After building up a well-deserved reputation for his television and theater work, as a director and artistic director, Lluís Danés (Arenys de Mar, 1972) has made the leap to fictional cinema with “The Barcelona Vampiress”, which is now premiering in theaters after visiting the last Sitges Festival. Before filming this darkly real story, set in Barcelona at the beginning of the 20th century, Danés had already given us ample samples of his multifaceted talent in various documentaries and special programs.

So, “The Barcelona Vampiress” tells the story of Enriqueta Martí, a person used and manipulated by the upper classes, politicians and justice, is that right?

Yes, Enriqueta Martí was a victim of her time. An extremely poor woman, who suffered from untreated uterine cancer and was in great pain. She lived a miserable existence, traumatized by her son’s passing who died from starvation. On top of all that, she had been separated from her anarchist husband. In a way, she was a wise woman, and she had helped others with some nursing and abortions, you see we have to remember that, at that time, there were more than 5,000 prostitutes in Barcelona, ​​and most of them registered in the Raval. According to the chronicles, it was the most densely populated neighborhood in Europe. And among prostitutes, the pregnancy rate was very high. So, she was no saint, and she moved between good and evil, but she was the scapegoat of an entire corrupt system. More than an evil woman, as she is commonly defined, Enriqueta was a poor woman, accused of kidnapping and murdering children. I like movies that are useful and that explain the truth, even if it’s an uncomfortable one.

When did you discover the story of Enriqueta Martí?

Screenwriter Lluís Arcarazo discovered it for me. Enriqueta was supposed to feature as the protagonist of one of the episodes of ” La huella del crimen “, which was never shot. Later, several books about Enriqueta were published. The first script for “The Barcelona Vampiress” is nothing like what we’ve just filmed, because it was the typical script for a horror movie, with all its stereotypes. Before running with the script from Arcarazo and Maria Jaén, our producer, Raimon Masllorens, had already received another on the same subject.

Nora Navas. “The Barcelona Vapiress”.

This is a feature film that changes our point of view and opinion about a woman who was abused, by the press and by hoaxes, the ‘fake news’ of the time.

There has always been a lot of myth surrounding her, and it was about analyzing what were the keys to creating the myth of the Vampiress. On the other hand, I wanted the film to be a visually compelling show and for the staging itself should be another character that would bring you closer to this world of tale and legend. This is a story for adults. Two of the filmmakers that I like the most are Georges Méliès and Federico Fellini, directors who moved between realism and magic.

Méliès and Fellini aren’t our only influences, right? In “The Barcelona Vampiress” there is the aesthetic and even the ethics of “The Elephant Man” (1980), by David Lynch.

I had it very present. I love cinematographic works that are between theater and cinema, such as the works of Lynch or S.M. Eisenstein, for example, in “Battleship Potemkin” (1925). “The Elephant Man” is about how man can put his fellow man on display, for the mere fact that he is different, considering him monstrous. It is also the theme of “Freaks” (1932), by Tod Browning, where misery was turned into entertainment and spectacle.

Roger Casamajor, Lluís Danés and Mario Gas. “The Barcelona Vampiress”.

What was your impression upon receiving the Audience Award at the last Sitges Festival?

It was the best possible award. It was great. In fact, I was already surprised that, from the beginning, there was a huge demand for tickets to see the film. It’s not the typical product you see in Sitges, a festival that I am not a regular at. But you can see that we connected with the audience, who were really kind to us. The Audience Award was the best prologue for being able to release the movie subsequently, although this is the worst year to open in theaters. It’s complicated, but I am confident that the film will work, after all the years it has taken us to build the project. It was very hard to get here … and we’re also experiencing a global pandemic! It’s a pity. “The Barcelona Vampiress” is a film to see in a cinema, and not on an iPad, a mobile phone or a TV. Ok, so later, it will reach the small screens, of course! The streaming platforms are a great outlet for showcasing work, obviously. But first, you have to watch it in a theater.

Before you were talking about the genre of the film. It is not a conventional horror story, okay, but, in its structure, it does approach the thriller, through the character of the journalist who plays Roger Casamajor and who investigates Martí and the shady characters that surround her.

It’s a thriller about how power creates a monster to cover the real and much more sinister monster. And there we find a whole star system of monsters, made up of the police, the judiciary, the Barcelona bourgeoisie of the early 20th century and the press. Both yesterday and today, power is the true vampire that sucks our freedom. One of the most devastating phrases we hear in “The Barcelona Vampiress” is the “Who the fuck cares about the truth?” As much as the character of Roger Casamajor tries otherwise, the press was at the service of the power of the time.

Nora Navas and Roger Casamajor. “The Barcelona Vampiress”.

Despite everything, despite your tight budget, despite not having been able to shoot every day that you would have needed, did you do all the work you wanted to?

I think so. I’ve made a film lime the ones I enjoy watching, and for less than a million and a half euros budget, a ridiculous price to shoot a historical production. This project went ahead because people really wanted to do it. Now, I’m exhausted, very tired, but “The Barcelona Vampiress” will serve to promote a new film. At least, that’s the intention. And what will be the theme of that next film? I don’t know. All I know is that I would like to talk about how man exploits his fellow man.

You’re also very satisfied with the cast. In the center of the plot, the triangle formed by Nora Navas, in the role of Enriqueta; Roger Casamajor, as that idealistic journalist; and Bruna Cusí, who plays Amèlia, a prostitute trying to survive.

I was very lucky that all three of them said ‘yes’ right away, because, in addition, I was 100% clear on who was going to be playing who. I met Roger in “Laia”, the TV-movie that I shot in 2016, but he was already following his career in cinema since “El mar” (2000), by Agustí Villaronga, a director who also interests me a lot. Roger’s a truly powerful guy. Bruna Cusí and I have been friends for many years. The entire cast is magnificent: Mario Gas, Francesc Orella, Sergi López, Francesca Piñón, Anna Alarcón, Núria Prims, Albert Pla, Itziar Castro … If you notice, Roger Casamajor and Pablo Derqui come to play the same character. As with Nora Navas and Núria Prims: they are the same person in front of a mirror. The film is full of mirrors, reflections and shadows, as in “Doctor Caligari’s Compression Chamber” (1920), a silent masterpiece by Robert Wiene, which, interestingly enough, was honored this year at the Sitges Festival. Everything fits.

Francesc Orella, Bruna Cusí and Núria Prims. “The Barcelona Vampiress”.

How would you define yourself as an artist? I mean, you’ve worked in so many areas, from theater to the television and then cinema…

It’s difficult to define yourself. I don’t have a will to be different. It just comes out like this! I can’t help it. My great-grandmother used to read me bedtime stories, and this is something that marked me. I really like to take audiences out of their comfort zone and begin a kind of ritual with them. I’m a storyteller, with a fairly significant dark side who likes delving into fantasy, like Francis Ford Coppola in his “Dracula” (1992) or Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro in “Delicatessen” (1991) or “The City of Lost Children” (1995).

Are you a lost child?

Yes, that child who hasn’t forgotten the posters and advertisements of the circuses that made their great fortunes by exploiting theoretical monsters. Do you remember the Crocodile Woman? Another thing that I’m passionate about is the human zoos of yesteryear. There used to be one located next to the university of Barcelona.

Pere Vall. Journalist covering the world of cultural and entertainment in general, specialized in cinema. Pere is a regular contributor to Time Out, Ara, RNE and Catalunya Ràdio, and was editor-in-chief of the magazine Fotogramas in Barcelona for more than 20 years. A fan of Fellini, of good, regular and bad horror movies, and of humor and comedy in general. As a child, he wanted to look like Alain Delon, and has ended with a certain resemblance to Chicho Ibáñez Serrador. Not that he’s complaining though.