, I can’t complain. Movies like the ones I make usually have much less money than what the producers and our efforts have achieved. The idea is to do big and radical things, to be able to change the system from within,” he concluded.