[Interview] Celina Murga Reflects on THE THIRD SIDE OF THE RIVER

Photo Credit: Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative

Photo Credit: Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative

By Laura Langer Rossi

In preparation to its much-anticipated New York Premiere, Argentine director Celina Murga spoke to TropicalFRONT about her fourth feature film, which premiered in the official competition at the 2014 Berlinale, and now is finally being brought to New York audiences by Cinema Tropical and Anthology Film Archives.

The Third Side of the River, Murga’s first approach on a male point of view, tells the story of the 17-year-old Nicolas and his somewhat conflicting relationship with his father, and continues with Murga’s tradition of situating her stories in the province of Entre Ríos, Argentina. 

The director commented on central aspects of her cinema, as well as on her financing experiences and the long-lasting partnership with Martin Scorcese, executive director of The Third Side of the River, who is also part of her upcoming project, Irene.


What does the title means? Is the film a spin off of Guimarães Rosa’s short story?  

The film has nothing to do with Guimarães Rosa’s story, which, by the way, I like a lot. What we did was to borrow its title. We find it to be enigmatic and evocative, which subtly translates that sort of “limbo” where Nicolás is. It is not a place—a river cannot have a third bank—it refers to a space which he is looking for almost without realizing. A place he desires or needs. It’s an individual space that is not his mother’s nor his father’s, but his own. Somewhere new to him, which is so new he hasn’t even imagined it yet.


The first impulse is to place The Third Side of The River in the coming-of-age category, but the film problematizes this categorization. In your Variety interview you even said “they [adolescents] are a vehicle that allows me to speak about the adult world”. Is this a film for grown ups or for a different kind of teenagers?

I think this is a film for adults since it deals with the decisions that we, the adults, make; it talks about the worlds that we create for children and adolescents. It is a film looking to make adults reflect through the possibility of closely observing the world through the eyes of a teenager who suffers because of the decisions that adults have made for his life.


The film explicits deals with a critic of a patriarchal society. Why did you choose to do that through the eyes of a male teenager? What does Nicolas' perspective brings to the story? 

From the start I was interested on the challenge of exploring a male point of view since most central characters of all my other films were females. I was also interested in telling a story in which a young man is deeply affected by this patriarchal figure, which this father embodies. Clearly, the machismo is not an issue only for women but for society as a whole. Nicolás is going through a period of time in which he, although not fully aware, has to choose what kind of man he wants to become and his father shows him something he wants to stay as far away as possible from. This is where the deepest conflict stands.


The film shows a traditional Argentina, highlighting many provincial cultural marks as the fincas. the mate and the quinceañera. And, as most of your films, it is set in the province you are from, Entre Ríos. How does this space and its culture affect your style as a filmmaker? 

I’m interested on telling stories that show the Argentinean idiosyncrasy, specifically that of my province. Its images, colors, textures, sounds, and people are what I have dwell on from the start; the things that first inspired me and drawn me to make films. I’m interested in exploring a space and a form of life which is rarely seen, something not regarded as central. Which is the case of Argentina is anywhere that is not Buenos Aires. Apart from that, I believe universal themes do exist. My films are depicting characters, emotions and human connections, which anyone in the world can relate to. All my movies have travelled and reached places very far in the world that understand the films just the same, and this always brings me joy.


Naturally having Martin Scorsese as an executive producer for the project has opened many doors marketwise. But The Third Side of The River was also developed while Scorsese was your mentor through the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. Did Scorsese influenced your work creatively?

Scorsese has been and continues to be a great ally and someone who inspires me in every conversation we have. But I don’t know if we can talk about “influences”. Of course there are some staging choices that caused an impact on me while I was on the set of Shutter Island, but our styles are very different. However, he is someone who I fully trust and whose advice I seek in different situations, from setting up a production, to the narrative and aesthetic choices of my films. So we continue to partner despite the differences in our cinemas, in fact he will be part of my next film, Irene, which will be shot in 2018. 


Because of the story behind producing your 2003 first feature Ana and the Others was shot without state subsidies, relying on the support of the community to bring the costs to a minimal, you have been known as a low budget director. Is this a mark of your work or do difficulties in funding in Latin America affect your style? 

Perhaps this is not so clear when seen from the outside (and possibly even less when seen from a U.S, perspective), but there are quite a lot of differences in terms of production in all of my films. The first film, Ana and the Others (2003), was made during a time of extreme creative vitality in Argentina, but at the same time a period of an extreme economic crisis. In that moment, making a film seemed like a crazy idea which carried a lot of risk and, at the same time, it seemed the only way to survive such a deep social crisis. But the film is exactly the way I imagined it. There was nothing I compromised because of “economic reasons.”

After Ana and the Others, each of my films has had a bigger budget than the formers. This may not reflect as noticeably in their esthetics because the kind of stories I envision continue to develop in worlds that are practical and closer to me, but the increased budgets have given us more resources and serenity during the production. If we were to think of mainstream American films, my films seek to be “less pretentious”, in the sense that they don’t have certain spectacular elements which seem to govern the more industrial and dominant cinema. On the other hand, mine are films more focused on telling more modest, more subtle and more humane stories.


Translated by Pablo Vaca.

The Third Side of The River will be presented on June 29, 7pm at Anthology Film Archives, followed by a Q&A with the director. Learn more here. This screening is part of 'If I Can Screen It There', a series of monthly screenings featuring remarkable Latin American films making their local premiere.