Oftentimes the BAFICI will pay tribute to filmmakers by showcasing their entire oeuvre. In the 15th BAFICI, the honor goes to Adolfo Aristarain, whose career as director spans over 30 years, 11 feature-length movies and one TV show. He is the maker of such iconic films as Tiempo de revancha (Time for Revenge, 1981) and Últimos días de la victima (Last Days of the Victim, 1982), and the winner of five Silver Condors for direction, but has been taking it slow since his last major release, 2004’s Roma. He has worked with some of the best actors, including Federico Luppi. This one-on-one sit-down was a rare treat with one of the most famous directors Argentina has produced.
Do ever you go back and watch your movies?
No, never. Not even the premieres. I just can’t. I don’t enjoy myself. I know them too well, you know you watch a movie about a hundred times while you’re editing it. You memorize all of it. In time you start wondering, why did I do this and that? I suffer for it.
What do you think of the current state of the Argentine film industry?
I watch all kinds of films. And I think the industry’s good. The key thing is that the INCAA has raised the amount of movie subsidies. Right now you can get more money from the INCAA than from Spain. It’s always convenient to co-produce with Spain. Even if they won’t cough up any money, you get to release the movie over there. Here, you can get one million moviegoers and still not recoup the dough. So subsidies are fundamental. The more backing the industry gets, the better.
Watch a scene from what is considered to be one of the best Argentine films ever made, Tiempo de Revancha:
You’ve worked in Argentina, USA, Europe… how do the industries differ?
It mostly affects how big a budget you have and how large a crew you direct. Other than that, they’re all more or less similar. There’s what I call “a race of movie people”. You can be working in Spain, in an Italian production, speaking in English with a crew of mixed nationalities – yet people understand each other. There’re no communication problems. Cameramen are all alike. Lightning crews are all alike. It makes no difference.
There is a certain shift, I think, towards bitterness in your later films as opposed to your earlier idealism.
Maybe that’s because of Pepe Sacristán’s character in Roma. He’s guilty, he’s a failure… hence his cynicism. But I don’t get this trend in mistaking me for my characters! I’m always correcting people Federico Luppi isn’t my alter ego. It is his character. (…) I don’t make films about disenchantment. There’s always that one kid character that pulls through. If anything, I’m feeling more optimistic with each day.
You’ve made two movies, La playa del amor (The Beach of Love) and La discoteca del amor (The Disco of Love) that are very dissimilar from the rest of your work.
They were part of a movie series owned by the record company Microfon S.A. The second movie had flopped somewhat, and the Kaminski brothers [the producers], whom I knew since my childhood, got in touch with me. Moviemaking is a business and you have to learn it – the more movies you make, the better. The only two conditions I had were getting the musical numbers in and making it for General Audiences. And I got to cast the movies the way I wanted, save for the vocal talent, like Cacho Castaña. I had a great time with those movies, I learned a lot, trying out different things, planning out the mise en scene, etc.
Why is it you’ve never released The Stranger (1987)?
That was a co-production with Columbia Motion Pictures. The script was penned by five different people, none of which were too happy with it. But Columbia was insistent on the release date, and hastened the shooting. Long story short, they didn’t go with my cut of the movie. The Columbia CEO was replaced during production and the new guy started asking me to change this and that. I refused. I remember they wanted to further complicate the plot with political stuff, regarding Iran and weapon smuggling, which had nothing to do with the plot whatsoever. I told them it was their movie, but I wasn’t doing it. And that’s the story. Afterwards I refused to release it here. How could I show that movie to the critics? What am I supposed to tell them?
How has your career as assistant director influenced your role as director?
I learned from Gordon Fleming and especially Mario Camus, who’s a very dear friend of mine.If I must name a mentor, that’s him. The best thing about being assistant director is that you’re constantly arranging your own mise en scene in your head. It’s a wonderful mental exercise. You’re not burdened with directing, yet you’re composing the shot.
Are you working on a project?
I’m writing a script. Well, starting to. I just hope it’s not like the other times, where a month in I realize it’s a no go (…)I always start working on stories I think are OK, but when I develop them further I realize they’ve been done some twenty times already, so I just stop altogether. I think this won’t be the case with my latest story, though. If it does come out alright, then I’ll get working on rounding up the financing and getting it done later this year, maybe early 2014.