Director Santiago Mitre On Fighting the Patriarchy by Remaking a 1960s Argentine Film

Courtesy of Cinema Slate

The Argentinean title for Santiago Mitre’s 2015 film carries with a familiarity to those well-versed in Argentine cinema. La patota, after all, earned Daniel Tinayre an award at the 1960 Berlin Film Festival. The black-and-white drama centered on a gang that rapes a young teacher who had recently begun working at the night school they attend in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Updating the film to not only better focus on the victim (rather than the perpetrators) and to speak about social and political inequality in Argentina’s border with Paraguay and Brazil, Mitre’s film (Paulina) follows his main character as she grapples with this traumatic experience in ways that are enlightening and frustrating in equal measure.

A privileged woman with a well-connected left-wing judge as a mother (who cannot bear her daughter abandoning her law career for a mere social justice-type endeavor in the middle of nowhere), Paulina (Burnt Money’s Dolores Fonzi) decides to keep on teaching at the Guarani-speaking high school she’s been stationed at even after finding out her students might have been involved in her attack. Mitre’s social thriller is full of shifting points of view that show us the same scenes from different vantage points and long shots that allow us to peek into Paulina’s controversial decision to take on the matter into her own hands. Having written films for Pablo Trapero, who’s made a career out of socio-politically inclined films, it’s no surprise to see Paulina feeling like a feminist riff on those lurid thrillers that leave you just uncomfortable enough to question your own politics and privilege.

Remezcla caught up with Mitre, fresh off his most recent trip to the Cannes Film Festival with his latest film, La cordillera, to talk about Paulina. He discussed why he decided to remake a 1960s film, why Fonzi was the perfect choice to tackle this tricky character, and why he welcomed the controversy the film was greeted with. Check out highlights from our chat below.

Paulina opens at the Spectacle in Brooklyn on June 23, 2017 with other cities to follow.

On Why He Took On This Remake

Well, La patota is sort of a classic film. Well, it’s not a classic because the film wasn’t very well-known, but the director is well-known in Argentinean cinema history. He’s called Daniel Tinayre. The project started actually started as an “encargo” (you know when someone offers you a film). A producer friend of mine had the rights for the film and asked me whether I wanted to make the film. I hadn’t seen it at that time, so I watched it just once and then started to work on the film. And I soon realized that I could make something new and different from the original, that was interesting. I wanted to deal with the political conviction of this character who chooses to leave the safety of where she is to go and work in this poorer part of Argentina where she is attacked by this gang. She wants to stay there and keep on fighting but then you start to feel that she’s going crazy. There’s a strange line here between her political convictions and her personal choices, which is frightening for the audience (and for me as a writer-director). That’s the problem. Because you have to try to understand her but she’s making choices that are very difficult to understand. But still you need to respect her. Because she’s a victim and you have to listen to her. You can’t just throw away what she thinks. She thinks through things that are difficult. She asks many questions – she’s a weird character and that’s why I love her.

On Titling the Film Paulina vs. La patota

I really prefer the international title: Paulina. I think the film is about this very unique and crazy character. That’s why her name makes more sense than the original one. La patota is the name of the original film and the only place where we kept it was in Argentina because, well, it was useful for the release of the film. But in every place where the film was released we chose Paulina. It’s a more accurate title, really.

On Choosing to Offer Changing POVs Throughout the Film

I don’t remember at this point! I shot it like 3 years ago! We were trying to play with the thriller in a weird way so, maybe it was some dramatic structure-idea that we had to use these different points of view. But I think the film talks about this idea of justice – about these different ideas of justice that the characters have. So it was interesting to have the different points of view so you can have the whole picture of the situation, even though the POV that prevails is Paulina’s. But in the original film, and in relation to the previous question, the gang (“la patota”) was a lot more important. The film was mainly about them and not really about the victim.

Courtesy of Cinema Slate
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On Casting Dolores Fonzi as Paulina

“In the end, the anger they have with the character makes them think a lot more deeply about the subject that the film has.”

I was looking for an actress who could be very strong and very vulnerable at the same time. Because Paulina is trying to find her strength and survive this situation, and you feel that she’s a strong woman. But you still have to see her pain all the time. And sometimes her craziness. Dolores is a very deep actress. She has so much intensity in her eyes. Well, she was my first choice when I was writing and then I met her, and we did an audition. Very informal. She was magnetic. Since that moment I was completely sure that she was the perfect actress for the role. And you know, when the film was postponed (which is this thing that happens with films sometimes!) we had a very long rehearsal process together. Doing some research and talking to people to have a complete point of view about the character and the situation. And about the place where she was going. It was as very interesting process that we did before the film. When we actually shot the film it was very difficult because it has a lot of intense scenes but we were very prepared by the time we got to them. She can play a lot in a close-up. I imagined the film with a lot of close-ups of her, because you have to try to get in her heads so it was a way to leave the scene behind and just focus on her face to see what she could do without words, even beyond her words.

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On Tackling Such Provocative Subject Matter

It’s a film that carries a lot of controversy. The reaction of the audience also carries this controversy. It’s logical that it would happen. And it was something we were prepared for, even wanting. The film has a very twisted point of view about the rape. With Dolores we realized that we have this idea that it’s her choice. It’s her body. She’s deciding in a free way. It may be something you do not agree with but you still have to respect her. It was very interesting what happened with the film because in the end people talked all of this and about a woman’s freedom to choose what to do with her body, even when you don’t agree with her. The movie works really well in that sometimes people get mad with the character, but in the end, the anger they have with the character makes them think a lot more deeply about the subject that the film has.

On Taking La cordillera to the 2017 Cannes Film Festival

It was crazy. The film was finished a few weeks before we presented it – like it usually happens. We were there just for three days. It was in the official selection of the Un Certain Regard, which is a lot more demanding than the Critics’ Week, which is more like a family, and quiet, in a way. It was very demanding. We were going from one activity to another and given these roundtables during the whole day so it was tiring. But the screenings were great. We had a great reception from the audiences. We were there with a lot of the actors, most of the Argentinean and Chilean actors, and we had a great time. It’s a very crazy festival. It’s great to go because it gets a lot of attention from the film industry and from the press. It’s also a very good place to sell a film. But it’s a film festival where you go to work.