Fifteen years later, he has just co-directed his third feature film with Jon Garaño, fellow student at the time and now partner at Moriarti Productions. After a successful festival circuit run — Tokyo, San Sebastian, London, Zurich, Palm Springs, Guadalajara, Miami, Cleveland, Seattle, Los Angeles — “Flowers” [Loreak] is now premiering in commercial U.S. theaters.
The film was born out of the fleeting and emblematic image of a bouquet of flowers Goenaga saw on the side of the road. Using a succinct script distilled to the essentials, the film elegantly tells stories that converge and reflect one another — addressing the themes of communication, motherhood and memory. As in his previous film, a love story of two women in their sixties titled “For 80 Days” [80 egunean], adult women are the protagonists and they speak in Basque language [euskara].
Making use of a slow pace and intimate tone, “Loreak” portrays repressed feelings, delving into the oniric world through poetic conversational interludes. The film formally resembles Lucrecia Martel’s “The Headless Woman” — making great use of the offscreen and white space in splendid cinemascope, pulling the focus of the image, and accompanying it with an evocative, muted soundtrack.
Goenaga chatted with us about his film, Moriarti and the Basque idiosyncrasy. Articulate, expressive and honest, the director says they are already working on a new project, about the ‘Giant from Alzo,’ a popular XIXth century character in Gipuzkoa.
“Loreak” opens at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Theater in San Francisco Jan. 15. More info: http://www.landmarktheatres.com/san-francisco/opera-plaza-cinema/film-info/flowers
“Loreak” feels contained, full of silences and whispers. What’s your film’s message?
We wanted to raise the question of how far you really get to know people who live close to you. When that person goes away leaving some unanswered questions… what happens? To what extent has that person communicated to you all he or she felt or did not feel? The characters of the film have a difficult time communicating. They are going through a difficult time in their lives. The audience gets a feel of what’s happening by what they see, but it is not verbalized.
We took the topic of lack of communication into a plastic realm. Each of the characters works inside some sort of bubble — the cabin of a crane, the booth in a freeway, the hut in a construction site — that reflects an isolation with the outside. And it is precisely the flowers that burst these bubbles expressing what they do not.
Besides being women, the characters in “Loreak” and “80 egunean” are middle aged or elderly. Why?
The issue of the elderly seems very interesting to work in film. They are people who are at the zenith of their life, which makes the audience take a particular stand towards those characters.
Does your cinema reflect Basque society?
People tell us that both those films feel very Basque, the matriarchal society and all. When we write we are not aware that we are doing something very Basque. But yes, it is true that we rely on characters we know and archetypes around us. In that sense, I guess something Basque comes through. But we always do it with the intention of telling something universal.
The film has great cinematography and soundtrack.
We’ve been working with film composer Pascal Gaigne and cinematographer Javi Agirre from the beginning. It is a pleasure for us to continue counting with them as we all evolve. Pascal already had a career behind him when he began to cooperate with us. Javi began with us, making short films. There always has to be a very direct communication with the cinematographer, you have to understand each other, and with him we have that understanding.
Tell us about Moriarti Productions.
After we finished the film course at Sarobe in 2001, four of us got together to help each other make short films. That formula has continued to this day. We are five partners at Moriarti: Jon Garaño, Aitor Arregi, Jorge Gil Munarriz and Xabier Berzosa. Each has specialized in some area but we still rotate roles. Jon, Aitor and I direct and write; and Jorge is more specialized in the script. Xabier does production work, and is also part of Irusoin, the company with which we usually co-produce our feature films.
In 2007 you made a documentary about the life of anarchist Lucio Urtubia that did very well…
Until then we had made smaller documentaries. The project of “Lucio” was somewhat larger, visually very ambitious. We mixed archival images, collages, and filmed recreations… It won a special mention in the documentary section of the Festival of Guadalajara. It was also nominated by the Spanish Academy for a Goya Award. It was quite successful.
Your films are in Basque. How do they fit into the ‘Latino’ identity and film festivals?
In January 2015 we won the award for Latin cinema at the Palm Springs Film Festival. And yes, it is a bit strange. Part of the audience expects to see something in Spanish, and you have to explain to them that it is another language, and that obviously Basque society has other characteristics. But they can put us whatever label they want, as long as our films are programmed we are happy. The more venues to show our films at, the better.
(Interview conducted by Iñaki Fdez. de Retana in Guadalajara, México, February 2015)