Viaje fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor. The second feature by the gifted Costa Rican writer-director Paz Fábrega played at the recent Tribeca Film Festival, and if there were an award given for Most Erotic Narrative Feature, it would have won in a landslide.
Kattia Gonzàlez and Fernando Bolaños.
TFF associate programmer Mallory Lance wrote: “After meeting at a party, Luciana [Kattia Gonzàlez, who has the beauty and personality to be an international star] and Pedro [Fernando Bolaños, handsome and personable as well] spark up a spontaneous rendezvous. Eschewing the fraudulent nature of traditional relationships, the pair embarks on a spur of the moment journey that takes them to the forest [where Pedro has a three-weeks assignment at a remote biological station]. As they explore the beauty in the nature that surrounds them, they camp out under the stars, go on hikes, indulge in the passions of their encounter, and discuss their personal beliefs surrounding love, obligations, and attraction.” After numerous delays, Luciana and Pedro, a marvelous screen couple, finally have sex before the infrequent bus will arrive to take her back to the city. She misses the bus. Fábrega (Agua Fria de Mar) made the black-and-white Viaje three years ago, but the death of her closest friend caused her to lose enthusiasm for the project, particularly because she thought it was so personal that critics would be indifferent toward it. Gonzàlez, who co-produced with Fábrega, pushed her to get it off the shelf and submit it to festivals, leading to its being accepted by the TFF for its world premiere and, surprisingly to her, terrific reviews. She says her film was intended to be “a thin cry in defense of fun and spontaneity.” After three years, she backs her theme even more, saying, “It is more important now to do things to make us feel alive.”
I had this conversation with the fun and spontaneous Fábrega during the festival.
Danny Peary: It was a long time between films.
Paz Fábrega: One of the reasons that I finally made Viaje was my bad experience on my first feature. I really wanted to try to make films in a way I could enjoy because shooting my first film had been such a nightmare. When I seeAgua Fria de Mar now, there are things that I really like, but I can never distance myself from what I was going through when I was shooting them. I’ll see a shot and remember that I was almost in tears when we were doing that because this person was in a fight with that person, all that kind of stuff. Everybody thinks it’s natural for producers and directors to yell at each other, but I’m not okay with that and if that’s going to be my life, I’m not sure it’s worth it. So I wanted to make a film that didn’t carry so much conflict for me. I really wanted to feel okay the whole way through. I needed to try that, and making Viaje proved to me that it’s possible to make a film on my own terms.
DP: Viaje is essentially a two-character movie so for you to enjoy making it I’d think you had to have a really good relationship with your two leads, Kattia González and Fernando Bolaños.
PF: Kattia auditioned for my first film. She wasn’t right for the role, but I really liked her and wanted to work with her after that. She reminded me that I asked her to be in a short that we didn’t make. After we made Viaje, she got into filmmaking and has directed her first film. Fernando I’ve known since we were in kindergarten together. And when we were 15 and in high school, we were in a theater group together. Then he went away and I went to London Film School [getting her Master's in 2006]. He saw my first film and wrote to me that he really liked it. So when I was ready to make this film I called Fernando and Kattia and said, “I want to do this project, but I can’t even tell you what it is. Are you up for it?” And they were up for whatever the hell I wanted to do. It was “Yes, we’ll do anything. We’re in your hands.” And it was such a privilege to work with actors like that. I think that’s the way it should be: “We love what you do, it doesn’t matter what it’s about, we know it’s going to be done in a certain way and we want to be part of it.” The three of us really got along.
DP: No arguments at all?
PF: I don’t think there were, no. Any conflict? Not really. There were times when we were shooting when it got a little bit difficult, and someone would say, “I don’t want oatmeal again!” We camped out in this national park, there were seven of us. The two actors and the crew, which was four people, and me. And we all slept in one big tent. And I cooked every meal. Each day we’d get up, have breakfast, go and shoot, take some sandwiches along, and in the evening all sit around together. It was really fun. That’s the way I would love to shoot always. We spent two weekends in San Jose and nine days up at the volcano, and then we did one reshoot that was like 24 hours long and another that was just one scene that took only a couple of hours.
DP: In the rehearsal process what were the things you talked about?
PF: We rehearsed maybe six times before we started shooting. A lot of the rehearsals were really just lunches–we’d go out together and talk about various things. We talked about our relationships, including how we felt at certain moments. What were the defining moments of the relationships? At what point did we decide we had to get out of this, or when did we decide this other thing was important? We talked a lot about our experiences and shared stuff like that.
DP: You made this film three years ago. Was it important that you made it when you were that age, rather than now or even later?
PF: Yes, because it was very much about something that was going on in my life and the actors’, too, at that time. We wanted to make a movie about what we were going through. We wanted to talk about our love lives and a lot of things we couldn’t really name.
DP: Considering how gorgeous Costa Rica is, why did you choose to film in black & white?
PF: Costa Rica’s landscapes are so beautiful but when we were doing location photography we saw that the forest was too green on color film. There was the danger of my film looking like a nature documentary or a tourist brochure. I thought black-and-white was more the aesthetic I wanted to show the landscape and nature in a different way.
DP: You filmed in the Rincón de la Viaje Volcanic National Park. You’ve filmed in Costa Rican national parks before.
PF: It’s hard not to want to shoot in nature in Costa Rica. You think that maybe you should just set your film in the city to make it easier, but it’s hard to stay away from these amazing places. You can just keep going to places that you want to shoot because they’re beautiful.
DP: I was thinking of Tarzan and Jane living alone in the jungle. Are you making a thematic link between people and nature?
PF: That is important in my life, I think nature isn’t just a setting but interacts with our emotions very much. I’ve always felt that way, maybe just from growing up in a place where nature is so exuberant. I do feel nature changes things. You go to a place that’s one way and it just changes how you feel, it gets inside you.
DP: As with Picnic at Hanging Rock, there’s a sensuality in your images of nature. Did you know that your images of the forest, water, and the tunnel were going to come across as erotic and sensual on film?
PF: Yeah, definitely. There are images that just say so much. And you don’t even feel them, they’re just there. Tunnels for me are really important.
DP: The films you list as your biggest influences in your press notes–Five Easy Pieces, Muholland Drive, A Separation, Boyhood, Badlands and others–don’t remind me of your film at all.
PF: I think the biggest influence is Mike Leigh, just because of his way of approaching a subject and working with actors on scenes, and giving yourself freedom to search out the things that are going to make the film really strong.
DP: I would never think of Mike Leigh in regard to Viaje, although you both seem to crunch people within the frame.
PF: Yeah. I like to get close. I think that’s it, I just really like to observe.
DP: There’s also a lot of touching in his movies, too. Although only you explore the theme of characters communicating through sex.
PF: I think that’s very important in this film.
DP: You mention Richard Linklater’s Boyhood as an inspiration, but I would have thought Before Sunrise. He has his two young strangers talking for a long time and though there is an undercurrent of sex in their chatter they don’t become physical until late in the movie. You delay the sex in your movie, too, but Luciana and Pedro are physical immediately, even kissing a few seconds after they meet at the costume party.
PF: Before Sunrise is very much about conversations and I understand that because I don’t particularly like sex scenes in films. And I don’t feel super confident doing them properly because it’s hard with actors to get really interested in it. It’s really daunting.
That opening scene was in my house. I thought it was funny because they’re so drunk that he tries to kiss her out of nowhere, and she’s like, “No,” but then “Maybe,” and she goes to him.
DP: our film strikes a chord because it is strangers having a sexual interlude.
PF: People have asked me, why don’t they have sex in the first forty-eight hours?
DP: Because you didn’t want them to! It could have happened in the bathroom at the party or in the taxi or in his house before she decides to go with him to the forest.
PF: I put it off because I wanted them to have sex the first time in the park right before she knows she is about to leave. That’s why it happens. She knows she’s going to go away right after on the bus, so it’s okay for it to happen.
DP: Kattia is in a committed relationship, but we and Pedro don’t learn this until later in the film.
PF: Exactly, after they have sex. She thought it was okay to have sex because she would leave right after and they wouldn’t have to deal with it, but when she gets left behind by the bus it gets awkward. It sort of puts things in a different place. The second time they have sex is completely different from the first time. They know they feel things for each other and that it’s going to…
DP: Is hurt the right word?
PF: Maybe. It was important to me to they have a particular sex, a hurried-up sex. They know it’s going to be painful for them after.
DP: Do you want viewers to think they’re a perfect couple?
PF: No, I don’t think so.
DP: I think that they are. But you think they aren’t perfectly matched and it’s not just that it’s the wrong time and place for them to make it last?
PF: I think they’re perfect for each other for what they’re doing, but I don’t know how they would be in a different circumstance.
DP: Do you think they have such intensity in their relationship that they’d burn out as a couple if they spent any more time together?
PF: It could be. They would have to try it out, and I think one of the reasons they don’t actually is that she doesn’t know if that’s going to work.
DP: My interpretation is that she does realize they’re the perfect couple, and she runs away from that because it’s too scary.
PF: I think that’s an okay interpretation. Sometimes you meet someone who is amazing, and it makes you want to just turn around and leave. Maybe because you think it’s not going to be amazing any longer, or maybe because you’re worried that it is going to be amazing always. I don’t know what it is.
DP: I won’t say what Luciana costume wears to the party because she won’t even explain it to Pedro, but I think it’s an important choice because it signifies she doesn’t want to grow up.
PF: Kattia’s 29, and Pedro’s around that age, and they want to hold on to a lot of the things they feel they have to give up in order to grow up. They want to be playful and they still feel that childlike part is very much alive in them. And that’s not a bad thing. I don’t think adults acting like children is often portrayed in a positive light. That’s weird, because I think the world would be better if adults were more like kids. We go around buying stuff like crazy, and we need so much security and all these things, but what actually makes us happy and brings us joy are still the same things as when we were kids—or the adult versions. When you were a kid, you ran into other kids at the playground and right away you were friends. That’s the kind of thing we need now for us to be happier as grown-ups. We don’t need the house or the car or all this other stuff. We need to be more present for and more open to and more playful with each other. So it upsets me that so often childlike behavior in grown-ups is portrayed as irresponsible or out of place.
DP: Your movie makes the argument that casual sex is fine.
PF: It is, yeah.
DP: When you made this film as a defense of fun and spontaneity, were you thinking that people aren’t going to agree with you?
PF: No, I didn’t think of that because casual sex is almost like a given today.
DP: Not as a theme in serious movies.
PF: I noticed that later. It’s kind of like, it’s never okay. It’s something you do but you should feel bad about it, and you should try to stop that. But I don’t see any real problem with it. I think because it’s seen as a bad thing, we don’t talk that much about how casual sex can be okay. It is a form of human interaction that has always existed and is totally natural. It is important to talk about, it’s important to be generous and to be kind and to be present.
DP: What’s interesting about your movie is that Kattia laughs and jokes for half the movie, and then she doesn’t after they have sex. So does she feel guilty about having sex with Pedro when she has kept her other relationship a secret?
PF: Maybe a little bit guilty, yeah. But more than anything, conflicted—because if she starts to feel attached to Pedro then she has to make a hard decision she doesn’t want to make. She gets more serious, but she wants to leave before it gets too serious for her. Because he didn’t have all the information, he gets a little bit more hurt, I think.
DP: What was the biggest challenge about making this film?
PF: Finishing it. I put it away for a long time, and during that time I honestly didn’t know if I would ever finish it. I mean, I think during most of the time I didn’t think I was going to be able to. But Kattia said, “We should send it to festivals.” It was hard not having a post-production team. I don’t mind during pre-production and shooting to organize a lot of stuff myself. But it is really hard, being in charge of all organizing and coordinating that comes afterward. The sound was done in Chile and the color correction was done in Mexico, but then it didn’t work and we had to redo it in Costa Rica. I would have given anything just to have a good editor and a post-production coordinator.
DP: How has being at the Tribeca Film Festival been for you?
PF: It was really unexpected. I was really excited because my sales agent said, we’re going to do the international premiere either in TriBeCa or Beijing. I was like, “Wow, I really hope it can be in New York City.” And it’s funny, because the last time I saw my best friend who passed away was here in New York. We had an amazing weekend together, and then she was ill in China. It’s a city that I love and I lived here for a few years when I was younger, and it has all those good memories of the last time I spent together with my best friend. So when the film got in here, I was so, so, so happy. It was really meaningful to me, particularly since it’s her birthday tomorrow. And the response has been amazing. I really wasn’t expecting that at all, because Viaje is such a small, personal film. I’m really proud of it, but I wasn’t expecting much to happen around it, and it has turned out that people really like it, so it’s been fantastic.
DP: So are you reenergized as filmmaker?
PF: I think so. I’m really looking forward to making more movies!