Interview: David Trueba talks ‘Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed’, Spain’s Oscar Submission

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This week I got the chance to have a Skype interview with one of Spain’s top directors David Trueba, whose latest film Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed was chosen as the Spanish submission for the 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was released in Spain last year and was a major success, winning 6 Goya awards. As the film attempts to crossover to American audiences, we discussed the inspiration behind the film as well as his career in general. Despite some technical difficulties during the interview we managed to have a fruitful discussion:

Shane Slater: What attracted you to this story?

David Trueba: This story of the teacher coming to know John Lennon was not known in Spain. So when I read it in the paper, I was attracted to this character who was living during the time of Franco. This teacher trying to do a good job with the kids. I love these types of people, anonymous figures who are doing a great job out of the public light.

SS: Filmmakers are sometimes criticized when they manipulate the events of true stories for dramatic effect. Did you ever feel any pressure to keep the script as close to the actual events as possible?

DT: No, because from the beginning I didn’t want to make a biopic about the teacher or Lennon but to use the anecdote as a metaphor. In general I hate the biopic genre, so i didn’t use the teacher’s real name. Also, he has only become famous in Spain after the film. So i had complete liberty to take my own approach to the narrative.

SS: For this film you had a mix of veteran actors like Javier Cámara with some newer faces. How did you go about casting the film and getting that great chemistry between the actors?

DT: I always wanted to work with Javier Cámara because he is for me, very related to the great Spanish actors of the 50s and 60s. So I was trying to also get this capacity in the young actors, because usually young people now are very contemporary in their appearance and the way they behave.

I found this incredible actress Natalia de Molina. She was studying acting in Madrid, but she was the character I was looking for. She was from the south of Spain. In the case of the kid (Francesc Colomer), he lives in a very small village close to the French border. So he is not a very contemporary young guy who goes to the disco and has that kind of urban life that young people have today. To put all three together was more a question of tone, to let them feel the script and share a whole particular world. Trying to make them feel the trip in time, as well as the road trip inside the film.

SS: Your film has a very pleasant, warm tone despite being set in a dictatorial regime. Did you ever consider making it more of a “serious” drama?

DT: I don’t want to treat history as in history books. Real life is always very contradictory. You can live under a terrible regime and still have a family and a private life that is great and nice. So I wanted to portray that special quality of people to change the world from their individual behavior. In my opinion, the heroes of the Spanish transition from military dictatorship to democracy were normal people. The ones in the houses and schools. They changed our country. So I wanted to be faithful to these people, as well as my vision to not portray life like what is in the history books. I just wanted to show real life.

SS: As a screenwriter and novelist, are there any writers who have inspired your work in literature or film?

DT: Of course. I am very influenced by the Italian cinema of the 50s and 60s. Dino Risi, Roberto Rossellini, Mario Monicelli, Pietro Germi. For me, they were the Spain I couldn’t have because of the censorship and the religious control of art. In university, I became very connected to North American novelists. Philip Roth, James Baldwin, Alice Munro, Anne Tyler, Raymond Carver.

It’s probably a mixed influence now, in addition to my own experience. I come from a very humble family, the youngest of 7 brothers and 1 sister. So to have lunch at home was like going to a theatre and a conference hall at the same time.

SS: Was there any sibling rivalry, especially with your brother Fernando also being a director?

DT: Fernando is the third of the brothers. In my family, the real influence was the first one. He was a doctor, so everyone in the family that didn’t want to become a doctor was a failure and was non-important to the hierarchy of the family. I mean, I was a little bit in the artistic side, so Fernando was very helpful and always nice to me. He is a very generous guy and we became friends working together. I did three scripts for him.

SS: What’s next for you?

DT: In February I’m publishing another novel, it’s going to be my 4th. The title is Blitz and it tells the story of a young Spaniard who goes to Germany to get a job, something that is very common in our current crisis. It’s good for me to combine the two jobs as a director and a novelist.

SS: Haven’t spent some time in Los Angeles, do you have any desire to make a film in Hollywood?

DT: I studied for one year at the AFI in 1992-93 and I was happy there. But when I speak to all my friends and fellows from there, they say it is very difficult to make the films that you really want to do, the ideas that represent you and come from your personal experience. If I am able to get that amount of freedom, I would happily go. But I know the industry and it is very difficult. You have to have a big success in order to gain your complete freedom. I have that freedom in Spain and I love working here, expressing ideas related to my experience. I don’t want to become like another North American director. There are too many already.

SS: Are there any North American filmmakers you particularly like?

DT: Yes, I love Alexander Payne. In TV, I love David Simon.

Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed is currently playing the festival circuit. Click here for my review of the film.