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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2021 Competition

Jonás Trueba • Director of Who’s Stopping Us

“It’s an entirely unpremeditated, intuitive piece of filmmaking”

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- The Spanish filmmaker vies for the Golden Shell with this genre-defying feature, coaxed into life over the course of five years with the generous participation of a cast of young actors

Jonás Trueba • Director of Who’s Stopping Us
(© SSIFF/Álex Abril)

Jonás Trueba’s films have never recognised boundaries or limits, which explains why it took five years to complete Who’s Stopping Us [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jonás Trueba
film profile
]
. Clocking in at three hours and forty minutes, the film is competing in the official section at the 69th San Sebastián International Film Festival, three years after his last crack at the Golden Shell with The Reconquest [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jonás Trueba
film profile
]
. We caught up with him to find out all about this latest cinematic adventure.

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Cineuropa: Two of the young actors who appear in this latest film (Candela Recio and Pablo Hoyos) also featured in The Reconquest: Was that earlier experience of working together somehow the catalyst for Who’s Stopping Us?
Jonás Trueba:
Yes, definitely. Without having made that film, we would never have attempted this one, because although they are very different, maybe diametrically so, the one flows on from the other. In the final credits of The Reconquest, we hear the original version of the song Quién lo impide, performed by Rafael Berrio, and that’s what planted the seed. While we were at the editing stage of The Reconquest, and at the last minute we settled on that track, I was thinking that the follow-up should be a literal representation of the song itself. I wanted to do another project with Pablo and Candela, whom I had schooled in certain gestures and ways of speaking and acting from my own adolescence. I felt that I owed them the chance of a role reversal, where I stepped into their experience rather than the other way around.

At their age, kids have no filter; they express things purely, without holding anything back or playing any of the games we learn later in life. You really capture that in the film, and the result is a rare kind of honesty. I imagine that really draws you in, as a director.
Yes, it can be quite overwhelming when you’re with them and you suddenly remember how intuitive and forceful they can be, but I definitely felt that, through them, I could keep talking about things that have always interested me, without worrying about getting it wrong. I also enjoyed the opportunity to film in such a free, uninhibited way, and to speak with total bluntness through the characters, even allowing ourselves to make mistakes. The characters express themselves fully; they feel and say all kinds of things, some of them contradictory, and whether you agree with them or not they are all things that came up naturally while the camera was rolling, without us analysing or controlling everything. It’s an entirely unpremeditated piece of filmmaking. Nothing was worked out in advance; it’s incautious and intuitive and we just went with it.

It’s a very raw, immediate film... There’s no script to hide behind.
We wrote it as we were filming, and especially as we were editing. We tried to put it together in the way that would be most faithful to how it unfolded on set, with all the U-turns and changes of direction it went through. Who’s Stopping Us was made without an initial script or structure — in fact, we weren’t even thinking of it as a film at all. I love jumping straight into something without being certain I’ll end up with a releasable feature. It was the same with both The Wishful Thinkers and The Romantic Exiles [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jonás Trueba
film profile
]
. It’s more a way of living or working than filmmaking per se. For me, it’s a real luxury, to start shooting one day just because I feel like being with these guys, not because I’m trying to make a film.

Total freedom, without a goal to get in the way. As they say, whatever will be, will be…
Exactly. You have to have faith and a desire to make the most of the day ahead, whether you get a productive outcome or not. The film came out of us being together, sharing an experience. The clue is in the title: its hidden meaning is about a different way of approaching cinema, work and how we do things in our lives — the possibility is there to be seized. Before, with my earlier films, I compiled a whole dossier in advance. This time, we just got on with it, without having to explain ourselves to anyone.

All the same, since people love to label things... would you call Who’s Stopping Us a documentary?
There’s a lot to unpack there... Neither I nor the actors would be able to say for certain at this point how much is fiction and how much is reality. While the project started out with more of a documentary approach — picking up the camera and exploring material that matters to me and relates to my own concerns — my films are always shaped by the reality of the actors. All of my fiction films contain elements of real life, and Who’s Stopping Us has elements of fiction, even if we officially call it a documentary.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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