One year after it was shot and its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, it hits theaters this Thursday, August 19th. We’re talking about Diários de Otsoga, the new film directed and written by Miguel Gomes and Maureen Fazendeiro, two filmmakers inspired by imprisonment to go for this creative exercise.
A small team, tested for Covid-19, closed in August 2020 in a house in Sintra. The goal? Create a movie – chronologically reversed – with scenes that are completely fictionalized but also based on real events that took place during those weeks.
As in other Miguel Gomes films, there is an aspect of improvisation – and the technical team themselves are in front of the cameras. The only actors were Carloto Cotta, Crista Alfaiate and João Nunes Monteiro, who played characters with their own names – maybe different versions of themselves. NiT interviewed the filmmaking duo about the new project.
“Diários de Otsoga” was recorded a year ago in a pandemic with you and a more or less reduced team that was closed in a house in Sintra. When and how did you come to think that you wanted to do this project?
Maureen Farmer: I think this film was a reaction to the months of first imprisonment. When the first detention ended, we went to see Crista Tailor, the film’s actress, and that day we talked to her about the idea of doing something together. Very little time passed between the idea and the time of filming. It was a reaction to what we went through, the months we spent home alone, and we felt the need to meet others again, form a team, and do something together. The film was made from the time we spent together in the house.
Miguel Gomes: We thought about keeping a diary with all the ingredients that our detention didn’t have. In other words, everyone in their home was isolated and we wanted to do something in a group. We didn’t want to shoot with the cell phone in the living room, we wanted to film outside with a team, with actors. And so we decided to go into a house to do PCR tests. It happened very quickly, we didn’t have a script and we had to find the film in this house – and we couldn’t go.
And that happened?
MG: With a few exceptions [risos]. Because this film is very lifelike, which means that things have happened in our lives that have forced some of us to go. Some of it is in the film, some is not, it’s part of our private life because we don’t have to show everything, it’s not “Big Brother”. But the idea was to stay closed so that the risk of contamination is minimal. Back then it was said everywhere that it was impossible to go back to the cinema as it was before the pandemic. In other words, scenes of intimacy between actors have been completely ruled out. Kissing scenes, the simplest thing in the cinema was left out, it was a very difficult thing. And we decided: well, in this case we have to make a film that starts with a kiss. And we have to find a way to film this scene without taking too much risk for the actors. And that’s what we did.
The film has a strong aspect of apparent improvisation and is a record that is present in Miguel’s other films. Does the process have to do with capturing many spontaneous moments and finding the film in the cut? Or are you not so fond of describing the process?
MF: It’s not quite like that, because although there is no script, the film was written the way it was shot in the house. So it wasn’t about inventing the editing of the film: the film was already there, the diary was what happened in the house day after day. But we already knew, for example, that the film would be cut backwards, that time would run backwards. We already had the movement of the film and then the actors were working on the improvisation – there were moments of improvisation that were repeated. And then we recorded what happened in the house every day.
MG: If an actor had a toothache, we didn’t know what would happen after two days. Maybe I had to pull a tooth, it could be amputated, we didn’t know what that would entail. And the idea would be to integrate it from the start and then you could soon see what it’s about. And there is, for example, a scene in which one of the actors has a toothache and we put something on his head because we didn’t know what would happen if there was a sequel. And so, when we make a film that is very permeable to our own lives, we have to find a way without losing control over the structure of the film, the notion we have of what is going to develop, of being have to be able to have space to integrate things because they can be very relevant in the film. But we cannot predict this because we have to follow the passage of time and life.
Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes directed the film.
Have you never feared that relevant events that you cannot predict would be missing?
MG: No, because, you see, some events were important and had weight in our lives the moment we were shooting. Maureen, who was pregnant, had a stressful pregnancy and had to completely change her diet, the way she experienced the shooting had to change – and that’s in the film and has weight and meaning in our lives – but Also, when we talk about events in the film, it could be one of the actors, like Carloto, who always said, “Today I feel like bathing the dog. Do you want to film? “And we said either yes or no. It just so happened that we said yes that day so you can see Carloto bathing the dog. Bathing the dog is not exactly a cosmic event in Carloto’s life, either Dog i think [risos], but there had to be room in the film for the everyday. We came from a time when our daily life was exposed. And it felt really good to get back together and photograph things that were more extraordinary or completely banal – but even that banality was something that somehow disappeared with this period of first imprisonment. There had to be room in the film for all of these things.
The actors have the same names as the characters. This is also where the interest lies in having a cross between reality and fiction and not knowing where one begins and the other ends, right?
MF: Yeah, we don’t even know if they are characters or if there is even fiction in the more conventional sense.
MG: I think it’s always characters.
MF: Yeah, yeah, that means we don’t know if there is any fiction in the traditional sense, but both the actors and the technical team are all characters. The film is pure fiction, not a documentary about the shooting. There are scenes that are entirely fictional, others inspired by what really happened, but it’s a fiction.
MG: When you turn the camera on, a professional actor immediately starts making a figure, even if he has no clues. When he has to make himself, he starts making a version of himself that he thinks fits this movie. And that’s a fascinating thing for us to watch these three actors play themselves, far from what they are when the camera was off.
Is the film premiere at the Cannes festivals something very important and valuable or is it also overrated?
MF: I think it’s important, the Cannes Festival is important [risos]. And it was important to go back to the cinema, there were no restrictions on the festival, there was a full room, it was important to show the film and to feel the reception of a full hall laughing a lot. We hadn’t seen a movie in a room with so many people laughing in a long time.
MG: Of course it’s the biggest festival in the world. This time it was a little smaller because there were a lot of restrictions, with a lot of people from other continents. There were few Asians, few South Americans, and it felt like the number of people was fewer. Despite everything, it was enough to fill a room and was exposed to the eyes of many people from different places, and of course that is an important thing.
Are you planning to continue making films together?
MF: No, I think that moment was a special moment, both in our lives and in everyone’s life. And our response to that was to do this film together, and almost collectively, with the team. But we have other projects that stalled during the pandemic, each with its own. I am a screenwriter with Miguel on his projects. And now we’re going back to what stopped a year and a half ago.
MG: Anyway, we’ve already shared our lives so it’s enough trouble adding more stuff. [risos]. But this film was actually a reaction to that moment of isolation and I think it’s a lot about reinventing social distance. In other words, it was and is obviously necessary, but we tried to find a way to at least put that distance into perspective, and we had a great desire to be with others. Live with others, live together, work together: that’s what the film is about. And we had to lead by example and start by sharing the accomplishments and having a collaboration, a partnership that has to negotiate what is being filmed and what is not.
Hence the idea is to move on to other projects that were already thought of before the pandemic.
MG: Both Maureen and I had other projects that were suspended with the pandemic and at that moment we thought: what is the possible film in this context? A film that seems interesting to us, that has to do with this time, that can be a portrait of this time or a portrait of us in this time. But that it has properties that are almost opposite to that time, or that it works as an antidote. That was the challenge, we thought we had to do something. It was a very delicate moment for people who work in cinema and in art in general: the theater. Everyone was paralyzed, there was no way to do shows, make films, the Ministry of Culture whistled aside and said that the support was from the social security, and the social security had a very complicated relationship with this sector, a very special profession, with a very special context. As a result, most people received either no, no, or very, very little support. Of course we couldn’t save, we’re not the ministry, but we could make a film, that’s our job. And so we thought: what is the film that we can make that we can include other people in? And the “Otsoga Diaries” appeared
One of the projects that Miguel had prepared was called “Selvajaria”, right?
MG: It’s a project set in Brazil, a war film, an adaptation of a book by Euclides da Cunha and a film about a civil war in the late 19th century. And it’s very complicated, with a lot of people, with a lot of horses, with a lot of cannon shots and, in the current context, completely impossible. Covid-19 in Brazil is particularly dramatic. This film is funded and waiting for a more favorable context because now it is utterly impossible.
So what are you going to work on now?
MG: I have a film that is set in Asia and it’s a real Asia that we shot in several countries, but also in the studio. Even that is not that easy at the moment, but less complicated than a war film in Brazil. Let’s try to make this film first and it’s about men and women [risos], the relationship between man and woman. Maybe it’s a love story, maybe not, but first I have to do it and then we’ll see. It’s called the “Big Tour”.