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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2021 Competition

Paco Plaza • Director of The Grandmother

“Any director would aspire to wanting someone to walk out of their film at the movie theatre”

by 

- Horror comes pounding on the doors of San Sebastián with brute force in this film by the Spanish director, which was penned by Carlos Vermut, the winner of the Golden Shell for Magical Girl

Paco Plaza  • Director of The Grandmother
(© SSIFF/Pablo Gómez)

We talked genre films with Paco Plaza, whom we have to blame for scaring us senseless with Verónica [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Paco Plaza
film profile
]
, Eye for an Eye [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Paco Plaza
film profile
]
and some of the REC [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
saga. Now, for the first time, he is taking part in the competition of the San Sebastián Film Festival, with The Grandmother [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Paco Plaza
film profile
]
, an out-and-out horror flick that boasts a storyline written by another filmmaker who has a penchant for exploring uneasy territory: Carlos Vermut (the winner of the Golden Shell for Magical Girl [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Carlos Vermut
film profile
]
).

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Cineuropa: Out of the blue, San Sebastián has chosen a genre film like The Grandmother for its official section, as if it were feeding off Sitges…
Paco Plaza:
Our plan was to go to Sitges, but if you’re offered the chance to go to an A-list festival, you can’t say no. Having said that, I have the feeling that I’ve sneaked in, as there is no tradition of horror films at this festival. I was surprised to receive a call from José Luis Rebordinos, its director, but he seemed really enthusiastic about the film. The mere fact that there’s a Spanish horror feature in competition is a triumph, and I see it as a gift. We’re happy because they’ve also picked it for the BFI London Film Festival, and we’ll be going to Sitges as well.

Let’s see how people react to it: it could take people by surprise, as it’s an unabashed horror film and doesn’t try to hide it.
Genre is not some kind of alibi, not like those movies that are ashamed of being genre films and, deep down, talk about other things instead. No, this is a horror flick: it’s got witches and vampires. Afterwards, we can read into it what we like, but it makes no apologies for being a genre feature.

Back when you premiered Eye for an Eye, you waxed lyrical to me about Raw [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Julia Ducournau
film profile
]
. What’s your view on genre films now, in Spain and in Europe?
They’re better than ever. I think the bastion of quality cinema now is genre because within the mainstream, the rest of the films are about superheroes or they’re sequels. Disregarding auteurs and experimental titles, which are out there in their own category, I think that the hopes for quality mainstream cinema are being placed in horror. Titane [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Julia Ducournau, Vincent Li…
film profile
]
won the Palme d’Or, and there are many more interesting titles looming on the horizon. And if you look at the Sitges line-up, it’s crazy, as the quality is so high – something that’s sorely lacking in any other given genre, where there’s a glut of these “remixes” of Italian and French hits, as each country is making its own version: as if we couldn’t dub them! Horror is becoming a bastion for auteurs, and its audience is receptive to more experimental propositions.

Horror films are now even starting to become existential, philosophical and nihilistic, not to mention politically incorrect
Yes, you’ve got an excuse to put whatever you want in there: whatever the baddie does, it goes in there. I’ve noticed a lack of originality, especially in US films. I liked Nomadland, but it was exactly what I was expecting it to be – in other words, it explains something to you, and does so very efficiently, but it doesn’t happen the same way as it does in Raw, which makes your head spin round and round. I asked myself: “What has this director just been telling me?”

The Grandmother begins in complete silence.
Yes, no one speaks for the whole introduction. Furthermore, you don’t hear the grandmother’s footsteps; it’s as if she were floating. It’s like she doesn’t weigh anything. These kinds of details can only be truly appreciated in a movie theatre. That’s why, if we want to make features to show in the cinema, we have to offer a different experience from watching it at home. Nowadays, television is so good that it poses a challenge: we have to do something else because in that realm of developing complex characters, over the space of four seasons, that’s something you’re not going to have in one-and-a-half hours. It’s a battle that they’ve already won. Are you going to be able to make something better than that? No, so you try to do other things, like Gaspar Noé did with Lux aeterna. I think those kinds of offerings are missing in Spain (admittedly, France is something of an exception in that regard). Here, not many people would dare to do something different. Well, there is Chema García Ibarra, whom I tutored on the Directing course at ECAM. We had some crazy discussions, and I loved his screenplay for The Sacred Spirit [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Chema García Ibarra
film profile
]
: you’re not going to see that on Netflix, because Chema is the new Vermut.

To wrap up this chat, has anyone walked out of a screening of one of your films?
Yes, a few people walked out of the movie theatre during REC [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
interview: Julio Fernández
film profile
]
. For Eye for an Eye, people were upset by the final shot: some have even told me that they will never forget that image. It’s an aspiration worthy of any director to want someone to walk out of the theatre.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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