In Un año, una noche (One Year, One Night), Isaki Lacuesta (Girona, 1975) takes viewers back to the massacre that took place at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris on November 13, 2015. One of the survivors of that attack, Spaniard Ramón González, described what he went through in “Paz, amor y death metal” (“Peace, love and death metal”) and that book has been adapted here by the filmmaker, with the Argentine actor Nahuel Pérez Biscayart playing Ramón. Noémie Merlant, who plays his partner, Quim Gutiérrez and Alba Guilera complete the quartet sharing such a terrible experience. In the aftermath of that tragic night, the film portrays how Ramón and his girlfriend attempted to deal with the trauma. On the eve of his film’s release, the author of The Double Steps (2011), The Next Skin (2016) and Between Two Waters (2018) discusses the details of this reflection on memory, racism, violence and our ability to forget or ignore all that doesn’t interest us.
You worked together with Isa Campo and Fran Araújo on the adaptation of Ramón González’s book “Paz amor y death metal” (Tusquets Editores)? How much did you retain from it and what did you change or discard?
It was the most complicated screenplay of my career because we wanted to maintain the spirit and essence of the book, but literature and cinema are different. Above all, we took as our basis the idea of a couple who are in love when they attend the concert at the Bataclan, but who, after the attack, fall out of sync and recall the events in very different ways. Mariana is Spanish, like Ramón, but in the film we changed her nationality to French and her name to Céline. We also modified the original structure. What mattered most to us was not how the media covered the attack on November 13, 2015, but the personal story, which takes place a year later and with no media coverage.
Does Un año, una noche share themes present in your previous films?
Sure. Carlo Chatrian, artistic director of the Berlin Festival, which is where we presented the film for the first time, told me that Un año, una noche is the synthesis of my filmography. He was referring to the physical and emotional portraits I provide of my characters and the fact that I continually return to the themes of time and memory. Old habits die hard!
What was it like filming the concert sequence and the attack? Was it the most challenging moment of your career at a technical and logistical level?
Not necessarily! In the end, when you have the means you need for a shoot, it’s all much easier. It was very stirring to shoot both the concert and the attack and evacuation of the Bataclan. What’s more, the four main characters as well as the extras and the technical and artistic team received firsthand information about what really happened from the real-life characters, who showed up on the set unexpectedly. All of this created a very powerful atmosphere when we started the shoot. We filmed that sequence partly in the streets of Paris and in Barcelona’s Sala Apolo nightclub.
Did you at first contemplate not depicting the attack?
Yes, initially I was terrified about showing it, but that wouldn’t have been in keeping with what this whole experience has been like for Ramón so we decided not to sidestep it. Both Ramón and Céline try to draw a veil over what they saw and experienced a year before, but the images keep cropping up in their minds. They each react to and deal with it in their own way.
Is Un año, una noche your most commercial feature film in the positive sense of the term, namely the one that will have a much wider reach internationally? The budget was six million euros, right?
As I said before, it’s the project I’ve had the most resources and the biggest budget for. Its budget was equal to that of all my previous films combined (laughs). Yes, it was about six million. You always have to be aware of who your projects are aimed at, and working on something for your family, your partner and your friends to see is not the same as shooting a film for a big audience, which was the case here. Let’s see how it goes commercially, because it’s being released at a time when there are many movies in theaters.
During filming, did you ever recall that young Isaki Lacuesta who was responsible for much smaller productions, like Cravan vs. Cravan (2002) and La leyenda del tiempo (2006)?
Yes, and it was nice, at this different stage of my career, to once again pick up the tools I learned to use back then. And, at last, being able to film intricate tracking shots and crowd scenes without fearing we’d go over budget. And to have the kind of all-star cast that I did.
Is this a political movie?
I always try to make poetic films, and poetry can encompass politics. But it doesn’t always work the other way around.
One of the great themes of Un año, una noche is death. Does it remain a taboo subject? Are we still afraid to talk about it?
We are a society that excels at denial and self-deception. We’ve made everything a taboo: the body, death, and so on. Ramón and Céline face the memory of so many deaths in different ways, and their journey towards normalization causes certain traumas.
Ramón is played by the Argentine Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, and Céline is imbued with the talent of the great French actress Noémie Merlant. How did you come to cast them? Why did you choose them?
It was such a pleasure working with both of them. I discovered Nahuel years ago, in Glue (Alexis Dos Santos, 2006), and I already had him in mind for the role of Ramón even before the screenplay was done. I discovered Noémie while we were writing it, when I saw Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, 2019).
Tell me about the most talked about signing, that of Antón Álvarez Alfaro, the popular rapper from Madrid who goes by the name C. Tangana.
I’ve been a fan of his, and of his music and his video clips, for a long time. When we decided to try for him we thought the answer would be no, but it was yes! And he even looks like Nahuel. I’m convinced he’ll achieve everything he sets out to in his career – be it acting, directing, producing. He has a small role, as do some actors as well-known as Natalia de Molina, Enric Auquer and Bruno Todeschini, and I’m very grateful to all of them.
No doubt you’ve been very busy in recent months, but have you perhaps had time to escape to the movies. Have you seen something you would recommend?
Yes, and not just in a cinema. In museums, I have seen things that were shot over a century ago that have impressed me. In Spain we have a really powerful new generation of filmmakers. They’re making their debuts, but their films show such maturity that they don’t seem like the work of newcomers. It’s like they’ve been making films for years. Names? Take Alauda Ruiz de Azúa (Cinco lobitos), Pilar Palomero (Schoolgirls, La Maternal) or Elena Martín (Júlia ist), for example.
Would you go back to making those small movies from your early days that we talked about before?
Not only would I like to, I’ve already done it (laughs). While I was shooting Un año, una noche, I also made the documentary Gosar poder about the First Popular Festival of Catalan Poetry, held at the Gran Price venue in Barcelona on April 25, 1970. In October 2020, the Memorial Democràtic, in collaboration with the Catalan Association of Former Political Prisoners, organized a new recital to mark its 50th anniversary. It’s been screened in poetry circles and also at the Filmoteca of Catalunya.