So much ‘magical girl‘ What ‘who will sing to you‘ -‘Diamond Flash‘ also, but to a lesser extent- have structured the short but very intense filmography of one of the most talented and interesting Spanish directors on the national scene: Carlos Vermouth. And it is that, if we talk about Vemut, we talk about, that, intensity. Because if anything their films have a powerful aura, a fierce magnetism that arises from a careful staging and a millimeter control of the direction of actors and actresses. ‘manticore‘, his new film for which he has received four Goya Award nominations (among them, Best Director and Best Screenplay), is proof of this. On this occasion, to reflect on the dark passions of human beings, Vermouth has a very small cast (with Nacho Sanchez Y zoe stein practically always on screen) and goes back to a sad, greyish and depressed Madrid manners. From eCartelera we have had the opportunity to chat with the Madrid director about his cinematographic symbology, the impact of video games on the individual’s personality and the misunderstanding of monsters.
eCartelera: In all your films you build a very powerful visual iconography. You use images and objects that help you go back again and again and advance the plot. The puzzle piece in ‘Magical Girl’, the paper boat in ‘Who will sing to you’, the beast in ‘Manticore’. When does this idea usually come to you?
Carlos Vermouth: Many times they appear in the first idea of the script. When you are starting the story there are elements that arise from the writing already. Then there are needs that you have at the narrative level, and those elements appear that help you build what you want to tell. It is true that sometimes they function as more or less obvious metaphorical elements, but they arise as a need to support an idea.. In ‘Magicarl Girl’ the puzzle piece is missing Jose Sacristan It is the piece that you find when you are walking. They help on a metaphorical level but also on a narrative level.
eC: ‘Mantícora’ seems like a return to austerism and the formal refinement of ‘Magical Girl’ after a more corpulent ‘Who will sing to you’ in terms of media. You return to the sad Madrid customs.
CV: Yes, maybe I don’t do it so consciously but I felt that it was a film in which I wanted to get rid of artifice, both narrative and aesthetic or characters. It is perhaps my most emptied film. Yes, there was a concrete will to escape metaphors and go more to the story of the characters, which was what interested me the most.
eC: Julián is a video game developer with a dark secret. Did you feel that this specific industry was the ideal one to talk about the blurred boundaries between reality and fiction?
CV: Videogames have an element that movies don’t: you interact with that reality. You see a movie but from the room, you don’t interact with it. In video games you are the one who kills, the one who plays, you have a very different relationship with that violence, with that universe. I felt that it challenged the user much more than a movie. Much more even if you are a video game creator. You don’t just play them, you create them. You have the ability to create an entire universe to your liking with all the freedoms that creation gives you. You are limited by the marketing codes, but you do what you want. That invitation to the immoral seemed very interesting to me for Julián’s condition.
eC: There is a wonderful sequence in a bar, with a conversation that talks about the lack of consequences in video games, about impunity. Do you think that’s what creates the monsters? The limits of conduct set by real society? It seems that virtual reality is changing all this.
CV: That would be interesting if we define what a monster is. To talk about what creates monsters, we would have to say what a monster is. Is it someone who has certain desires? Or someone who consumes certain desires? It seems that video games are the world where there are more options for fiction, adventure, and perversion. Japan is a good example of this, and it is a country in which the social order is precisely much better, there are fewer murders, less crime. It is a tricky subject, it is not simply that if they stay at home repressed and playing video games they are harmless, but that many times you generate what you have said, that frivolization. What I have said about Japan is interesting, I had never commented on it. It is a country in which, for example, there is a very dodgy idealization of women with respect to how they later relate to them. If you are afraid of real women and you stay at home with your waifu-shaped cushions or with your visual novel where you have to flirt with girls, you create disabled people when it comes to relating. In fact, Japan was -I don’t know if it still is- the country with the fewest relationships, people there are very afraid to interact with others. Is someone unable to relate to others a monster? You don’t have to be a kid-friendly guy, a psychopath, or a guy who fantasizes about slitting someone’s throat. The fact that we are unable to relate… I wouldn’t use the word “monster”, but it makes us more unhappy, because later that leads to depression, anxiety and so on. They take away tools to relate to us. That, which may seem like a safe-conduct, those fictions that you have commented on, can often become limitations. It is a double-edged sword.
eC: The video game industry is still a mirror of who we are as a society, and GTA V is one of the best-selling games in history…
CV: I think that people, for example, do not want to run over. But if you see that you run over and there are no consequences… you will do it. I’m not one of those people who, when playing games, kills NPCs (laughs). And it’s true that If you have a son who systematically plays games to kill gangs on the street, you should ask yourself what the hell is going on. But, of course, these are not the typical children who suddenly kill a cat, a living being. It is running over old, but old in 3D. In any case, I think that you do that when you’re more of an adolescent, more of a child, because you discover that it’s something that’s prohibited… What was the question?
eC: We’re digressing a bit…
CV: Yes (laughs), but it’s okay. In no interview have I talked about video games. And cool.
eC: Going back to ‘Manticore’: it’s a love story, no matter how twisted it is. Julián is a monster who doesn’t want to be a monster, and the film doesn’t judge him. It seems a bit like a reformulation of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to me.
CV: That’s also in werewolf movies, with characters who don’t want to be the way they are. But yes, ‘Beauty and the Beast‘ Yes, it was a reference during the writing. You’re the first person in all the interviews I’ve done to mention it.
CV: In fact, at one point in the movie, they were going to sing the Disney song in karaoke, and in the end I took it out… Yeah, sure, that monster that needs to be loved is there. It is in many fictions, such as ‘doctor frankenstein‘ either ‘The Phantom of the Opera‘. Vampires are more bastards, but the classic monster is always someone who feels rejected. ‘joker‘, for instance; they had never made a Joker movie humanizing him, apart from Alan Moore’s comic, from ‘The Killing Joke’. It is the story of the monster rejected by all who ends up bursting in the end. Basically, it is a classic structure of cinema and literature.
eC: Looking at your filmography, we sense a quite powerful direction of actors behind it. In ‘Mantícora’ you see very clearly the mental map of its characters through their gestures and looks. Do you let them free? Or are you pretty precise with what you want?
CV: I don’t leave much freedom. I am accurate for two reasons. First, because I think in Spain there is a tendency to overreact, to exaggerate. I like that there is a slightly more realistic tone. I’m a little on top of them to keep that from getting too high. And second, the dialogues are written so that they have a musicality, and the film moves forward. But it can be worked in many ways, it depends on the scene. I made a short that was all improvised and it worked well. Nacho and Zoe, in particular, were quite marked.
‘Manticore’ hits theaters on December 9.
Carlos Vermut (‘Mantícora’): “In Spain there is a tendency to overreact, to exaggerate”