The Carancho director discusses his difficult childhood and filmmaking philosophy.
It’s hard to believe that Argentine filmmaker Pablo Trapero has been making feature films for a decade. He still seems so new, so fresh. That could be because half of them get cruelly withheld from Western audiences. Even after the relative success of 2008’s prison drama Leonera, it took him two years to make Carancho, and another two for the brilliant thriller to get a UK release. If you’re new to Trapero, think of him as the love child that William Friedkin, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino will never have. And get to know him a bit better below…
LWLies: Can you tell us a bit about your background. You come from a region called 'The Killing', is that right?
Trapero: Yes, more or less. My production house is called ‘Matanza’, and matanza means ‘killing’. That was the name of the area I came from.
Did you come from a tough background? Was it a difficult journey for you to get from a childhood where you were interested in film to becoming a filmmaker?
Yeah I suppose it was a difficult journey because at that moment it wasn’t easy to make movies, not only for young people but… I mean, it’s still a complicated thing today but back then the opportunities seemed like a long way from my hometown. My home was 300km from Buenos Aires and was a very different area than the city. I made a movie called El Bonaerense – that movie is based in the same location. But in terms of culture and opportunity it was really different.
In the ’90s it wasn’t easy to make movies anywhere so I went into film school and after a couple of years I made my first movie that was called Spoiled Brat. Things changed slowly after that, not only for me but for all filmmakers. That time in the ’90s was an interesting time to live through because there were a lot of people trying to make movies and do other things and say something about cinema, life and everything.
How would you describe your filmmaking philosophy? The impression we get is that there’s an extreme commitment to authenticity and I’m interested in what it takes to achieve that.
How do I say it? It’s strange because I love fiction and I love the whole spectrum of films. But even if I made a science-fiction movie I would approach it in the same way because I like the feeling that you can have in the cinema when you feel that you can touch the character. I don’t know how to explain it. The character is so close to you, you can feel it on the screen. But talking about real life… I like to talk about what is going on around me. Making a movie is complicated, expensive, you need the commitment of a lot of people and a lot of energy, and I think it should be worth it. I like to play with the rules of cinema but I also like to talk about things that we need to talk about.
There’s now an anti-carancho law in Argentina – does it make you happy that your film has had an impact in the real world? Are you somebody who wants to, in effect, change the world through cinema?
It’s maybe a kind of naïve feeling or idea, but I prefer it that way. I think that if things are going to get better, it’s up to us to do it. Life is complicated but I think it’s on us to make it better. So of course I like it when movies – not just my movies but any movie – say something or achieve something or change something. Of course I am very proud of what Carancho did. Of course I like it because it’s my movie, but I like it because it’s better for the environment in which we live. I feel myself as an audience being touched by movies and I consider things and I think about life and problems and fantasies and whatever. Movies, for me, are not just fiction, it’s something else in real life.
Carancho reminded us of Leonera in as much as both films are about confinement – one literally the other metaphorically. Is the idea of escape essential to the way you make films?
Drama generally is something… how do you say? Sometimes it looks like something far from you, far from your life. But sometimes it’s around you in every little thing that you live. When you see something in a movie or in other people’s lives you say, ‘Why didn’t they do this?’ or ‘Why didn’t they do that?’ It looks so easy to do something else or to go somewhere. But sometimes, even when it’s easy, you feel trapped. The solution might look easy but you have to understand why it doesn’t happen – why it’s so complicated to change something. I like to play with that small range where things could be so easy but they’re not. At the same time, it’s the heart of the drama because you want to go to point ‘A’ but you can’t. That is drama. You need to go to a place where you can’t. I like to play with this really obvious, archetypal set-up. Generally in fiction, a character needs to go somewhere else and this character always feels trapped – the point is how to make it real and how to make it believable.
Carancho is out in cinemas on March 2 courtesy of Axiom.