By Guillermo Severiche
In a turning point of his career as a filmmaker, Argentine director Iván Fund presents his latest film Vendrán lluvias suaves / There Will Come Soft Rains (2018), which will be showcased in its international premiere at the 4th edition of Neighboring Scenes, the Latin American film festival organized by Cinema Tropical and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Far from his first forays in documentary filmmaking, Fund speaks about his experience writing and directing an adventure film that combines coming-of-age stories, sci-fi elements, and deep interest to create an intimate sensorial experience.
Can you tell us a bit more about the story behind the screenplay and the production itself: how did it come to be?
In my experience with cinema, these things take more time than one would like. The idea started around three or four years ago. I made films before, including some medium-length films, in which I started to approach a specific language and imagery that took me back to those movies that inspired me to become a filmmaker. For different reasons, maybe unconsciously, I left behind my interest in these genre films, adventure films. Life takes you to different places. Thus, I started to develop projects and delve into a documentary genre or mix documentary with fiction. The kind of films that [once] inspired me to make movies were put aside, so I decided [now] to get closer to this initial interest.
Some years ago there was a retrospective of my work at Kino Palais in Buenos Aires, curated by Tomás Dotta, who is the co-writer of There Will Come Soft Rains. Once the program was finished, it meant closure for me, closure of a certain kind of search, a kind of school I had. Tomás asked me what I was doing next and I told him about the idea of making an adventure film. He offered his help. That’s how it all started. We worked together on the screenplay. Actually, the screenplay is very short, around 40 pages, with little dialogue. Although I wanted to get closer to a more narrative structure, I knew this project had to remain permeable to whatever was happening on the set. I didn’t want to deny a more documentary approach. I knew I would need that flexibility, that’s why the screenplay was so short, with many holes, leaving lots of space for moving around things. However, the story and the characters, the horizons of the film, were very determined.
Just to show you how a screenplay goes through all processes of production, from pre-production to postproduction, I can tell you that, for example, when we were casting children we saw around two hundred. In the end, we noticed that those that acted better were girls. In the original screenplay, the children were all boys, but this changed in the end. The girls had better charisma and displayed that they would be better at performing the role of the characters I had in the screenplay. When I write, I don’t write genre, I write characters. So these characters also had this level of permeability that allowed girls to perform them. Besides, most of these girls are friends. In the film, you can see their real houses, their dogs. This is great if you decide to see what the world can offer you instead of trying to impose what you want. Many fortunate things happen. Sometimes I say “one doesn’t write a film, one invokes it.”
I saw a connection with William Golding’s novel The Lord of the Flies (1954) and also with its first film adaptation from 1963. In this story, you have a group of boys trying to put together a community after an accident without any adults around. When I saw your film, I made two possible connections with some discrepancies, of course. First, the gender of the majority of the children. And second, the profound political discourse behind the story. The novel came out not long after WWII, so it was very hard to believe in humanity, as if we had evil within us. However, in your film, the sense of community and the constant kindness they have with each other speaks of a different agenda, even in this apocalyptic world. Can you talk a bit about this?
Once you start a project like this, many references come up. But I didn’t have the interest to show a world where this or that existed… I make films that can carry a certain vitality in them. This is strongly related to discovery, to the possibility of discovering something while filming. Also, this vitality is related to a sense of celebration. Nowadays, the themes or stories that invade contemporary cinema say that this world is going down and nothing can be done. I don’t think I disagree completely with that. But I think it’s good if cinema can have the courage to see other kinds of stories; good things are happening as well. So it’s not a naïve film, but the contrary. This is a film that does not stand in contrasts or dichotomies, but it defends the space in-between.
The presence of animals is very strong in the film. You can see cows, a cat, many kinds of birds, but mostly dogs. They actually become strong characters throughout the film. Is there a connection between the idea of working with children and also dogs?
It depends on how you read the film. Is this whole thing happening in the mind of the dog you see at the beginning? Or is it happening within the little girl’s dream? These are little boxes within boxes you can find in the film. In part, it’s putting different consciousness from different characters in touch with each other. Somebody who perceives something that perceives somebody who perceives something… This is empathy for me and this is what moves my cinema. So, that’s why animals and the dogs are connected to this sense of transmigration or interconnection between sensibilities. The film proposes this game of mirrors.
I also know your film Los Labios / The Lips (2011), in which you explore this idea of inhabiting an experience, the Other’s experience. The dimension of the body or physical senses play an important role in this matter. In There Will Come Soft Rains there are some scenes that also refer to this idea of inhabiting an experience. How did this idea come to be?
What you can get from any film is an image. Any experience or atmosphere you inhabit in a film comes to be an image in the end. Given its classical narrative structure, I had to tell stories and show the background where everything was happening. Now, from what point of view you tell it or describe the story? Using what elements? For me, synthesis is the most important one. How can you enter this climate without having to show the whole empty town or other things? The budget had an impact on this, of course. But from production design, we decided to use everyday objects that can be re-read in a different manner. This is very interesting for me, this is cinema for me. When an image disrupts the meaning of anything you are watching. For example, the hair of an old lady being moved by a breeze. This could be a very common image, but its meaning is disrupted because its context has been modified. The same would happen if you see a dog running alone in the streets. In this movie, the meaning, tensions, and connotations would be intensified.
In your film, there is also space for tradition. I think the reference to the Difunta Correa, a pagan figure in Argentina, had a special connotation at different parts of the film. How did this image make its way into your film?
La Difunta Correa has always been an image that captivated me for a long time, even before the film existed. Her image, both melancholic and bright at the same time, reunites both tragedy and life. When we were writing the script, we thought it would be interesting to make a reference to her.
I think that this film works as a sort of hinge between the cinema I was making and a new kind of cinema I want to make from now on. So these two lines converge in this image of Difunta Correa. It was important, on one hand, what this image symbolized to me and also, on the other, what this image can become in the narrative context of the film.
The movement I would like to make real from now on is to bring what I have learned so far in my experience as a documentary filmmaker and cross it with fantasy and sci-fi cinema. This is the cinema that I always wanted to make. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think this is a very fertile and virgin area in Latin America.