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Interview with Luis Alegre and David Trueba

Luis Alegre and David Trueba: Ireland Proves that the Great Legacy of a Country is its CultureLuis Alegre David Trueba

Interview with Luis Alegre and David Trueba held on the 29th May 2012 at the Dámaso Alonso Library of the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin in association with their participation in the “Tribute to Félix Romeo”, with Miguel Aguilar, Malcolm Otero Barral and Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, and the film screening Fernando’s Chair.

Luis Alegre (Lechago, Teruel, 1962) is a versatile writer, journalist, film maker and television presenter. Since the ’80s, he has worked with different types of media. As an essayist, he has published Besos robados. Pasiones de cine (1994), El apartamento; Belle Époque (1997), Vicente Aranda: la vida con encuadre (2002), Maribel Verdú: la novia soñada (2003); and as an editor, Diálogos de Salamina: un paseo por el cine y la literatura (2003), among others works. In 2006 he directed the documentary film La silla de Fernando, a conversation with Fernando Fernán Gómez, with David Trueba, which was nominated in 2007 for Best Documentary Film at the Goya Awards.

David Trueba (Madrid, 1969) is a writer, journalist, screenwriter and film director. He started out as a screenwriter with Amo tu cama rica (1991) and Los peores años de nuestra vida (1994), he directed his first film, La buena vida, in 1996, followed by Obra maestra (2000), Soldados de Salamina (2002), the film adaptation of the novel by Javier Cercas, Bienvenido a casa (2005), La silla de Fernando (2006) with Luis Alegre, Madrid 1987 (2011), and Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados (2013). As a novelist, he has published Abierto toda la noche (1995), Cuatro amigos (1999) and Saber perder (2008), winner of the National Critics Award that same year. His novels have been translated into more than fifteen languages.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Let’s start with the tribute to Félix Romeo. When a friend passes away, he obviously leaves an emptiness that is extremely difficult or impossible to fill. I would like you to tell me what kind of hole Félix has left in your life?

Luis Alegre: —Félix left an enormous hole, immense, but even more so, because it was a traumatic loss, it was totally unexpected, I think we haven’t wrapped our minds around the idea that he’s gone. When someone who’s eighty-something years old, who you love very much, passes away, you perceive it as a normal part of life, and you accept it in a way. But in the case of Félix Romeo it has been a kind of nightmare for all of us who loved him. And also, I think it’s a very significant loss for Spanish culture because he was one of the most original, freest, overwhelming personalities that existed.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Yesterday you mentioned that one of Felix’s vindications was love, that you had to vindicate love and that he had the mantra “¡viva el amor!”. Do you carry on that legacy of vindicating love?

David Trueba: —Especially Luis.

Luis Alegre: —It’s very easy to share that vindication, but the thing is that Félix did it so vehemently, with such passion, such constancy and such joy that it was really impressive. He loved love very much, loved joy, loved life, loved freedom, loved beauty, culture, loved the best things in this world, the best things in people, as we all love them, but he did it with his own personality and with his style, that was very peculiar and very attractive and very funny as well.

David Trueba: —Yes, I think there is a misunderstanding in a certain part of society about culture, art, in the sense that it has to be something boring, tiresome, that provokes a certain seriousness, a certain solemnity in people who approach it from the outside, or in those who create it. But we always shared the same vision about that, which was that we dedicated ourselves to these things because they brought us enormous pleasure, they brought us enormous joy. We thought the best thing we could offer and dedicate to society, was our work, our inventions, our films, our books, our passion for something we read or heard or discovered in an exhibition. We never understood the association of culture with the tiresome, the boring, with complaints.

He represented exactly that, a calling for joy, for pleasure – to give that pleasure to others and not have any complex regarding other professions or dedications, which may have more emotional stability, more work stability, but in spite of that, they certainly can’t provide the moments of happiness that we experienced. In this way, he was truly and absolutely a militant and an apostle of joy, of happiness, of the need to love each other, caring, preaching it and at the same time, streesing the need to do our job as a manifestation of that joy. In this way, I think we are still faithful to it, it won’t be easy to take it away from us.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Let’s move on to another friend, to Fernando Fernán Gómez. You both directed La silla de Fernando, a film that was made in several months.

Luis Alegre: —Those who know a little about Spanish culture know that Fernando Fernán Gómez was one of the key personalities of Spanish cultural history of the 20th Century from many different points of view – as an actor (his most popular facet) but also as a film director, writer, theatre director, stage actor, as a memoir writer, as a television producer and scriptwriter and TV actor. Ultimately, he is one of the most multi-faceted personalities who has contributed to a significant part of the arts of the 20th Century. He’s a kind of synthesis of everything.

In each one of those genres he has created key works: in film, in theatre, television and literature. We are among the many admirers he has, those who recognize the importance of Fernando Fernán Gómez in terms of Spanish culture. But there was something that especially seduced David and myself, as it did for many of his friends. It was his wonderful way of seeing life and his incredible way of explaining it. We could see he had a gift for communicating the ways in which he experienced life and  the things that happened to him. We thought his art could only be enjoyed by those of us who knew him and enjoyed his friendship. We got the idea of making a film to try and convey our fascination to everybody who watched it. We wanted to communicate the very unique art of speaking, of sharing things about life, and to acknowledge a way, which for us is almost revolutionary, of understanding the world and life itself.

David Trueba: —Yes, it’s a film that has brought us enormous enjoyment. A big box office success wouldn’t have brought us as much satisfaction as this movie. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, we can see the pleasure it evokes in the people who watch it, which is what we were ultimately looking for – to recreate the experience of talking with Fernando, of having a long talk with him across the table, about the divine and the human. Also, because it was a project of ours for a long time, an idea we fantasized about, but there was always some reluctance. We thought, “Well, a film about a man talking, we won’t do that”. At the same time, we thought “We have to do it because we´ll regret not doing it for the rest of our lives when Fernando is gone”. And the satisfaction of now being able to say, “We did it”, was worth it. We didn’t abandon a project, we didn’t leave it only as an idea, we didn’t leave it as something we talked about and never accomplished – we did it. Even better, he came to see it himself and I think it brought him great joy to see it with us that day. That’s how I can tell you, if we counted all our achievements, there are few things we’ve accomplished in life that have brought so much joy.

Carmen Sanjulián: —And it was very well received. I was recently reading a review and the critic gave you nine out of ten and said “nine because it’s short”. Did you have to cut a lot of material? Do you have enough footage for another movie?

Luis Alegre: —We recorded, more or less, twenty hours of conversation with him.  No matter how fascinating, we had to keep in mind that it was just a guy talking, so in the end we settled for a duration of eighty-five minutes, which is the average length of a conventional film. Of course, we left out a lot of footage. Some of that footage was included in the extras on the DVD, but we were forced to leave out a lot of footage.

David Trueba: —It was a very hard film to edit because we were very demanding. We had to make sure that it didn´t become boring or tiresome for the viewer. We wanted it to be a movie were people would be left, like the critic said, wanting more. We wanted them to come out saying, “well, I could have watched that for an hour longer”.

The person who gives us an hour and a half of their time, to watch something we make, deserves the best possible treatment. So the editing was very hard. We were asking ourselves for a long time, “Should this piece be cut or not?”, “Let’s think about it, because this goes well here, but this is too long”, etc. So we spent a lot of time polishing it and left out things out about Fernando’s profession because we didn’t want it to dominate the film. So thanks to very careful editing of the DVD, we were able to include two extra hours of footage, for those (and luckily there were many) who watched the hour and a half of La silla de Fernando and thought, “I’d like to hear more of Fernando’s opinions about this or that”. They now have the option of watching it there.

But for us, the film is the way it is and that’s the way it has to be. We always said, when we were presenting it, that it was a very spectacular film for us, because Fernando was a spectacle that was extremely difficult to recreate. Fernando was a juggler of words, of conversation, and also a person who recounts 20th Century Spain in a completely indirect way in this film, and yet it’s as clear, if not more so, than most history books.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Do you have another protagonist you’d like to put in the spotlight?

David Trueba: —That’s extremely difficult because that spot is unique. What we do have, since we had such a good time working together, is a another project, with Luis and myself collaborating again but in a format that exploits all of Luis’s qualities as a collaborator, his skill as a great interviewer, a person with enormous curiosity, who people naturally trust.

Every now and then we think about the idea of getting together again and working with one of those rare characters in Spain, who can not only tell us something interesting about themselves but also shed some light on our world, our country, our culture, the way we are now or our evolution over the last few years. What happens with those projects in the end? Well, the best thing to do is not to mess with them until you actually do it. The one with Fernando Fernán Gómez, for example, was something we never mentioned. It was something we had inside but until you do it, the best thing is not to mention it.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Since we´re in Ireland, a country where many movies have been made, maybe you could even come here?

David Trueba: —Of course, Ireland is a mythical place for us. Not only for the great literature, great music and great cinema it has given us, which has also inpired countless directors in the US. But it also proves something we have been insisting on for a long time in Spain, that the great legacy of a country is its culture, nothing else. It’s not its economy, which is ambivalent as it rises and falls. It’s not, of course, its military prowess, nor its industry, The great legacy of a country, its big personality or large flag, is what it leaves behind culturally.

When you visit Ireland, or Dublin, which has been a pleasure for us, , you discover that the thing the Irish can probably be proudest of is their poets, their writers and the sense of identity they have as a country, much more than other ideas the world of politics or the media try to sell to us.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Speaking of Ireland, a few days ago, I was listening to the radio and heard the question “If anyone had ever been stuck in a bathroom?”. Oddly enough, you can’t imagine how many people called in saying that they had. There were all kinds of anecdotes.

Luis Alegre: —I got stuck in a bathroom once as a child, now that you mention it. Yes, I think we all have in our history a moment in which we have been stuck in a bathroom.

Carmen Sanjulián: —It reminded me, of course, of your movie, Madrid 1987, which has been really successful. Is it based on a real story, did somebody tell you this?

David Trueba: —It’s based on a real anecdote about two people who got stuck in a bathroom, similar to the characters in the film. After that, everything was recreated, invented, the characters are completely fictitious. But it´s curious because in Spain, as well, after the movie, loads of people told me their experiences, not only about getting stuck somewhere, but also about the relationships between two people of very different ages. It’s very interesting how movies urge people to tell you their personal experiences and one of the things I´ve enjoyed most is that the film conveys the experiences of many people. Sometimes people say to you, “that’s impossible”, “that can’t happen”, “that can’t be”, and you say “if I told you the number of stories I’ve been told over the last few months…”

Carmen Sanjulián: —Lastly, I love the beginning of the book Cuatro amigos, about things that are overrated. Should we add anything else to that fantastic list? Should we cross anything off? What do you think?

David Trueba: —Well, I think, unfortunately, there are many overrated things in life. The ones that worry me the most are those that make people’s lives difficult. Because in the end, overvaluing something becomes a part of a person´s way of life. It´s true that you give importance to some things and that’s how it should be, but what worries me is when overvaluing something makes us unhappy, makes life difficult. In that sense, I think the last few years have taught us that money, as much as everybody insisted on it, from the stories we were told, from our parents, etc… well, it´s obviously been proven that money is not the most important thing in life. It´s more important to fill your life with things that make you feel alive.

It´s true that everyday I find more overrated things, as well as things that are undervalued. People don’t realize how important friendship is, how important giving pleasure to others is, how important it is to have a culture, an interior life that allows you to bear the loneliness, that allows you to bear the path of life that typically leads to decline, etc. People pay little attention to all these values in life, and in the end, they are everything.

Recommended links

About Félix Romeo

About Fernando Fernán Gómez

< List of interviews

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