Director Marcelo Mitnik on Why Argentines Think Elaborate Marriage Proposals Are Super Cheesy

“And the city, now, is like a map
Of my humiliations and failures;
From this door, I have seen the twilights
And at this marble pillar I have waited in vain.”

So wrote Jorge Luis Borges of his hometown Buenos Aires, a city whose intoxicating humidity is a constant presence in the writer’s extensive canon. Borges’ reference to humiliations and failures are magnified by the city’s towering contrasts – splendid avenues and marginalized shantytowns, where every soul carries multiple stories as diverse as anything created by Argentina’s multitude of literary greats.

But it is also a city whose contrasts extend, as they do everywhere else, to affairs of the heart. Whether hopelessly inept or brutally confident, it is a city that leaves none unscathed, forever etched into the memories of all those who walk her streets and rest on her ample bosom.

Ok, so having visited Buenos Aires doesn’t make me Borges, but it does give me a pang of nostalgia each time I see the city onscreen. The latest case is in Marcelo Mitnik’s short film En Las Nubes (In the Clouds), a lighthearted take on cultural differences to which many viewers will relate. Mitnik’s film reminds the audience that life’s pathway may often be unexpected, but it rarely tastes better than with a sizzling choripan in hand. So of course, we had to catch up with Marcelo Mitnik about his film.

Tell us about the story behind the conception of In the Clouds.
I love good dramatic comedies, particularly those in which laughter allows an audience to approach weightier subjects in a “friendly” way, but without sacrificing depth. Life itself is a dramatic comedy, so I think it is the genre that most evocatively represents our common experience.

Having lived in the U.S. for over 13 years, with one foot in Argentina and one in California, the idea of telling a story in English and Spanish, and one that showed our cultural differences through something as familiar as a love story, felt like the perfect fit. One of the noticeable differences between our cultures is the way in which we approach romance, love, and marriage, particularly the ritual of the proposal, which is part of people’s lives in many countries, including the U.S., but is completely foreign in others, including my own. In Argentina, we simply don’t propose; kneeling down, the ring, the woman waiting for the man to pop the question – those are things we think happen only in the realm of movies. Like anyone else living in Argentina, I was surprised to find out that people actually did it in real life.

As I was looking into different ideas, I witnessed an event related to this, which gave me the basic idea from which everything else came together. I’m not trying to be coy about it. But people will get it once they see the short!

“Life itself is a dramatic comedy.”

Are there any personal experiences in the film?
When you write about universal experiences like love, heartbreak, cultural misunderstandings, etc., it’s impossible for your personal experience not to inform your story. So, in that respect, many things the characters say or feel are close to my life or the lives of friends around me.

I also feel that, tonally, my short is very personal, in the sense that if I had to choose a tone or genre for my own life, it would probably be this kind of dramatic comedy, this back and forth between the painful, the joyful, the absurd, and everything in between – sometimes all simultaneously.

In The Clouds could be the first part of a trilogy dissecting the cultural differences between Argentine and gringo culture. Commitment is the theme of this one; what could the others focus on?
I love the idea of a trilogy around cultural differences!

Although commitment is ultimately always present in the subtext of any love story, I’m not sure I see it as the main theme of In The Clouds. If I had to distill the themes of our film into one concept, I would say it has to do with what we expect from life and what life delivers instead, which is true not only with the two protagonists, but with every character in the movie, and in every scene or plot point. I think another underlying theme is how much we actually see the people we have in front of us, which is obviously a very common cause for misunderstandings when it comes to relationships.

As for your other question, if I were to do a trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back of In The Clouds would definitely be about an Argentine living in the U.S., to capture the other side of that equation.

“If I had to distill the themes of our film, I’d say it has to do with what we expect from life and what life delivers instead.”

There are clear elements of Woody Allen in the dysfunctional relationships and awkward social settings. What other filmmakers do you admire? 

I take this as a huge compliment, since I very much admire Woody Allen’s work and grew up watching his movies in Argentina, where he’s always been extremely popular (in fact, in the 80s and 90s people would line up on opening day to watch every one of his new films, like they did for blockbusters!). I’m a huge fan of films like Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan, Husbands and Wives, Purple Rose of Cairo, etc. – all movies that explored different aspects of love, infatuation, crossed paths, heartbreak, and disenchantment.

From Argentina, I love Carlos Sorín, María Luisa Bemberg, Adolfo Aristarain, Damián Szifron, Armando Bo, and Ana Katz, among others.

As for a list of other filmmakers I admire, it would probably change every week, but a few names that come to mind today are film classics like Billy Wilder (The Apartment is one of the greatest dramatic comedies of all time), David Lean, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Sidney Lumet, George Cukor, Stanley Kubrick, Bob Fosse, Alfred Hitchcock, and Elia Kazan.

As for contemporary directors I love, the following may feel like a shuffle playlist on an iPhone: Miloš Forman, P.T. Anderson, James Ivory, the French writer-director Agnès Jaoui, Pedro Almodovar, Susanne Bier, Peter Weir, Paolo Sorrentino, Jaco Van Dormael, and Richard Linklater.

Marcelo Mitnik
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Romance is a tedious waste of time. Yes or no?
No! Never! It’s a wonderful use of time.