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Latin American Competition

Interview with Martín Benchimol, director of «El castillo»

Interview with Martín Benchimol, director of «El castillo»

In other interviews you said that you found the castle by chance and that the writing process was quite special. What was that process like? How much was it respected when filming?

I started writing Justina and Alexia's life in narrative, as if it were a story (it was also during the pandemic and I needed to do something), and there I decided that the film was going to be in the present of the protagonists: a mother and daughter about to separate. Of course, there were other plots: Justina's promise to take care of the castle, her long-distance boyfriend, her relationship with the former owner's family. But I decided that the heart of the film should focus on the mother-daughter bond. Obviously the script was modified, even during filming itself. The text was a guide so that the story had a more or less story-like form, but specifically it was a tool to have triggers in motion. The idea was to create the conditions for Justina and Alexia to lay out their bond within the game that the film proposed to them.

El castillo, without being declamatory, becomes an efficient social critique. What did you want to reveal with this story?

Justina's story is a crack, an error in the system. I think the film talks about the enormous contradictions of our class system, and how heredity strongly defines belonging to a social class. I say inheritance in a broad sense, as in everythingthat is inherited. The material and the symbolic. That's why I see that class belonging is so visceral, because it is linked to something very primary. The point is that we read class membership in terms of ranking. There are no social classes that are simply different; they are better and worse. I see now, in the middle of the presidential campaign, that many people do dialectical juggling to explain a political position that is driven by the refusal to be part of “lo popular” (the working class). I believe that, as long as we continue to despise what is understood as lo popular, it will be difficult for the social fabric to have the form of a network.

Not only does the location look dreamy to live in, but it must have also been dreamlike when it was filmed. What were the decisions you had to make when portraying such an overwhelming space?

When I decided to set the film in the present, I was giving up telling Justina's past in detail in relation to that house and its former owner. Then I began to imagine the scenes involving the castle as a presence that observes and gives its opinion on what happens. As if the former owner still lived in the house. That led me to move the camera a little further away, enlarge the frames, and include the portraits of the former owner and her family, as the guardians of the scenes. Sometimes it was difficult for me to hold these distant frames, because I feel much closer to the protagonists than the camera position. But we were playing to embody that gaze that captures the immensity of space, the sordidness of isolation and the overwhelmingness of the life of two people in that immense house. Hence the decision not to take the camera outside the limits of the territory. Alexia can go out shopping, or she can go to Buenos Aires, but the camera always stays in the house, because it is part of it.