The synopsis of Lukas Valenta Rinner’s latest film makes it sound much raunchier than it is. Los decentes (A Decent Woman) follows a young woman who takes a job as a cleaning lady in a gated community in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. As mousy Belén (Iride Mockert) becomes more and more familiar with the high-class society she’s now serving – including the dashing, if spoiled, tennis pro son and his privilege-reeking mother who employs her – she starts to investigate a nudist colony just outside the gate. What begins as mere curiosity turns into a full-blown existential crisis, wherein Belén starts to shed many of the trappings of society’s expectations just as easily as she does her own clothes.
Austrian-born Rinner, who studied and now works out of Buenos Aires, has crafted a perversely dark comedy that takes ideas about inequality and “decency” and maps them onto an increasingly absurd fable. Whether seeing the ridiculous things these rich people spend their time on (say, cupcake decorating) or witnessing the colony next door’s vision of liberation (which includes face painting and naked mindfulness sessions), you’re likely to find yourself laughing uncomfortably, hoping those around you join in. Led by the quiet work of Mockert, who spends much of the film gawking at what’s around her, A Decent Woman is yet another fascinating production coming out from the NABIS Filmgroup. Composed of a number of filmmakers working in Argentina (including Verena Kuri and Sofía Brockenshire, whose film One Sister played the Venice Film Festival last year), NABIS seems intent on telling the stories of those oft-ignored, mining the hidden worlds found in Argentine society.
Argentina today is still very taboo about nudity.
The film, which closes Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Neighboring Scenes” program, is sure to strike up plenty of conversations—not only for its laid back approach to nudity and sexuality, but for the bloody confrontation that closes it. Remezcla caught up with Rinner, who shared how this deadpan comedy was born out of a real-life nudist colony in Buenos Aires, and how he hoped its bold social message about inequality confronts viewers all around the world. Check out some highlights of our chat below.
On How A Nudist Sex Colony Inspired The Film
Well, basically, the whole process was pretty quick. I got approached last year by the Jeonju International Film Festival. They basically asked me if I had an idea for a film. In the location scouting I had made for my first film, Parabellum, we found this nudist sex club, a very secretive, hidden space in a province in Buenos Aires. It’s a jungle-like park where people go to have barbecues and sex during the weekend. And it borders two gated communities. We knew there was a conflict between the two spaces. I gave them a synopsis for a possible film and they approved it, so we basically started writing and pre-producing at the same time in order to get the film going. And so I was able to shoot the film and finish the film before the festival which is in April. It went from scratch to a finished film in like 6-8 months. The film started [off] a very much documentary-inspired project, where we would go to the location during the writing process and start meeting people and start to understand how it worked. We developed this story of a cleaning lady who starts to go back and forth between those two spaces.
On Finding And Working With His Leading Lady
Because I like to mix professionals and non-professional actors in my films, I knew I wanted to use a lot of people from those spaces. But for that role in particular we wanted a professional actress. We did a big casting call and magically she appeared in one of those castings. The interesting thing is that we did the interview scene, which is the opening of the film, and then a scene from later on in the movie, and immediately there was a physical transformation which I thought was important for the progression of the role. So the choice was clear from the very beginning, especially because she comes from a very physical theater background. Working with her in that sense, not through much through dialogue which I do very little [of], but with physical presence was key.
If you were to flick through the movie you would see how her body changes from the first moments to the end. There’s an opening up in her posture. Little by little you can see her transforming, which was quite hard to do because we’d jump back and forth during the shooting between different scenes. So actually, the interesting thing with Iride was to figure out where we were in the movie and to understand, okay is this too much? Is this too open already or do we have to go back a little bit? That was the work with her in particular.
On What We Talk About When We Talk About Decency
The title “Los decentes“ we had from the beginning and we kept it as the Spanish title, but A Decent Woman came quite late in the process. Before, it was more about this collective as a whole, but finishing the film it was really a film about her and her transformation, so I think A Decent Woman puts a certain focus that I thought represented the core of the film.
“It was funny to go to the catering table and find yourself in the middle of an orgy of ten people having sex next to a fountain.”
The film portrays these two parallel worlds that are two realities in Argentina. You have these very high class gated communities with a Catholic background, and then you have this sort of strange, free community with an ideology that comes from the 60s and 70s. We wanted to talk about those two ideologies and the clash between them. And Argentina today is still very taboo about nudity so there’s very secretive about this community of nudists. It’s quite a contemporary phenomenon.
On The Perils Of Shooting In A Nudist Colony
It was actually strange because when we started the whole project the main production concerns were regarding the nudist colony and the process there. We really didn’t know how it was going to work. The only obligation we had is that we couldn’t shut down the club for shooting. [But] while we were in pre-production we suddenly found out that the main issue was actually the gated community, because they’re very exclusive and very sensitive about people entering those spaces. What they sell is the idea of security and exclusivity. So we basically had to divide the production into four different gated communities where we’d get different day permits to shoot, and we’d secretly go into one house to shoot all the interiors, but nobody in the gated community could know that we were there.
“You have very funny production issues. For example, where do you put catering in a sex club?”
So that became a real production issue. And then the other [nudist] community was actually pretty open about the process, and it was very nice. The first day there was a little bit of tension because, of course, a lot of people go there to have affairs, or some family members don’t know about their lifestyle, so a lot of people approached us and asked us if they would show up in the movie. But day by day, when they got to know us, actually more and more people joined in and participated in the movie. Each day we had a bigger cast. Even the production driver, who’s just a truck driver who was helping us, four days into the shooting we were missing some extras for a scene and he said, “You know, I can do it!” So even he was naked in a shot in the film! It was quite a curious experience. It was funny to go to the catering table and find yourself in the middle of an orgy of ten people having sex next to a fountain, or something like that. Then you have very funny production issues. For example, where do you put catering in a sex club? It’s those kind of things that you don’t even think about.
On Showing The Film Around The World
The most beautiful thing about the last couple of months of showing the film in such diverse countries (you know, we were traveling from Korea to Toronto to India to Eastern Europe) is that a lot of people who go see the movie share this dark humor that’s in the film. And there’s actually a lot of people who laugh at the end, which is fine. And then, of course, there are countries like India where 900 people come to your screenings and they are suddenly confronted with a world that they didn’t know existed anywhere else. In each country the interesting thing is to be able to talk about sexuality, taboo, bodies, and to feel these differences in each country and to promote these conversations about social tensions, and I think that’s something that’s happening all over the world. We’re living in a world that’s more and more unequal so I think there’s a core subject to the film that the majority of people identify themselves with.
On His Film Collective, NABIS Filmgroup
I don’t think we have a core theme that we’re all working on. But I think what makes our work environment special is that we try to really get involved in each other’s projects and work throughout the whole process, from the first idea to the finished film and through distribution, with each other. And our directors and our directors of photography and our editors are part of this collective. It’s something very family-like in the environment we’re working with. I think that’s really interesting and very special. Because filmmaking can be solitary, especially when you start writing and financing your film—it can take many years which is the case for a lot of people. There’s something about this constant development and discussion of projects that I think is very productive.
On Creating Argentine Cinema as an Outsider
I think there’s significance because we’re a bit outside of the whole thing. We don’t have the classical, Argentinian theme somehow that a lot of people who grew up here share. Maybe our outside view draws us to other places, especially in this project. These are people and places that nobody knows about. We develop a curiosity because we’re sort of discovering those places in Argentina. There’s definitely something in our viewpoints that draws us to certain things that Argentinian directors won’t focus so much on. Or we analyze certain aspects of society that are maybe a given for people who live here. For me, for example, the province of Buenos Aires is a place that’s extremely interesting for me to portray in A Decent Woman, you know, like finding these harsh clashes of rich and poor spaces. There’s very little in Argentine cinema about these problems in Buenos Aires. There’s stuff that probably we see that people who grew up in don’t see.