"Most contemporary film I can see is filmed from outside to inside. Novena, it’s conceived and filmed from the inside to outside. This is for the simple reason that I think the language of cinema in the same way of my paintings".
Novena is the story of one man from the Paraguayan countryside. In long composed and securely illuminated shots we show the country life, the deep connection of man and earth. It is also story about emigration, the problem that is so fundamental for the late history of Paraguay. Lot's have gifted and energetic people move away, while for those who stay, there are less motivation, energy and possibility to change their situation.
The years I lived in Buenos Aires and other cities have taught me that the choice to leave your place of birth for the personal gain is very relative and moreover irreversible. The choices of the emigrant and the paradoxical feeling connected, I want to make tangible for the audience. And I want show with the film a disappearing way of life on the Paraguayan countryside. Paraguay deviates from the rest of South–America with regard to culture, especially because 70% from people speak Guaraní and live in a tradition, which is a mixture of Catholicism and the old Indian Culture.
One main focus of the film is to give the audience the experience of life in close connection with the earth. To approach the reality of Juan and the other villagers closely, I decided to work for all roles with local amateurs. Each actor who has lived in the city, could only play that he is rural person. Because one of the most important things for me is to record the authentic atmosphere correctly I want to shoot everything on location and with the rural occupants as actors. The protagonist Juan, is played by the man who also model stood for this personage. Local people also play the other roles. Most actors come from the village, so if they are not playing themselves, they play the role of a person they know very well, sometimes a cousin or a brother. The main location of the film is really the house where Juan lives.
We were looking for a style of acting that comes near to real life. Sometimes we just chose the place and the actors and created the situation, explained what kind of event should be presented and let the actors do as they normally would do in such a situation an in this way improvised the scene. Another documentary element is the way we treated the locations and the people who happen to use them. We decided not to interrupt too much the village life, but use the passers by and the location specifics in the story. Consequence is that the film will keep the middle between a documentary and fiction. The players did not have to act dramatically, only be who they are, with the drama of their own life. More than drama I want to create images in which you can spend some time, in which you might encounter Juan and the other village people.
The nine days of prayer for the death of the mother form the time and the tempo of the film. This dramatic time is present in the protagonist and in the events of the tale. Besides, the ritual of the Novena refers to the fact that the complete living on the Paraguayan countryside is embedded in rituals and traditions. The film has little dialogue. The rare dialogues are in Guaraní, beside Spanish the official language in Paraguay, the language especially of the rural life and the mother language of me.
I often painted the world I want to show in this film. When I made those paintings, I have absorbed this world in me. My first long fiction film concerned Paraguayan city life. Now I want to catch the rural life like it was and still is, not with melancholy, but in its purity, hardness, beauty and tragic.
The tale will be told by images. In an observing and slow tempo we become one with the world of Juan. It will be as if we feel the rubber tires in his fingers from which he cuts basins and flower pots. We smell the damp of the mate (traditional infusion). We chose to shoot the film in well-composed images, with a strong attention to composition and light, given the restricted means we had to shoot the film. It’s the painter’s eye on the life in Itauguá Guazú, the life that I painted so often on canvas.
Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly the images might refer to the history of painting. But our style of shooting is not the aim in itself. We search a way of imaging that touches the beauty of this reality. Life and the half fictitious reality gets the time to show itself. For this reason I cooperated with the cameraman Christian Núñez. He used to work as a photographer, but the last years he has developed into an experienced film and video cameraman. Just like me, he is in search of a particular natural light. Light that is colored inParaguay by the red ground and the tropical Southern sunlight.
Although the film is based on a clear plot, our concerns is not particularly the story, but to give the audience a chance to stay for a while in the cinematic reality. Here we experience the internal drama of the protagonist. We see Juan in his confusion and passivity, not able to act.
“La mayor parte del cine contemporáneo que puedo ver está filmado de afuera hacia dentro. En cambio Novena, está concebida y filmada de adentro hacia fuera. Esto es por la sencilla razón de que pienso al lenguaje del cine de la misma manera que mi pintura”.
Me interesó con esta película narrar la historia de un hombre despojado de los elementos materiales y que ha postergado su realización personal por estar al lado de su madre. Ha cuidado de ella hasta sus últimos días, protegiéndola en su temprana viudez, como una misión asignada por ser el hijo mayor. Su vida es sinónimo del concepto “vivir al día”, generando con esto apenas el dinero para la olla diaria. Pensar en mañana es algo que no existe para él y su gente. En cierta manera este es el relato de un humilde hombre rural condenado a estar bajo el árbol que le ha brindado techo y sombra toda la vida, pero que sin embargo durante el tiempo de rezo a su madre muerta, toma la decisión de marcharse en busca de una nueva suerte. Pero este deseo de cambio trae sus contradicciones donde crecen los miedos internos y el sentido de responsabilidad hacia los seres queridos. Aunque el dolor y la pérdida de su madre sea también aire de libertad, existen varios conflictos que este hombre deberá superar para tomar la decisión postergada por tantos años, y así emprender un futuro mejor.
La historia comienza después del velorio de doña Aurora. En estos nueve días de dolor y contradicciones, Juan empieza a replantearse el futuro, dado que su misión como hijo mayor ha terminado. Gracias a su hermana que vive en Buenos Aires y siempre lo ha invitado a irse, Juan imagina una nueva vida en Argentina. Pero su familia de Itauguá Guazú -la tierra de donde nunca ha salido- hacen que su decisión sea profunda y difícil. Una elección compleja, porque se trata de sus raíces, sus seres queridos, un todo orgánico, el de siempre. En cambio el emigrar, para él, está sujeto más a una elección personal.
El resultado visual está basado en mi experiencia pictórica, dado que este paisaje y su gente me ha inspirado por más de 15 años. Cada escena reflejan composiciones e iluminaciones de la vida de este pueblo. Pero la película va mas allá de una historia cotidiana. En ella se plantea la emigración, un problema que en Paraguay desde 1947 viene disgregando a las familias , y en especial las del interior del país. Un millón de paraguayos se estima que viven en la Argentina. A su vez, este “Paraguay exterior” ha generado una energía vital que hasta el día de hoy continúa haciendo su aporte al desarrollo cultural y económico del “Paraguay interior”.
La mayor parte de la película transcurre en la casa de Juan y su familia, un escenario que la luz de la mañana y la tarde convierten en un escenario mágico y atemporal. La casa está ubicada a orilla de la ruta, la cual une la ciudad de Itauguá con Itá. La ruta se encuentra el día entero transitada por vehículos particulares y de transporte de soja que cruzan el tramo de la vivienda de Juan a alta velocidad. Esta conexión con la modernidad, contrasta con la vida de la gente, quienes a solo 50 metros llevan una vida aletargada, la misma de un siglo atrás. La casa de Juan y el entorno esta conectado con lo atemporal del interior del país. Pero la ruta impone la modernidad y prosperidad, al mismo tiempo sus ruidos de motos y camiones rompen el silencio del paraíso del gran patio de la casa Juan, techado con árboles de mango.
Si bien la historia es una ficción, el resultado contiene muchos elementos del cine documental. Los personajes y los escenarios son reales, una estética al borde del hiperrealismo. Novena es como dos caras del Paraguay, el de antaño y la cruda realidad de un neoliberalismo salvaje, juntas en un escenario, en una imagen y sus sonidos.
Mar del Plata International Film Festival, intervieuw.
Enrique Collar presents Novena (Nine Days of Prayer), in the Latin American Competition.
Could you introduce yourself?
I define myself as a painter who makes cinema. I am not a movie buff, but an addict to good painting. I love Jan Verneer’s work. I painted more that 250 oil paintings about Paraguayan reality, its myths and legends. This work is inspired in Itaguguá Guazú, the landscape where I was born and spoke Guarani until I was six. I learned Spanish in Buenos Aires, city where I lived for many years. River Plate’s accent made me look like a foreigner when I came back to Paraguay. But I managed to solve the existential equation by writing Polietileno, crónicas de un Kurepiguayo, a tales book from Buenos Aires where I talk about the cultural water hyacinth existing between Argentina and Paraguay since 1947. I have lived and worked in Holland for seven years, where I started a family.
Which are the particular characteristics of your filmography?
Video. From HD to mobile phone. I am interested in “the painter’s attitude” as a wish and an engine to make a film. I can start by writing a script, as well as facing a project without any money and nothing written on the paper. My trips and house moving marked my audiovisual. I think that every project had its own rules and I adapted myself to them. Some of them covered that urge to do something and others adapted more to my present painter’s temperament. If I had to mention two important works of my filmography, they would be miramenometokéi (2002), and Novena; two opposite points of view that make my contemporary view of Paraguay.
How was your approach to cinema?
I remember that when I was a boy I closed my fists and sank hard into the cinema seat. It was such an experience for me. After that, when I was 13, I used to slip in a cinema in Avellaneda to see Armando Bo’s forbidden films. Extasis Tropical was my favorite. Later on, at Sala Leopoldo Lugones, I saw two series of films that motivated me to get to know more about language; one by George Melié and other by Aki Kaurismaki. It was then that I decided to study, but I could only pay for a script workshop, a summer one, with the scriptwriter Juan Marín. Today we are friends with Juan, and we are working in future projects. After finishing the workshop (1997), I took a VHS and recorded my first “Sister Film”; a film made with nothing, in an old house in Flores, where I made all my artist friends perform.
What does cinema mean to you?
Cinema for me would be something like a polychrome sculpture. The essential material with which I start to work is found in nature, the reality, my environment. It is a chaos where I have to find the structure, the form, the aesthetic. During the carving or modeling of this abstract mass, many factors take part, fighting against each other until they find a meaning, a symbolic level to the material. When the moment comes when everything turns harmonic and the work exists with its own image and sound, the most pleasant thing appears, the pictorial moment. Painting and cinema are part of my days. In some moment they were distant, in different paths. But with Novena they met together in a very personal, familiar symbiosis.