We spoke with the director of “My masterpiece”, the latest Mediapro production which has been in Spanish cinemas after going on release in Argentina and Uruguay to magnificent public acclaim. The film also participated in the Venice and Valladolid Film Festivals, in the latter entering the official contest winning the Public’s Choice Award.

Gastón Duprat with Raúl Arévalo during filming of ‘My Masterpiece’

Question: How did the idea of making a film that deals with friendship arise in this setting of contemporary art?

Answer: After “The Distinguished Citizen” we decided to make two films. We took a long time in the making of “The Distinguished Citizen” and with Mariano (Cohn) we agreed to do two films and direct one each. We had two ideas and we took one each: “My Masterpiece” which I directed and “4 × 4” directed by Mariano and due for release next year. The two are co-produced by Mediapro. We wanted to work with the same actors; Luis Brandoni and Guillermo Francella and to introduce the theme of emotion into one of the two films, because this is not a theme we deal with in the other films. They are the ideal actors because they can do comedy and suddenly move the viewer. We wanted to tell the story of an emotion and then we set this story in the world of contemporary art, which is what Andrés (Duprat), the screenwriter, manages very well because he is by trade a museum director and a specialist in Argentina.

Q: Together with screenwriter Andrés Duprat, and producer Mariano Cohn, you make up a creative team. How do you work on the ideas you want to develop?

A: We all work on them together. One proposes an idea, we agree and then Andrés develops it as the screenwriter. But he doesn’t just write a script and leave it at that. We discuss it together and he adds in our feedback. Sometimes I write two scenes and I pass them to him. Yes, it is a very horizontal type of approach when in cinema things are normally much more vertical. But in this way the screenplay is already being developed in full view of the director and that makes filming much easier later on. There’s no need to adapt, or review anything.

Q: We are presenting the film and you tell us that there is already a bond of friendship between the two stars off-camera even though this was their first film together.

A: Exactly. Guillermo Francella and Luis Brandoni are two Argentine screen stars. Francella made some of the most successful films in recent years and Brandoni is an actor with 60 or 70 films under his belt, among which are several from my own favourite period of Argentine cinema, which is between ‘82 and ‘87. These are films with very strong scripts, that really take a stance. Many of these films have had Brandoni in the leading role for over 40 years. And they are friends. Francella has always looked up to Brandoni given the age difference between them. They did some television together but had never made a film together and this movie was an ideal opportunity for them to do so. There’s great chemistry between them and were able to deliver on one of the most demanding aspects of the script, without resorting to flashbacks or showing things from the past, they were able to imply that they had been friends for decades and that there is a depth to that friendship even though you’re not openly displaying it. It’s palpable in the way they treat each other, the way they talk to each other… You understand that these two friends have been through everything together in the past.

We rehearsed intensively over a three to four-month period and that is also very unusual in cinema. So, when it comes to filming, everything had already been well-planned, and we just had to execute what we had studied.

Q: So, what’s it like directing two friends who are also guiding lights of Argentine cinema? Does that make it easier or harder?

A: It’s easier to work with great actors who are well-established rather than with people who are just starting out. The whole process with them was a real joy for me. They contributed so much to the movie. I allowed them to input on every aspect and I took up several of their ideas.

Guillermo Francela, Gastón Duprat and Luis Brandoni, on the set of ‘My Masterpiece’

Q: This tandem is joined by Spanish actor, Raúl Arévalo, who, as was mentioned during the presentation in Valladolid, you met at the Seminci two years ago. How did Raúl Arévalo fit into this interpretive tandem who knew each other?

A: I had seen several of his films and I remember that we did a Skype reading to review the text. He made several corrections to adapt the Spanish we speak in Argentina to that of the Spanish spoken in Spain. And that was when I could hear how he read the script exactly as it was written, as he was reading I realized that he’d be fabulous. And that’s how he ended up in the film: resounding, forceful … on par with the other two actors. It was a difficult role to play because it has a strange logic.

He plays a complicated role because it seems unlikely and illogical, but he was able to give the character great credibility.

“We are the kind of directors and producers who expose our work to allow the opinion of others and we’re not afraid of people suggesting changes. That is not always easy for a director who is often unwilling to hear the opinions of others, afraid it might undermine their work”.

Q: The photography on the film has been painstaking and reveals the beauty of Argentina, even shooting from a height of over 4,000 meters. Are you happy with the result and with the crew?

A: Most of the film was shot in Buenos Aires in some amazing spots around the city. Also, part was shot near Rio de Janeiro, in an iconic museum which is the Museum of Contemporary Art in Niteróy, a work of Oscar Niemeyer – who was a brilliant Brazilian architect – and in Jujuy, which is a province in northern Argentina, near Bolivia where there are those mountains of beautiful colours. We were able to complete editing the film because we managed to build a virtuoso co-production with Mediapro. We had a great idea-exchange with Javier (Méndez), Marisa (Fernández) … It was lovely to work together. We are the kind of directors and producers who expose our work to allow the opinion of others and we’re not afraid of people suggesting changes. That is not always easy for a director who is often unwilling to hear the opinions of others, afraid it might undermine their work. That’s huge and it was made possible because of the Spanish co-production with Mediapro.

By Montse XIXONS