Ten years after clinching Cannes Critics’ Week Grand Prize with “Aquí y allá,” and half a decade following “Life and Nothing More,” which earned a John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards – a film Variety hailed as ‘outstanding’—Antonio Mendéz Esparza returns with his fourth feature, “Something is About to Happen.”
Co-written with Clara Roquet, a Critics’ Week-selected director for “Libertad,” Esparza’s latest film delves into the life of Lucía, who loses her IT job at a failing dental firm and becomes a taxi driver.
The profession she chooses is apt as we follow a character sat in loneliness moving among people while longing to connect deeply with someone. The clarity of the title and immediate rising strings of the soundtrack set the screw of tension turning in this fascinating character piece.
Esparza’s previous two features have a neorealist, almost documentary-like quality, working with non actors and using improvisation heavily. His last project was the documentary “Courtroom 3H.” His latest is far more stylistized, utilising music, costume, and plot to form a film language that’s harder to define.
“The adaptation of this movie was a bit of a puzzle.” the director told Variety, adding, “It changed in a way as it was being shot and we were aware of that. We seemed to keep adding pieces to it, to help communicate and build the complete puzzle.”
Unlike De Niro’s Travis Bickle, Malena Alterio imbues her character Lucía with an endearing sweetness, and Esparza chooses to show her often alone – being somewhat odd – but then aren’t we all? A chance encounter with an actor, played by Rodrigo Poisón, sets her and the films course through a plot thick with humor, betrayal, and a question for any artist to ponder: What is it you are doing when you ‘base’ your story on real people?
This film, an adaptation of Juan José Millás’s novel, stars Malena Alterio (“Spanish Shame,”) Aitana Sánchez-Gijón (“Parallel Mothers,”) and veteran Manuel De Blas. A Spanish-Romanian co-production.
Produced by Aquí y Allí Films, Wanda Visión, and Bucharest’s Avanpost.
“Something” world premiered at this year’s revamped Valladolid Festival, and is being released theatrically in Spain Nov. 17.
“It is a pleasure for us to work with this project as ambitious as the one proposed by Antonio Mendez Esparza to be based on Juan José Millás’ best seller ‘Que Nadie Duerma.’ We are convinced that ‘Something Is About to Happen’ will not leave the audience indifferent and will have a wide international tour,” said Vicente Canales, director of Film Factory, who is in charge of the international sales of the film.
Variety caught up with Antonio Méndez Esparza.
One of the most striking aspects to the film is seeing someone being themselves in their own quirky way alone. It is rare in film. What made these moments of Lucia’s life important to show?
When I started thinking of adapting, I thought that made her a bit unreal. I wanted to ground her in reality. We wanted to show certain aspects of the daily struggle. In a way that’s why we added the friend, and of course, her father was a very important element. Finally we have some, smaller meetings through her life, making her both part of the world but also more isolated. I was much more interested in capturing a very alive city, but with somebody alone in the middle. It’s about taking this spirit of the novel to juxtapose a certain possibility of love or of companionship within that loneliness.
Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Turandot,” and a tension-building string theme play a significant and recurring role in this film. Could you elaborate on how the music influenced the narrative or the emotional undercurrents of the story?
We were very fortunate to be able to collaborate with Zeltia Montes and from very early on our conversations were about: What tone is right? etc. Once we had the edit of the film, we knew that the music was a key element because in a way there was something too hidden in the movie without the music. And the music is the thing that gives, for me, the movie a coherence, and a sort of sentimental coherence, and also a tension that is being built throughout. Our main intention was mostly to have an internal Ballad of Lucia which we play with a little to create tension. The idea with the music was world breaking and to give a soul heartbeat of Lucia.
Your collaboration with Clara Roquet seems to have brought a fresh perspective to the script and novel it’s based on. Could you share more about how this collaboration enriched the storytelling, especially in portraying the psychological nuances of the characters?
With Clara, it was wonderful, this kind of discussion and discovery of the mystery and she really allowed for these to blossom. In this process, I got answers that I embraced throughout the whole filming. One of them I think, a very important one to the character of Lucia, was that the fear was someone able to love and to make beauty and she was also someone that was helpful, you know, she loves loving. I think that was really important to everything. We didn’t want just somebody, let’s say dry and droll, hoping to love but maybe incapable. No, we wanted a character capable of the most loving acts. Clara is a wonderful writer, who helped so much with that.
Were there any significant discoveries or shifts in the story that emerged through your embracing of the improvisational?
The guiding light was the script, particularly in this film. In my other films I have really focussed on the beginning and then I can find the ending. It doesn’t matter if it drifts in certain ways in discovering the ending, but in this one, the ending was very clear. So it was all about how to get to that. But so much came from the actors also, with their fierce embrace of improvisation. Malena Alterio gave a generous and brave performance, always slightly on the wire, with great dedication and a fearless attitude. Lucía crystallized in her.
Part of the film grapples with what artists steal. Is the subtlety or panache with which an artist steals from life the key ethical dilemma or perhaps it’s an impossible question?
I don’t have an easy answer for this. I guess I think artists should be free, but also should be responsible. It’s not so much about the piece of art, but how it’s done. I think for me, the film can act as a sort of a Greek tragedy, a cautionary tale, a warning…This is something I find hard to express well, but the individual responsibility of the artist is there for each of them to hold. And knowing, as an artist, that your actions can have consequences.