Nighttime, a party in Madrid, una chica y un chico: they like each other, talk it out. Should I stay or should I go? She ends up spending the night at his apartment. What happens the next day? With a simple premise, eight straight-forward chapters and dynamic dialogues, Stockholm exudes naturalism and energy. “You are with someone you do not know, it maybe fun at first, but without realizing it, you start arguing,” says 33 year-old Spanish director Rodrigo Sorogoyen about his second feature. “I have experienced in my own life much of the same situation,” he adds.
Echoing Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Michael Haneke’s somber portrayals of the human soul, the film captures the charm and subsequent alienation experienced by this couple through long takes and plenty of witty dialogue (madrileño style), with exceptional performances by Javier Pereira and Aura Garrido.
Sorogoyen made Stockholm with the help of friends, family, and a crowdfunding campaign to which more than 250 people contributed. It took him 12 days to shoot the film, a lot of it in his own apartment.
During his visit to the Mill Valley Film Festival in the Bay Area, we got the chance to talk with this up and coming, loquacious director from Madrid. Before we get started he makes sure to let us know what we’re in for. “Do you have time, because I talk a lot.”
How did you get started in the world of cinema?
I asked her, “Do you want to do a short with me? It is about a boy and a girl who hook up and then the next morning…”
At 18, while studying history in college, I started to take film classes — a year in one place, another year in another place — and then made short films with my fellow students. At 24 I started working in television, where I met Peris Romano.
With whom you co-directed your first feature, 8 citas, in 2008.
Yes. It’s based on a short of mine, Uno más uno, about relationships — four scenes performed by different couples. The first, being about about a couple falling in love, the second about a couple going through a crisis… Peris suggested to do a romantic comedy instead of a drama. It was relatively successful, people remember it as a friendly and enjoyable film.
How did Stockholm come into being?
With friends from film school we created a production company, Caballo Films. “Let’s make a cheap movie,” we said. I had met Isabel Peña, the co-writer of Stockholm, working on television. I asked her, “Do you want to do a short with me? It is about a boy and a girl who hook up and then the next morning…” She liked the idea and we wrote the script for a short for a month or two in 2010. We worked on it at work during lunchtime, and in the evenings we would stay writing at work. At some point I told her, “20 minutes is not enough, this should be a feature.” Because the interesting thing about Stockholm is living with the characters and getting to understand them in real time.
The dialogue is lively and sharp.
“I’d love to be watching Before Sunrise and all of a sudden, halfway through the film, you’d say, “No, that is not love.”
We love dialogue. Isabel and I can do it pretty well. We love movies with witty dialogue. If we had we given the actors a lot of freedom the end result would have changed a lot, because we were going to shoot everything in long takes. A take of seven minutes could have become one of ten. So we improvised during rehearsals, trying out several options, and the actors added their own ways of speaking and incorporated new ideas to the script. But once the rehearsals finished, we locked it. The outcome of the performances is brutally good.
A very interesting part of Stockholm is the dramatic turn toward the middle.
It was important to make a film that would change genre halfway through. I said to myself, “I’d love to be watching Before Sunrise and all of a sudden, halfway through the film, you’d say, “No, that is not love.” I have experienced in my own life much of the same situation as the one in the film. You are with someone you do not know, it maybe fun at first, but without realizing it, you start arguing.
The art direction seems to be very deliberate, and it varies for each part of the film.
It is like two films in one. The first is warm, when they approach each other, a love story—we used soft lights with closed camera apertures so that it is just them in focus, everything else blurry. The second is the opposite, violent, uncomfortable, with a lot of white and the camera aperture wide open so that the apartment becomes a third protagonist.
Can you talk about the film industry in Spain?
“Spanish audiences do not want to watch Spanish films because of their mediocrity prompted by state subsidies. That pisses me off.”
The government has a curse on the Spanish film industry. They are doing everything possible to destroy it. We are in a situation in which everyone has to give the best of himself. It is during bad times that we give out the best of ourselves. People will always find a way to tell their stories. So we have to find the way. There are lots of independent films coming out now. Carlos Vermut shot Diamond Flash with almost no money, and just won at the San Sebastian Film Festival with his second film, Magical Girl. Jonás Trueba, has also made a great film, Los ilusos, with very little money and distributing it himself.
If there is talent there is talent, no matter what…
If there is a framework for the industry to happen it promotes a professionalization, and the good thing is that there are jobs and the market is regulated. But that sometimes kills the talent because we get comfortable. One of the many reasons why Spanish audiences do not want to watch Spanish films is because of their mediocrity prompted by state subsidies. That pisses me off.
Are you working on a new film?
Yes, with Isabel Peña also as screenwriter. A police thriller titled Que Dios nos perdone that we want to shoot in the summer. It takes place in Madrid during the Pope’s visit and the birth of the social movement 15M [precursor to the Occupy] in the summer of 2011. A torrid summer that sparked craziness and brutal violence: police beating everyone, young pilgrims insulting others… It is a triangle: two cops chasing a criminal.