By Tom Ue.
Lina Rodriguez is a Colombian/Canadian filmmaker. She has written, directed and produced several short films, which have participated in multiple festivals including the Images Festival and the New York Film Festival. Rodriguez has also created and produced film and video installations and performances that have shown in several galleries and festivals including HYSTERIA: A Festival of Women 2005 and Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2007. Her first feature film, Señoritas (2013), had its world premiere at the Festival Internacional de Cine Cartagena de Indias (FICCI) and its US premiere at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Mañana a esta hora, her second feature, examines the profound impact that a tragedy bears on a closely-knit family.
Many congrats on Mañana a esta hora, an excellent second feature film and a wonderful follow-up to Señoritas! What inspired this film?
Ever since I was a little girl, my father has always told me that “one shouldn’t worry too much about things, because they all pass, everything passes.” He’s right, to a certain extent: life passes us by, from the mundane details of the day to the great, dramatic moments of our lives. Like a rainstorm or a cloud crossing the sky, undeniably there’s a before, a during, and an after.
I made Mañana a esta hora out of the curiosity and fear that I have for impermanence. I’ve always felt split between my memories of what has passed, the ephemeral seconds that I’m experiencing right now and the dreams and possibilities that the future may bring.
What were some of your influences?
It’s hard to clearly identify what influenced me directly to make this film or any other film. I prefer to speak in terms of inspiration and in relation to cinema the films of Robert Bresson, John Cassavetes and Maurice Pialat are always with me.
Now, in this film, I came to realize recently that there was a silent (or maybe spiritual) inspiration: Yasujirõ Ozu. I love his films, they move me profoundly. I watched Tokyo Story (1953) by coincidence on the plane on the way to the shoot and kind of completely forgot about it only to then recognize his quiet guidance when Brad Deane (my co-editor, and the producer of the film) and I were editing. I was also very interested in the paintings of Canadian artist Alex Colville and had the opportunity to see them in an exhibition when I was preparing the film. The overall atmosphere of the paintings really made an impression on me. During preparation I was also mesmerized by the hazy atmospheric lighting found in James Tissot’s sumptuous and elegant portrayals of well-turned-out Victorian society. But ultimately, if there’s a clear influence I can consciously speak of it’s my very own obsession with how our present is constantly fleeting.
This film is beautifully shot, from the opening image of the trees to the closing one of the sky. I love how the camera dwells on them and the bike-riding episode where the backdrop is given a lot of attention. What was it like to shoot on location?
I was born and raised in Bogotá, which is the capital and largest city in Colombia. It’s a complex and ever-changing city. Although I have not lived there for many years now, it’s the city where my parents and family still live, the city of my childhood and teenage years and a city that’s very close to me. It is and will always be part of me. In a way it’s my home, but at the same time it’s a city that I have to re-discover every time I go back. When I’m there I have to simultaneously deal with my memories of the city as well as with the city itself, in the present, in all its nuanced and chaotic glory. I’m constantly reconciling the past and the present and, as a result, the future.
Mañana a esta hora is very much a film about a sense of the personal spaces of the characters, and about how the fleeting present inhabits these spaces and turns them into memories almost instantly. It was a great experience for me to shoot in Bogotá, as I was able to revisit some spaces I’m fond of, discover new ones and incorporate them to the world of the film. For example, the neighborhood where the bike-riding scene that you mention takes place is a residential neighborhood that I was vaguely familiar with as I had spent some time there with high-school friends years ago. When we were scouting locations, my wonderful Art Director, Iris Ocampo, offered her very own house, which is located in this same neighborhood, to serve as the main location, the family’s apartment. It had the perfect energy and a very special light. Besides the fact that I enjoy and constantly look for ways to create personal connections between the cast and crew and the film and the process of its making, shooting at Iris’ house was wonderful as it gave me the opportunity to rediscover this part of the city. I adapted the script to this new location and tweaked other locations accordingly. Another example where I blurred the lines between the “real” location and the location in the film was for the scenes where Lena meets her friend Valeria, or the scene where Adelaida is watching a film with her friend Catalina and the boys. We shot these scenes in the actual houses of Valeria and Catalina respectively. For me shooting on location like this adds an important layer to the process, the relationships between cast and crew and ultimately to the film itself.
As in your first feature Señoritas, there were a number of long sequence scenes and episodes where the camera looks on while characters move in and out. How did you decide on the amount of attention to devote?
Filmmaking is about solving problems of time and space. In Señoritas the sequence shots had to do with portraiture. Almost like in painting. How can I observe this face?
How can I observe this body? In Mañana a esta hora I was interested in reflecting on the passing of time in the quotidian life of a family, after and before a tragic incident shakes this very same quotidian life as much as the spaces where this activities take place. As I was dealing with three characters, a mother, a father and a teenage daughter, using long sequences became the perfect way to capture their time together and illustrate the passing of time through their movement. Both the movement that we see inside the frame, but also the suggested movement that we hear but don’t see. That off screen space is very important for me and I have it in mind throughout the whole process, from writing to sound-mixing. How the physical and emotional world is reflected through sound is a key focus in my work with Roberta Ainstein, the sound designer.
Did the process develop organically or was this part of the screenplay?
The film was fully scripted. I shared the script with the crew and we all worked from it throughout the whole process. The cast did not see the script. I shared a few scenes with some of them the day before so they could prepare for the next day, but none of the cast members had any knowledge of the events and chronology of the story.
Instead, I intentionally spent a lot of time and effort designing opportunities for the cast and crew to create a pre-history with each other that is separate from me before we started shooting. All of the cast members got to spend time with each other in a strategic way that I designed so they could build connections between them that were not only going to enrich the script I wrote but also flesh out their own relationships both in front and behind the camera. Depending on the role, cast members got to hang out in a park, go for coffee, grab a drink, watch a movie, go shopping.
I rewrote scenes once I had finalized casting, and then again throughout production. It’s crucial for me to allow for the actual relationships the cast develops between themselves to inform my initial ideas. I’m interested in the turbulence of the present and in how these people, who are flesh and bone, inhabit the present, the present of the story of the film as much as the present of being part of a group of people making a film.
Tell us about the casting.
The most important thing for me during casting is to be able to get a sense of the people, to determine if we can have a conversation, if we can be open and present together. My auditions are not as focused on reading a scene or doing a monologue, they are mostly a conversation between me and the actors and then I give them a general framework of a scene and they work on that on the spot plus a series of other exercises. For this film it was of course key to find the family, and I was really excited when I met Laura, Maruia and Francisco. Laura has an incredible presence on screen and the rare ability to be tender and childish in one moment and then to use her sensuality to seduce everyone in the room in the next. For the mother, I was hoping to illustrate a contemporary woman, who is strong and determined, yet light and fun at the same time and Maruia had these very qualities. As for the role of the father, the contrast between Francisco’s physical appearance and the kindness of his eyes and softness of his body language was very interesting to me. After a first round of auditions, I did a call-back session where Laura, Maruia and Francisco prepared a scene I gave them and once I saw them together I knew I had found my family. Then, as I said before, came all of the preparation work between them and the actors who were going to play their friends and family. I was excited to give my mother another role in this film. After she played the mother in my first film, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with her again.
How did you prepare the actors for the deeply tragic episode in the film’s second half?
As I said, the actors did not read the script. All of the actors were told about the tragic incident that very morning as soon as they arrived on set and what you see on screen is their reaction to this news. What you see on screen is the result of the deep connections that they all built during the preparation period. It was a very intense scene to shoot and many of them were truly shaken.
The blackout effectively registers the shock for the audience as well as for the family. What led you to decide to present the tragedy in this way and before providing us and the family with the scientific explanation?
Given that cinema is form and content, my co-editor Brad Deane and I felt that a fade was the only way to convey the very essence of that moment. As for the scientific explanation, you’ve said it yourself, it’s a scientific explanation, but this kind of explanations cannot fully explain things. We’re always going to be left with something unresolved when it comes to a tragedy like the one in the film even if we have someone explain to us exactly what happened.
Silence is as important as dialogue in the film, and both provide us with insight into how the characters are responding to grief. How did you achieve the spontaneous dialogue?
As I mentioned, in most instances the actors did not know the script so I worked very closely with them and gave them a very specific framework for the scene based on the script that I wrote (and rewrote). Although I gave them the freedom to speak in their own words, I was clear about the different beats we needed to achieve for each scene so I worked with them to get these. For me, as a director, I’m always trying to remember my framework but to also open up possibilities for ideas to expand and grow.
What kind of future do you envision for the film’s characters? Are you hopeful for them?
I have many things I could say here, but I rather leave this open for the audience. I leave it to the audience to envision the future for the film’s characters. I’ve done my job making the film and I’m now happy to give the audience this part of the job.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently writing my third film, which I will shoot in Toronto. I’m focused on the script right now so don’t have an exact shooting date yet.
Tom Ue was educated at Linacre College, University of Oxford, and at University College London, where he has worked from 2011 to 2016. His PhD examined Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of George Gissing. Ue has held visiting fellowships at Indiana University, Yale University, and the University of Toronto Scarborough, and he was the 2011 Cameron Hollyer Memorial Lecturer. He has published widely on Gissing, Conan Doyle, E. W. Hornung, and their contemporaries. Ue is the Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Toronto Scarborough and an Honorary Research Associate at University College London.