In ‘This Time Tomorrow,’ Colombian Director Lina Rodriguez Finds the Meaning of Life in the Mundane

Courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center

Lina Rodriguez’s Mañana a esta hora (This Time Tomorrow) is that rare film that focuses on the mundane; the small day to day moments that make up our lives. It opens with an image of a tree in a park in Bogotá, Colombia. Rodriguez keeps the camera trained on that shot for longer than you’d hope, as if wanting you to make you aware of the passing of time. The scenes that follow do precisely that. Rather than setting up a narrative around Francisco, Lena and their teenage daughter Adelaida, This Time Tomorrow opts instead to show us brief, loosely connected scenes about their day to day life. We witness fights over curfews, get to see Fran and Lena enjoy meals with friends, catch Adela’s late night chats with her boyfriend. And then something breaks the film in half: tragedy suddenly strikes.

The Colombian-born and Canada-based director doesn’t let you see that key moment, though. Instead we just get more snapshots of the life Fran and Adelaida now lead without her. Mostly set in a cramped Bogotá apartment with an improvisational style that comes through with its long takes, This Time Tomorrow features a revelatory performance by Laura Osma (known to Colombians for her breakout role in Fugitivos). The end result is an affecting portrait of family and grief and a worthy follow-up to Rodriguez’s buzzy feature debut, Señoritas. 

Following a screening of her film in New York as part of Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Neighboring Scenes” program, Rodriguez was joined by her producer, Brad Deane and Cinema Tropical’s Carlos Gutiérrez to talk about the personal origins of the film, how her work with the actors informed the film, and why it represents yet another attempt at connecting with the city where she grew up. Check out some highlights from the Q&A below.

On The Inspiration For Her Film

Lina: I guess I’ve always been really anxious—in general, but also in thinking about the present. How everything is passing. I’ve always had this attraction to the present moment. But a lot of anxiety about it. I was trying to make a film about how we can take the present for granted. That’s definitely what inspired the film, just in terms of thinking of an original image which actually happened without me planning it. The cinematographer found it. But it’s kind of like when you see light coming through the foliage in trees. I guess it’s trying to inspire—it sounds super cheesy—carpe diem, almost. Having to face mortality, almost. I’m constantly trying to find meaning in life and find that in the quotidian, small moments. And all of these things I thought about after making the film. These are not things that I had in mind when I made the film, but coincidentally when I was shooting the film my grandmother was dying. There were a lot of unconscious things that came out. The film is more personal than I actually realized when I was making it. In short, my anxiety and curiosity for the passing moment would be something that was conscious, but unconsciously I think I made the film for reasons that I only understood later.

On The Film’s Two-Part Structure

Lina: It’s funny because even though I said all of this was unconscious this was the first film where I wrote actually believing in the process of screenwriting. I haven’t made that many films but with my first film [Señoritas]—every time I’m writing something, I wrote it down on paper and feel like it’s horrible and I never want to do what I wrote, because I think it’d be horrible.

“It’s like when you throw a stone into a lake, and then the impact of the stone is the heart of something. But I’m more interested in the ripple effect.”

But when I was writing this script I was like, “Maybe I should allow for this process to happen.” So I did that. So the two parts of the film were written like that. Things changed a lot but the determining half, where she passes away, was something that I planned, that I wrote, that I followed, and that I committed to. But when I was writing it just happened—I didn’t plan it. You know when you hear writers talk about this, when they say like “Oh it just happened,” I’d never had that, but it happened to me here. Which was really exciting.

It’s like when you throw a stone into a lake, and then the impact of the stone is the heart of something. But I’m more interested in the ripple effect, of what happens after that. So I’d say that, of course she passes away but I was really curious about this family dynamic. You have these quotidian moments without any big elements, and that’s what I wanted to see: the aftermath of the event. Not so interested in the event itself. So intentionally, even in the writing, I avoided what in screenwriting they call “the heart of the action.” You know, they always teach you to choose things or do things that advance the story or advance the psychology of the character, but that doesn’t interest me so much. For me it’s about the after and the before of what happens in the important moments. I think “important” moments change our lives but I wanted to focus on what’s around them—the ripple effect. I wanted to find a way to materialize that through sound and image.

Brad: I think there’s also that scene right after where we see the doctor and he explains exactly what happens. And for your films I think it’s the most obvious moments where it just tells you exactly what just happened, which is strange because in real life, they tell you these things in this very cold and direct way, especially when it comes to health issues. But we found that putting that in there, even though he tells you exactly what happened, it’s not satisfying in any way. We thought it was important to leave it in.

On Laura Osma’s Captivating Screen Presence

“For someone that age she’s kind of always walking that line between very childish but also sensual.”

Lina: I did my first film very independently and, because I’m not on Facebook or anything like that (it’s probably easier to do these things on Facebook) I did it very old school. So I just sent emails to people. You know, people who were teachers in university, actors, managers, though I didn’t know anybody. So for my first film, even though it was a small film, it had some recognition in Colombia particularly because of the performances. For my second film I was able to contact some actors, managers, and agents directly. But then I also put out a call. Actually my [production manager] Diana [Cadavid] helped me put some stuff on Facebook. And this girl just showed up. I have no idea about what’s happening in Colombian TV but she’s sort of an up and coming actress in Colombia. She’s quite famous. But I didn’t know this when she came.

I’d written the character much younger, between 14 and 16, but when she came in, I guess for me it’s interesting that she has a layer and a mystery in her gaze and the way she looks. Like she hasn’t defined how she wants to behave, how she wants to move in the world. For this character I was really interested in the idea of performance, and how we are responding to the expectations around us. For someone that age she’s kind of always walking that line between very childish, but also sensual. She really captures this ability to be both. When I saw her, I did the casting by myself, and then later when I saw the tapes with Brad, I knew that I wanted her to be in the film. I get really attached to people, but when I showed Brad the tapes he had the same reaction. It was very obvious that she should play Adelaida.

On Working Collaboratively With Her Actors

“There is a script but it’s enriched and nurtured by what other people bring.”

Lina: Like I said, it’s one of the first times where I’ve written a script and committed to it. But then I’d write ridiculous things, because I’m just writing, so I wrote that the woman was like a dentist, or whatever I could invent. But it was really bad. So when I cast the people, one of the things I asked them was to choose their names. Because if you want to make a film [with me], to me it’s about us trying to do something together. And in this film particularly, I had the parents figure out their backstory together, their occupations. The woman who plays the mother is an actress, but she also makes a living as an event-planner so she brought that. I had a script, a skeleton, but I’m always willing to feed that with other stuff, because cinema is about interaction and collaborating with people. There is a script but it’s enriched and nurtured by what other people bring. For example, Francisco is a sculptor and he has these great hands and this great face and I was like, well I’m not gonna make him a businessman. Obviously he has to be who he is. I didn’t really give the script to the actors, so they didn’t really know what was going to happen. So there was some improvisation, but there’s a framework for the scene where I and the crew knew what’s happening. I give the actors a lot of time to get familiar with each other. They’re improvising within a framework that I determined, but I always hope that they’re going to build a complicity between them so that there are things in the film that I don’t understand. Because I don’t want to own everything.

On Making A Film Both From Inside And Outside Of Colombia

Lina: It’s amazing because that’s exactly how I feel. I’m an insider and an outsider. I left 16 years ago. Unconsciously, I made part of the film because I’m longing for my relationship with Bogotá. This is not exactly how I grew up, like my family dynamic is very different. But I’m always curious to find more ways of connecting with Bogotá. I think the way the scenes are portrayed are very different from what you see on the screen usually. It’s like I’m inside and outside, so I’m always trying to follow an instinct of connection that I have, but I’m always find a way to be open to allow other things to happen. I wrote locations, but because this is a very low-budget film, out of necessity the art director allowed us to shoot in her house which is the house of the family. So that automatically set the neighborhood. And I knew it because a friend of mine used to live there, but it’s not like my neighborhood at all even though I recognized it from about 20 years ago. It’s very pastoral—a very different version of Bogotá, but it is a Bogotá that exists. And it’s what gave us the park, and the trees, and the clouds, and the sounds in the film.