“Nobody has ever given me orders”
Director Fernando Trueba is back with ‘The Artist and the Model’
Fernando Trueba’s studio is filled with piles of movies, cassettes and artwork. One of the walls features an enormous black stone sculpture made by his older brother Máximo, who died in 1996 and with whom he had already discussed his latest film.
El artista y la modelo (or, The artist and the model), which premiered on Sunday at the San Sebastián International Film Festival, follows the passion between an old sculptor and a young woman who has fled the refugee camps in France in 1943.
“Máximo was better than the rest of us siblings, and he was the best stone sculptor in this country. Now he was knowledgeable about art, not like me,” says Trueba, the man behind films such as Belle Époque, which won an Oscar in 1992, as well as the Latin jazz documentary Calle 54. “He wanted the movie to talk about the creative process behind art, about the work that goes into creating. But the movie is also dedicated to my older friends. I have always had older friends. As a kid, it was a bit embarrassing when my father came to pick me up at school, because sometimes they would ask me if he was my grandfather... I feel very close to the characters and to the way they face the end of life.”
But no matter what happens to people, “art will go on.” In reference to the recent decision by the conservative government of the Popular Party to raise the value-added tax (VAT) on cinema from eight percent to 21 percent, Trueba becomes vehement: “They can ban it, they can punish it, they can persecute it, they can despise it, they can raise VAT on it, but there it will remain.”
And this survival of art is precisely at the heart of El artista y la modelo. How much of Trueba is in it?
“Not much. I think it talks more about the passing on of knowledge and about love of life in general. We are talking about a sculptor who feels close to nature, about an old man who suddenly gets hooked on life once more thanks to the presence of a young woman, and feels the need to work again,” says Trueba, who is 57 years old.
The project had been turning around in his head since 1995. “I started to develop it with \[deceased screenwriter\] Rafael Azcona, but it was clearly not his style. In reality, what we really wanted was simply to spend time together. So we dropped it in the end. Then some time ago I thought to myself, ‘How many movies am I going to direct? If I only had one left in me, if I had to choose, which one would I pick?’ And the answer was El artista y la modelo, because it is the story I felt like doing the most. I got together with Jean-Claude Carrière, who is just as Spanish-French as I am, and I aimed for a bare movie without artifice, like the films Carrière used to create with \[Luis\] Buñuel. I also got support from Jean Rochefort, who knew about my project and who warned me, ‘I have but little time left as an actor, so let’s do it.’ Besides that, it’s getting harder and harder to get a production up and running, so you end up thinking things over longer.”
Trueba rejects comparisons with his brother David Trueba’s movie Madrid, 1987, which is also the story of an older man who gets friendly with a young woman. “I don’t really see it, although we might have interiorized similar references. What shapes your tastes, your vital references, is what you experience between the ages of 15 and 20. At that moment you are a blank page. What you read or see at that time is what you will keep in your emotional trunk. And you end up leaving those references in your later work.”
The director of Belle époque, Two Much, The Girl of Your Dreams and Chico & Rita does not much like film festivals, or comparisons for that matter. “I’m either happy or not happy with the movies and that’s it. I value my own feelings. This one turned out well. But I have felt the same way about other movies that I’m really proud of yet people did not appreciate them. One example? The Dancer and the Thief.”
El artista y la modelo was shot in French. How many times has Trueba dreamed of being French himself? “I’m pretty French. I’m probably more French than some French people. I feel French for some things, Brazilian for others, and American for yet others. I am not talking about the countries but about the cultures. Sometimes I regret not having moved to France. The place where I shot El artista y la modelo is where I used to go as a young man to pick peaches and for the grape harvest. It was in those fields that I read the entire works of Rimbaud. Ultimately I don’t believe in countries — this whole nation thing is silly. I have a great hatred of nationalism. Maybe it’s because I have always done exactly what I want. I never had a boss and nobody has given me orders. And if anybody has ever given me an order, I have always done the opposite — just for the sake of it.”