Foremost among contemporary Argentine directors (and arguably in all of the Americas), Eliseo Subiela is a creator of fantastic worlds that exist solely within the borders of the cinematic screen. His films suggest their own logic, their own rules and, as a result, are woefully little-seen in this country. They require a mentally engaged audience rather than the passive demands of forgettable Hollywood fare.
Although Subiela is in the neighborhood for an extended stay, the recent San Francisco International Film Festival provided an appropriate opportunity to discuss his varied career. Eliseo appeared at our conversation as planned but, due to a scheduling mishap, the festival failed to provide a translator. Fortunately, journalist Daniel del Solar (a former public broadcasting station manager and member of the Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting national board) stepped in to assist and added a few comments of his own.
Adventures of God
JM: Can you talk a little about Darío Grandinetti, who has starred in many of your films and is now relatively well known in the US, thanks to his appearance in Pedro Almodóvar's Hable con ella/Talk to Her?
ES: What can I tell you? He's a great actor. He's a friend and in various films he plays the form of an alter ego.
JM: In El Lado oscuro del corazón 2/Dark Side of the Heart 2 (2001), he portrays the poet Oliverio. What prompted you to return to this character ten years after the first film?
ES: There were more things to talk about with this person, more adventures. He's now confronting a new dramatic element - the passage of time.
JM: ... and the loss of his hair.
ES: Yes, yes! [laughs] He's fifty-nine years old.
DdS: Looking fifty, flat-out fifty!
JM: But his charismatic attraction remains unchanged. He still appeals to the ladies.
ES: Now, despite the fact that he has no hair, he continues to have charisma.
JM: Do you think that ten years from now you will return to this character again, or do you feel that Dark Side of the Heart 2 is the end of the story of this poet?
ES: I don't know yet. [laughs] Maybe, maybe the end.
JM: Is it true that the producer required that the title be Part 2? Did you have another title in mind?
ES: Yes, in my judgment it was an error. It's his right, but he can be wrong. I think it should have had a different title.
DdS: Continuity and discontinuity is an important thing in your work because sometimes you go back to old themes. But not always...
ES: Not always, yes.
JM: For instance, in No te mueras sin decirme adónde vas/Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going (1995), a particular favorite.
ES: One of the most important movies in my life. My life was a different life up to that movie, and from that movie on, it was another life because doing this film, Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going, I almost died making it. Truly. So it is a film that I remember with a lot of emotion.
JM: Las Aventuras de Dios/The Adventures of God (2000) evolved out of your work with the film school in Argentina and your students. Is this something that you will continue? Will you do another project of this magnitude with your students in the coming years?
ES: Maybe. The idea is to find alternatives forms of production because it's not necessary to stick to the school, but I'll always find realistic ways to get my films produced. I think the worst impoverishment that you can submit humanity to is to take away their ability to dream. This is a man [in Adventures of God] who wants to dream, who wants to write a poem and says he never has time for it. He afraid of losing his job and whose life is gray, like most people's. He escapes through a door which may not be the correct door.
When Adventures of God was screened in Argentina, it was a wonderful failure. I think people didn't even realize that the movie was being shown. The critical reviews were pretty bad. It would have been easier to make Adventures of God at the beginning of my career than as my eighth film. At some point, I was afraid that the audience that I had developed up to my eighth movie would abandon me after this film. But I am not sorry that I made it. It is the exercise of a search and I am very pleased to have discovered a new technology with video.