Today is the commercial premiere of How Most Things Work, directed by Fernando Salem,
Best Director of the Argentine Competition
Fernando Salem brings us a peculiar, sensitive, smart and bold road movie. He builds a story of personal search and it becomes, in a flawless narrative progression, the reflection of everyone’s search. With a brilliant aesthetic, it shows us a beautiful universe, a lovely disoriented protagonist, and characters that meet in that road and speak to the camera giving answers and their view on essential subjects. An original approach that suggests that not every question has an answer but that we build our path by looking for them, even blindly.
"Winning the award for Best Director of the Argentine Competition was very moving for several reasons. From a professional point of view: it’s the confirmation, after the film’s international premiere in the Festival, that the work done during these past 9 years has a meaning. Not because we were looking for the award, but because it’s a light, a hint, a clue that tells us that the film that we so dearly gave birth to got to people’s hearts, moves them, leaves them thinking and it’s entertaining. For us, it’s a huge relieve that so much effort was worth it. On a less personal note and thinking about the premiere, an award given by such a prestigious Festival as Mar del Plata gives the film an important acknowledgment just a week before its premiere. This causes some movie theatres to want to screen the film and ensures a wider audience reach. It’s a great push for the film to reach the audience”.
"Finally, and on a more emotional tone, as a former student of José Martinez Suárez’s workshop, hearing my name and coming up to the stage to receive the award, before whom I consider my master, was very touching. A couple of days before, on the day of the film’s premiere, I ran into José at Paseo Aldrey. I was walking in, he was walking out. We hadn’t seen each other for quite some time. During these years, we exchanged e-mails, but when I saw him walk in I was amazed to see him looking as usual –of course, but I’m older-. So I approached him and told him ten minutes before my film had been screened for the first time with an audience. I told him how happy I was and how grateful I was with the Festival. «Congratulations, Fernandito», he told me with a big smile. "These are the moments worth living for...”, I told myself. We hugged each other and I let out that I loved him. Then, I turned around, went far away from the people I was with and started crying. I had become a director”.
How Most Things Work deals, in that special format, with the big and small issues that move human beings, those questions whose answers we believe will magically solve our lives. Is that "most” what changes everything and turns the film into a human search, not a scientific one. How did that initial idea of this peculiar road movie come up?
You could say it came from perceiving, from a very young age, that there is no a single answer for everything. I went to a school of priests but I was raised in a family where my grandfather was Jewish, my father had to become a Catholic in order to marry my mother who, in turn, believes in reincarnation. So it seemed like there wasn’t a single answer for things. When my grandmother died, my mother was with her and saw a white butterfly on the oxygen mask; she scared it away; the butterfly went away through a window and, a few moments later, my grandmother died. Perhaps my mom made up the story to comfort us for the loss, but she told me she had never seen anyone die before and that she had felt peace, a peace impossible to explain with words. The butterfly could have been the Holy Spirit, Buda, my own grandmother or a clothes moth, but any explanation clouded the feeling of peace. Sometimes we look for answers and stop feeling. How Most Things Work is a metaphor of all that, because somehow, we all go through life crossing a desert and, even when we carry our own encyclopedias, some things don’t have an explanation. The only thing we can do is feel. And that’s it.
The quality of the performances is striking. How was the experience of working with actors and non-professionals actors, like, for example the protagonist?
I’m very lucky that the actors trusted in the project. I didn’t cast, I think it’s something awful, dehumanizing. So for some time I went to many theatre plays and each of them gave me an idea for a character, a face, a tone. I have entire notebooks written with possible Celinas, Raqueles, etc. Finally, I printed a book with the script and the project, and I waited for each one of the actors I wanted after the theatre, or I contacted them myself, and I talked with them about the project. Luckily, most of them were very generous and said yes. I learned a lot from them, they are all great people. They filled the script with their energy. When I see an actor or an actress act like they do, I’m like a little boy who sees a magician or a tightrope walker. They do the same with feelings, I don’t know how they do it and I tend to stay still, I didn’t have to do practically anything, just point the direction, where I want to walk and the rhythm, that’s the only thing we directors do.
The case of Veronica, the protagonist, is exceptional. I looked for Celina for a very long time and, one day, watching a YouTube video, I saw a band and Veronica was exactly what I was looking for. Vero sings at the Pequeña Orquesta de Trovadores and in the video she showed a lot of feelings as she sang –if she can show the same thing without singing, we have her, I told myself. And she did. We had a lot of meetings, we spoke a lot about the script and she was very brave. I needed the project to be as important for her as it was for me, and, so far, it has been the most important project of my life and I gave it everything. Vero also gave everything of herself, and she was the protagonist of a film in her first audiovisual experience, surrounded by a selection of the best contemporary interpreters.
In How Most Things Work, we see extreme care for the aesthetic construction. Which technical decisions did you make in order to achieve that?
With Georgina Pretto, the cinematographer, with whom we also made Trilizas Propaganda, we had been working on the aesthetics of the film since we began to think about it in 2006, right after the short film. I can fill entire disks with references, frames, colors, textures, plastic artists, etc. Georgi is an outstanding technician, because the film was made with very little resources. She’s very disciplined and she has an incredible sensibility, she’s very subtle in her work and a great friend. It was also her first film and she gave everything she had.
Then Carina Luján came to the project, the art director. I was also her fist experience in the role, but Cari had worked in many shootings and she has an incredible talent. She also has a lot of sensibility, great capacity for work, and a very specific vision. The same happened with Laura Donari and Marina Pelatelli, the costume designers. All of the artistic teams worked in a coordinated way, with specific references, and a lot of effort. It didn’t have to do with technical issues, since we didn’t have many resources, it had to do with a human condition.
How Most Things Work was the long-awaited film by the director of Trillizas propaganda, a short film which was acclaimed during the 2008 Festival, abroad and winner of a Condor. In your short film and in this feature film we see a remarkable authorial signature. How would you define your authorial signature?
For a director it’s very nice to hear that you have an authorial signature. I don’t know what mine is, I think it’s like the way you walk, right? You walk as you can, sometimes you walk more upright to be seductive, sometimes you drag your feet, sometimes you limp but, in the end, it’s your way of walking. I try to walk accompanied by people who are interested in walking the same places, the team leaders are with me since the short film and I hope I have the chance to keep working with them.
I think I move away from a realism I’m attracted to, which I sometimes criticize, because I think is childish, but I’m attracted to it and I go that way. I don’t have a choice. The astronaut dogs, the triplets who do synchronized swimming, the mariachis, the Difunta Correa, the encyclopedias with all the answers. I guess it has to do with the fact that I feel very close to the child I once was.
I’m attracted to the female thing. Women are a great mystery, it’s deeper and vaster than male psychology. Being male and being able to watch women from outside is an amazing creative power. On the other hand, another authorial signature could be the search for answers. Love, death, destiny are the same questions we all ask ourselves, but this is my way of walking them. Some people choose kung-fu to answer them, and I envy them a bit.
There are many elements that accompany and complement the story: the mariachis, the Difunta Correa, the soundtrack, the astronaut dog, which clearly show a search for a peculiar universe. How did those things come up in the script? Were they incorporated previously or afterwards?
The soundtrack, thanks to Juan Bernardis, the musician of Trillizas, tries to move away from the real, accomplishing a strangeness, an "almost” that’s never closed and it’s in permanent tension. Together we worked on this peculiar universe and, at the same time, with Esteban Garelli, my co-scriptwriter, we started thinking about this universe from the beginning. There is a small doses of surrealism, which isn’t something extravagant or an authorial mark that gets in front of the plot. We tried to move away from the real in the same way, with the same deviated perception we have when we travel, when we go to new places and see things that we miss in our everyday life for paying attention to other things. Like when you are in love, right?