May 16, 2008 Brooklyn, New York
Tonight I finished reading Julio Cortazar’s short story “Final del Juego”. Since I will be spending the summer in Buenos Aires in a few months, I am trying to get a feeling for the city and for the people. As a mother of two 13 and 11 year-old girls (Maya and Noa), I am drawn to Cortazar’s depiction of a seemingly quiet yet tumultuous moment in three pre-adolescent girls’ lives. Letitia, Holanda and the narrator (un-named) are spending a few weeks together in a house near the train tracks. Each day they perform a series of “sculptures” and “attitudes” on a landing looking out over the tracks of a commuter train as it speeds by. One afternoon, an older boy throws them a note from the train window, indicating that he has been watching them from afar. The girls are transfixed, exhilarated, confused by this attention. The game continues for a few weeks longer, anonymously. Then one day, the boy get off the train and the girls finally have a chance to meet him. Their conversation is brief, stilted, and uninspired, nothing like what they had imagined. The game is, alas, over.
The painful realization so cleverly hidden behind whimsy, dramatic play and baroque costuming reminds me of the time my own girls are experiencing in their lives now. I want to turn this story into a experimental film, one that “documents” and explores these sensations that are so close to the ones I too knew in my early teenage years.
June 26, 2008
We’ve arrived in Buenos Aries and I am ready to begin thinking about making Cortazar’s story into a film. Problem is, I don’t know any other girls, let alone a 15 year old boy, and I only speak a bit of Spanish. I suppose Maya and Noa will be thrilled to perform, but I want this project to bring me closer to the country while I am here, so it seems that the only way to start is by integrating local people into the production. My dear friend, Paula Felix Didier, now director of the Buenos Aires Cine Museum, volunteers to serve as a make-shift casting director. She quickly, I’d say magically, finds two wonderful Argentine girls who are the daughters of close friends. Lena and Chiara Peroni, ages 12 and 10, will join our esteemed cast and I will transform the three “protaginistas” into four, no problem. Their mother Bettina Nanclares will play the mother. We decide to use their new house in Martinez, a suburb of Buenos Aires as our home location, which is appropriate since the story takes place in an un-named town on the very same Mitre Line they use every day.
Lautaro Cura, a 15 year-old boy who is the son of another friend of Paula’s, also enthusiastically agrees to join the group as the boy on the train named Ariel. We go to his home at 11 PM one evening to discuss the logistics and discover we will need to organize our production around the schedule of his academic exams and rock and roll band practice. A meeting with a prospective actor for a movie at midnight might seem odd in New York, but in a matter of just a few days, I have discovered that everything of any import in Buenos Aires seems to take place in the middle of the night. No wonder I have already learned the word “madrugada” after less than a week Argentina. In English we don’t even have a word for the early morning hours just before sunrise. We are all asleep at that time. In desperation, I ask Paula to double up on her rolls in this production. She agrees to play the esteemed roll of Tia Ruth.
July 1, 2008
I have read just enough about Argentine film production to know that collaboration here is not just a matter of necessity but is also a highly respected form of cinematic production. I invite three marvelous Argentine filmmakers to join me in this collective endeavor. I first saw Pablo Marin’s and Leandro Listorti’s lyrical Super 8 experimental films when I came to Buenos Aires last year for the film festival. They both see the world through a distinctive, curious lens so I am thrilled they have agreed to shoot the Super 8 and video sections of the film. In addition, they begin to show me the history of Argentine experimental film, starting from the 1960’s to the present. In this melieu, I watch the transportive, often dream-inspired films of Narcisa Hirsch, Claudio Caldini and Lucrecia Martel which give me a deeper sense of the visual textures of the urban and rural landscapes surrounding me. Tomas Dota, a member of the staff of the film festival and a precocious film student, will also help with the production. We spend a few weeks planning. At each meeting, Maya, Noa and I become a bit more comfortable with the delightfully obligatory series of “hola” and “adios” kisses. I put everyone’s phone number into my new BsAs cell phone. My daughters start listening to the pop music of Fabiano Cantilo and Julieta Venegas and eagerly await the premiere of Disney’s “Desafio” (Latin American version of “HIghschool Musical”). We start a “sabor” competition between various brands of alfahore. I feel that this is home for the time being.
July 18, 19 and 25,
During this week, I show a series of experimental films that my partner Mark Street and I made in New York at the Palais de Glace, Palacio Nacional de las Artes. www.palaisdeglace.org. This will also be a week of pre-production. I fall in love with the Cotillion and costume shops on Calle Lavalle in Once. The colorful stores full of mannequins, bright fabrics and other superfluous yet splendid wares remind me of the Lower East Side of New York City. With Tomas’ guidance, I obtain Super 8 film stock for our production from a special, somewhat secret source in town. I learn to take the Collectivos and how to horde my “monada” so that I can actually get on the bus with the necessary coins. We try our best to understand the political dynamics that are part of the tensions between the Argentine farmers and the Argentine government. There seems to be a charged yet fascinating crisis brewing.
July 27, 2008
Production begins in Martinez. We will shoot every day this week for approximately 6 – 8 hours a day. This is the first week of Lena’s and Chiara’s winter vacation so I am lucky enough to have their complete attention. Inspired by the charged, tight-knit home environment I saw in Lucrecia Martel’s “La Cieniga”, I try to create a spirit of emotional electricity in the Peroni home. As the children move through the rooms of this austere 1970’s haute-modern house, they investigate their various costumes and begin to understand the personalities of their characters. Lena is playing Letitia which is probably the most difficult role: a girl with a pronounced physical disability that makes her posture look awkward and wrought. She is haughty, brilliant and vulnerable. Chiara plays Holanda, who is clever, patient and naughty. Maya plays the narrator (whom we name Elena), an observant, overly responsible girl who feels her changes of life painfully. Noa plays Pilar ( a name all of the girls adore), the fourth, invented character, who is playful and wily.
As a way to get “into character”, I ask them to play a game I have invented called “House Taken Over”, inspired by Cortazar’s haunting story of a brother and a sister who discover that their home is inhabited by the voices, and perhaps the people who own these voices. They run manically through the house trying to escape the frightful sounds, and ultimately end up outside their very own front door – homeless in a way. Leandro Listorti follows the girls with his video camera, as the girls inhabit their characters in the process of playing the game. This theater game then leads us to the film shooting of all the interior scenes.
July 28 and 29, 2008
Each girl has one scene in the film in which she discovers some aspect of urban life. While not precisely in Cortazar’s “cuento” I felt it would add to the sense of the characters to see them outside the comfortable environment of the home. All of this material is shot with the Super 8 film to give these scenes a more textured, timeless quality. Leandro Listorti shoots with Chiara on the broad Parisian steps of the the Plaza Francia. Pablo Marin shoots with Noa under the shockingly modern sweep of the Bibliotecha National and in Ricoleta Cemetario. Tomas Dota, Leandro and I take Maya and Lena to the cotillion stores of Once and along Corrientes, Buenos Aires’ Broadway chock full o’ elegant, crowded bookstores, three story pizza parlors with elderly men in silk scarves around their necks. Amidst this milieu, there is also a strange sense of urgency and uncertainty and one must be a bit vigilant and constantly aware, in that urban way we have learned by heart in New York, in order to stay solid and just slightly self-assured, walking through the city streets with girls in costumes.
July 30, 2008
I am getting to know the train route between Capital Federal and Martinez. Today we spend another 8 hours in the home of the Peroni’s. Paula Felix Didier joins us in her role as Tia Ruth with Betina Nanclares who is the mother. We have an outrageous time in the kitchen, following Cortazar’s story rather closely. In these scenes, naguhty Holanda sneaks into the kitchen to throw wet spoons across the floor and hot water (we faked this) on the dog. Leandro shoots gorgeous video footage of this hilarious sequence of the events and I imagine that our laughing can be heard to the end of the block. Perhaps one of those ubiquitous security gaurds stationed in a booth at every corner is wondering what on earth we are all up to. Later there are quiet scenes in Letitia’s bedroom as she write her private letter to Ariel.
July 31, 2008
We are all exhausted. Recreo and pausa are good words to know. I go shopping in Once for more props and costumes.
August 1, 2008
One of the most challenging days of all. We spend about 5 hours at the train station, shooting the girls in their various wacky, poignant, monsterous and beguiling statues and attitudes, all on the grass just beside the train. Everyone is prepared with a cell phone because we must coordinate Ariel’s ride on the train with the girls performances. Pablo and Leandro shoot video, I am running around with my 16mm Bolex. Tomas is on the train with Lautaro who is in a grey suit with a book bag as Ariel. We know all the people in the station, on the sidewalk and on the train are watching us but we throw caution to the wind and keep going. The girls at first are ever so shy and then they just become their characters and relish the world of longing and wonder that we all have created. The weather is very cold today but we prevail somehow, completely worn out but thrilled as the light disappears and we must go home.
August 2, 2008
Pablo Marin and I take Lautaro (Ariel) and my daughter Maya (the narrator) to the Retiro train station to shoot the nightmare scene as Cortazar had imagined it. The minute we pull out Pablo’s Super 8 camera we are told to leave by the police. I had spotted an even more nightmarish location for our “pesadilla” scene on my way to the station, a magnificently grotesque sculpture garden behind Retiro, full of dinosaur size animals built by Argentine railway artist Carlos Ragazonni. So we walk to this daunting, hidden, hellish, fantastic place and decide we are lucky to have been evicted from the station today.
August 16, 2008
Our last production day is a continuation of the narrator’s nightmare. I ask my friend Ynes Oyarbide, a psychoanalyst and a photographer, to join us as an artist consultant. Her understanding of and appreciation for the layers of meaning behind and inside dreams sparks wonderful tableaux vivant that I think can only enhance this aspect of the movie. We shoot in a wooded area right next to the Mitre train tracks in Parque Palermo. Here three of the girls, wearing moon masks, dance like ghosts under the trees while the narrator searches for them in a game of “Gallito Ciego” (similar to our Blindman’s Bluff). Later, the narrator believes she has failed in the Cortazar game of “statues and attitudes” and looks down at her feet to discover they have become chicken legs. Lastly, all four girls hurl 20 messages, that resemble the ones that Ariel had thrown them, back onto the train tracks. In my mind, the girls are announcing that they are not dependent on Ariel’s messages for their happiness, but of course who’s to say what any of these wild and wonderful images we have made over the last month really mean. That will be up to our audience to decide.