Tiago Guedes • Director of The Domain
“The Domain is the story of a man who tries to keep his legacy intact”
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2019: Cineuropa braved the rain to meet with Portuguese filmmaker Tiago Guedes, who is presenting his new movie, The Domain, at Venice and soon at Toronto
In The Domain [+see also:
interview: Tiago Guedes
film profile], with the help of Albano Jerónimo playing landowner João, who is fighting for his land and the people closest to him over a period of 45 years, Tiago Guedes reflects on Portugal’s history, never losing sight of what made him want to make his film in the first place: family. The film screened in competition at the Venice Film Festival.
Cineuropa: This is such a big story, unfolding over 45 years. Why did you decide to focus on this particular time?
Tiago Guedes: It has to do with the history of my country, particularly the revolution that started in 1973. Then I wanted to jump right into the moment when capitalism was starting to control everything in a different way. I always wanted this family to be in the background, or rather in the centre, as for me, the main subject of the film was heritage – something you gain from the others that come before you. And what you decide to pass on. In The Domain, the country does it as well. It tries to make sense of its past heritage and deal with it, in a way.
You show that this legacy can be a bittersweet gift sometimes. It can make you life easier, but it can also become a burden. Surrounded by all this space, your characters still seem to gasp for air.
It all has to do with this main character, who’s full of flaws and problems. It’s his world, and he wants to keep it this way; that’s why he tries to adapt to all of these different regimes that try to take it away. It’s the story of a man who tries to keep his legacy intact.
At the same time, he is also carrying a burden: a legacy of stifled emotions, of loss, which he then passes on to his kids. Sometimes, you can have all this power, but you can’t connect. I think the end of this film shows you that he tries to make sense of it. He doesn’t understand how he got to this point. But what we really wanted to show was how life sometimes escapes your understanding of it. You are trying to do what you think is right, but life finds its way around you. You can’t control it.
When talking to [actor] Albano Jerónimo, how did you see this man? A strong, silent type straight out of the westerns, but one who can be charming if needed, enough for his wife to stay?
We always wanted to have this kind of character – one that has everything – because we didn’t want a hero, but we also didn’t want a bad guy. It’s a very “human” combination: he is strong and cowardly at the same time. That’s what makes him complex. On the other hand, concerning his wife and why she decides to stay… It has to do with that time in that society, but also because there is some hope inside this relationship, and you just can’t explain it. When you look at it from the outside, it’s easy to judge and to say: “How can you still be with this man?” But people are in these kinds of relationships; there are certain reasons for that, and I never wanted to give a proper answer. Sometimes in films, there is this tendency to make everything so clear. But the way I see it, she doesn’t know either. We don’t always know why we stay or leave, or why we hurt the ones we love. With João, at the beginning of the film, his father is trying to teach him a lesson. But instead, it marks him for life. He doesn’t know how to deal with pain. His father probably thought it was going to make him stronger, but then he just blindly repeats this cycle with his own boy. It’s not logical, it’s not premeditated – he is just trying to do his best. He never sees the value of his own child, because he is too busy projecting something else. That’s life. I wanted to capture all this mess and the impossibility of communication that I feel many relationships are built on.
And families. Which, I guess, makes this story more universal.
I never wanted this film to be just a historical drama about some events that took place in Portugal, about a landlord who survived fascism, communism, and then the banks. I wanted to show how a family deals with all of that. That’s where I found my perfect theme.
There is a certain familiarity to the story, and also to the way it looks, which predictably made me think of westerns. Was this on your mind?
Westerns were a good reference for me, and not just because of the way these characters are sparing with their words – although they are very quiet and mysterious – but also the way the land works around them. Then you have the melodramas, especially from the 1950s and 1960s, ones that really delve deep into family drama. People like Kazan and Minnelli. They show people who love each other but who are unable to communicate, and they just can’t deal with each other. They’re fighting without even knowing why.
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