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SITGES 2020

Kike Maíllo • Director of A Perfect Enemy

“We’ve made a very loose adaptation of the novel”

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- Kike Maíllo talks to us about A Perfect Enemy, his particular take on The Enemy's Cosmetique by Belgian author Amélie Nothomb, toplined by Tomasz Kot, Marta Nieto and Athena Strates

Kike Maíllo • Director of A Perfect Enemy

We managed to catch up with Kike Maíllo (Barcelona, 1975) as he was on a break from shooting the series Alma, written by Sergio G Sánchez (The Impossible [+see also:
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trailer
interview: Juan Antonio Bayona
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]
), which is being filmed in rugged outdoor locations in Asturias, where there is scarcely any phone coverage. But our conversation hinged primarily on his latest film, A Perfect Enemy [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Kike Maíllo
film profile
]
(France/Spain/Germany), based on the best-selling novel The Enemy's Cosmetique by Amélie Nothomb, starring Tomasz Kot, Marta Nieto and South Africa’s Athena Strates, which is currently premiering in competition in the official section of the 53rd Sitges Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: So, obligatory question: what attracted you to the original book enough to persuade you to get involved in the complex task of adapting it for the big screen?
Kike Maíllo
: What we loved so much, me and Toni Carrizosa, who’s the producer and my partner in this small production outfit that we have (Sábado Películas), was the idea of the dialectical debate between two characters that are very clearly positioned – one is in the tradition of political correctness, while the other is a sociopath. We thought the dialogue that they strike up between them was brilliant, and that’s what persuaded us to look into acquiring the rights for the novel and to end up purchasing them and making the adaptation, which is loose in the sense that we went with the idea of a man and a woman, whereas in the novel it’s two men. And also, we make it more vibrant, given that in the book it’s one single space and one sole dialogue, whereas we dug deeper into the cinematography that we glimpsed in the story.

Aside from changing the gender of one of the characters and the other things you’ve mentioned, did you also alter the plot, or give it some twist or other?
There is something else, yes… There are a few topics that interested me immensely, such as guilt, the ghosts of the past, and the things we try to hide from others but which still end up surfacing in one way or another.

Because even if we catch 1,000 planes, we’ll always take our traumas along with us as baggage
Yes, we’ll always bring our heads and our nature along with us: we can’t run away from that, for better or for worse.

Given that the original novel was written in French, I suppose it’s fair to say that it was easy for France to come on board as a co-producer, but how did the German involvement come about?
When we conceived the film, right from the get-go, we wanted to make it in English, for various reasons – the most important one being because that feeling of a non-place, of travellers meeting, would become clearer and more international if we made it in English. We were looking for partners, and France was the easiest choice because the novel is written in that language, despite the fact that its author is Belgian, but it’s a 100% French product. So afterwards, we asked around various other countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany… And in the end, the place that provided us with the most support was Hesse, the state that is home to Frankfurt, and the people there threw themselves into the film.

How does this film differ from your previous works Eva [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
and Toro [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Kike Maíllo
film profile
]
? Or do you think of it as a progression of your filmmaking career?
To tell you the truth, I don’t think of it as different. In my prior shorts and features, the idea of mystery, of threats, was always very present, and although a thriller like this one isn’t as action-packed as Toro, because it’s more restrained, I did fancy shooting a character-based film, focused more on the performances. So there is a progression in terms of making the film more chilled out and working more with the characters.

In Toro, the spaces on the Costa del Sol were fundamental, while in A Perfect Enemy, an airport takes on paramount importance. In what way does architecture determine the story, the characters’ psychology and the atmosphere of the movie?
I’m particularly interested in mise-en-scène and architecture, and how the places where the characters live influence films and narratives. In Eva, there was a house straight out of a western, a lonesome man and a laboratory. As you rightly say, in Toro, there is that architectural overexploitation from the 1960s and 1970s. And now, the main character is an architect who is working on the idea of perfecting space and seeking out purer lines. This speaks to how we, in some way, try to show our best side, or our best building, especially now that we are all on social networks and are overexposed, constantly flaunting our home lives. I’m also interested in the idea of a non-place, such as an airport, devoid of personality. It is functional and beautiful because it has to be to many people’s liking. In this way, I wanted to talk about political correctness, starting with the mise-en-scène.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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