Meet Rodrigo Plá – consummate director of La Demora

Rodrigo Plá

Wow.  Everyone is talking about La Demora down here in FICG27.  Fresh off its Berlin world premiere and jury win, the third film by Rodrigo Plá (Desierto Adentro, La Zona) is a masterful and moving piece about a struggling, single mother burdened by having to care for her aging Alzheimers-prone father, and who out of desperation attempts to find a way out.  The character-driven film is remarkable for its indelible performances and understated, moody and immersive atmosphere.  Rodrigo and his writer and partner Laura Santullo were so kind to respond to my questions, and in reading the responses below, it gives you an idea of the very thoughtful and deliberate approach in which the film was conceived, down to the very last detail. I’m thrilled to share with you the exclusive interview below.  I translated and edited Rodrigo’s answers into English as best I could.  Read the interview in full and in Spanish here.

CD: Congratulations on your world premiere in Berlin.  The Forum section in Berlin is supposedly where you find the most ‘daring films’.  Why do you think your film was selected in this section?

RP: I guess La Demora, although it’s a simple story, is relatively risky in its structure and form.  The plot is not shaped by the actions of one person who wishes something and makes a journey in search of that desire. It’s more like the narrative shows an irrational stall that interrupts and transforms a common and ordinary life.  Maybe that’s why the film is a two act story.  The idea was to avoid constructing a plot from the aspect of analyzing what happens. This effort is demonstrated from the script to the entire process in the creation of the film, and as a result there is a sobering, subtle way to guide the viewers’ emotions towards an unequivocal direction. We preferred to leave the character motivavtions much more subtle.  The construction does not emphasize the causes or consequences, because actually the act that is most important emerges from the character’s will.    For us La Demora is something of an experiment and perhaps that’s how the Forum programmers recognized it.

CD: The theme of taking care of our elderly is more and more relevant ( I also have a grandma in the same situation as Agustin), is this primarily what motivated you to tell this story?

RP: If there is anything sure in life its change.  In film we try to reflect with honesty what concerns us at every stage.  And nearing your 40s, your own mortality and that of your parents is naturally a big concern.  More specifically, with the film I wanted to capture two moments, that ‘impulsive’ act of the daughter, and second, the stubborn man who insists in waiting hours and hours, as if holding on to one last hope.

CD: The atmosphere is quite immersive, tell us about collaborating with your D.P. Maria Secco and your film score:

I try not to use concrete examples when going over process with my collaborators.  Eventually after talking it through there might be a reference, but the more abstract, the better.  My tools are the words and emotions, then whatever is is generated between what I think and what comes out of the script and the reinterpretation of what someone hears, given their cultural baggage and experience relative to it, that’s the creative act that forms the film.  This process has some risks because none of us have the exact science or formula.  You work with a lot of uncertainness, in constant doubt and regularly questioning yourself.  Maria Secco was key to the film.  She was there for location scouting to get to know the natural lighting of the sets and to shoot angles.  She used her imagination and made suggestions.  With such an inherently emotional story we wanted to avoid being melodramatic so we chose to use a camera approach that created some distance, that was a bit cold, which would contrast and result in some equilibrium.  We also chose to tell the whole story exclusively via the two characters, who would always be centered in the frame, leaving secondary characters in the margins.  It was decided that characters that only appeared once would even be only shown from their backs, or just a reflection or partly, or outright out of frame.  For the score we felt that we needed to balance out the camera’s approach and inversely, recoup that emotion from the script but again without overdoing it.  And for this approach Alejandro de Icaza was instrumental.  He practically subconsciously introduced sounds, a car alarm when she became agitated, the infuriating noise of construction work, the ambulance siren from a distance that comes with the arrival of caretakers who come to the rescue, and the signature music which reminds us over and over about the moment of abandonment.

CD:  Your actors, Carlos Vallarino and Roxana Blanco, are impressive and deliver such weight and naturalism to their roles, how did you find them and what kind of direction did you give them?

Roxana Blanco is an amazing actress well known in Uruguay and I was already familiar with her work.  Carlos Vallarino on the other hand is a retired architect and this is his first acting role.  I found him through a long casting process.  His ability to penetrate, to imagine and hold scenes, made him a fantastic and unexpected gift.  Both of them brought an immense sensibility to the roles.   Roxana’s precise methodology collided against the imperfect and lax approach of Carlos, all of which generated an energy and chemistry to the character’s internal crisis.  She would tense up against his dialogue or gestures and appear to be obligated to stay lucid and ready to adapt to any unexpected changes he might deliver. And Carlos would take on a sense of blame or fault, which in turn, to a certain extent, affected his confidence and made him feel he was indeed a burden. Oddly enough this created a relationship which was expected between father and daughter.  There was improvisation which wasn’t laid out in the script, and lots of on -ocation set rehearsals.  The actors would adapt to the space and learn how to relate to one another, and simultaneously we had the opportunity to recreate said space according to any needs that would arise. .

CD: The title, La Demora is translated as The Delay, do you think there is anything lost in translation?  I feel that the title’s meaning transforms itself organically over the course of the film – the delay can be taken as her hesitation to run away from her problem (her dad) but it also in the end works very casually as if is was some traffic jam that prevented her from going back to him.

RP:  It was in the moment that I came to the decision to use title towards the end, by placing it in the end, the story comes full circle and serves something like an epilogue.  In a way it synthesizes and breathes air into the drama and journey of the characters. What happened was only a delay, a momentary detour on the way to her natural and final destination. It is a bit like a game as if to say that it’s not a big deal when in reality a lot has happened – she’s transformed and has had an arc, she’s not only a daughter but a daughter and mother to her father. 

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