Interview: Luis López Carrasco
El Futuro starts off with a black screen. It’s 1982. The voice of Felipe Gonzalez, head of the socialist party, is announcing with studied optimism his acceptance of the newly created prime ministership, and his commitment to Spanish democracy, blossoming forth after decades of Francoist repression. You’re suddenly thrust into an apartment where a party is in full swing. The soundtrack of obscure Spanish punk and new wave songs provide a constant noise that often makes it difficult to hear the conversations going on. Some partygoers flirt while others chitchat about drugs and politics. You’re witnessing a watershed moment in history flitting by, its meaning obscured by small talk and having fun. “A 68-minute Warhol-esque microbudget portrait film, defiantly shot in 16mm, that bowls me over,” wrote Gavin Smith in his FC Rotterdam journal (March/April 2014). “Set in an apartment on the eve of the 1982 Spanish election that would bring the Socialists to power, it takes in an assortment of twentysomething partygoers, studied in singles, pairs, and groups, in a series of prolonged, attentive, but loose and informal medium shots.”
Luis López Carrasco cut his teeth working with the audiovisual collective Los hijos. With a firm foundation in experimental filmmaking, his first solo feature film shows Carrasco pushing formal boundaries, challenging himself, and asking questions about the source of Spain’s current political, economic, and cultural malaise. El Futuro takes on these issues, not with any overt commentary, but with more oblique avant-garde strategies. It has the look of a home movie—it could be found footage—but it’s carefully staged. A sequence of still photographs of happy Franco-era families appears, hinting at possible narratives. And then there are the mysterious black holes that appear at the end of the film, obscuring faces, as if freeze-framing the characters within the meta-confines of the film’s surface itself.
El Futuro screens October 5 as part of Projections in the New York Film Festival, after premiering in Berlin last January and making the festival rounds. FILM COMMENT caught up with López Carrasco back in May.
Let’s start off with the title of the film, El Futuro. The film takes place in 1982, yet as it progresses, the film is very much in the present tense. It exists as a sort of a counterpoint to the contemporary present. The “future” that the film refers to—is it the present, a possible future or an idea, in 1982, of the future?
I decided to look back to 1982 because of the way that Spanish society has behaved since 1982. The socialist party’s victory speech is when historians and the media claim that democracy began. So, it's important to me to say, that even in this party full of young people, you can see the seeds of the institutional and social collapse that we’re going to live 30 years later. The future that all these people have in their hands is… I don't know. It's a future that's going to land us in the final moments of the movie, to this moment of economic oppression that we're living in now. I always say that I made this film about a recent moment in Spanish history, when society thought that the future was going to be better, and it was made in a time in recent history when I have the opposite feeling.
When Spaniards watch the movie, they have the feeling that the party could have happened in ’82, but it could also have happened in 1992, or 2002. The film is a portrait of youth celebrating. The way they behave, the topics they speak about, are very, very familiar. It's like this new way, these new values, this idea that Spanish society had about being modern, has shaped the framework of how to behave.
There’s a general feeling that Spaniards turned their backs on politics in the Eighties. They decided to live in a free country, but only in a leisurely way. I mean, a lot of new values appeared in Spanish society, but all the strong commitments to leftist movements or engagement disappeared very, very, very quickly. And speaking about 1982 is speaking about how Spanish society in the Eighties, the Nineties, and the Aughts decided not to be involved in politics. And this is related to the moment we are living now where political parties are approving laws merely to maintain the power of the media, banks and financial institutions. The film starts in 1982 and the party goes on too long—just like the “party” of Spanish society, thinking that they’re rich and modern. So, when the sun rises in the movie, 30 years have passed. This crazy night has lasted 30 years and now you have this feeling of a huge hangover. It's a film about the impossibility of the Spanish society building any common future nowadays.
Still, when one thinks of the transition that Spain made from the Franco dictatorship to the young democracy of the late Seventies and early Eighties, there were things like La Movida Madrileña. It was a very creative time. Do you think there were some positive things that came out of this transition? Or do you think that it also had no future?
I think the transition was positive, because after the transition we had a democracy. There was a real danger when we had the coup d’état in 1981. There could’ve been an involution and we’d have had a military dictatorship, like in Argentina or Chile. So for 20 years there was an idea that transition was exemplary. The idea that every political party, the king, and even the ministers from the Franco era—all of them—made a huge commitment, and that was a very, very important moment. Spain was suddenly a mature and democratic nation. But it wasn’t real, because the transition was made in a very improvisational way, and the democracy that appeared after the transition was a limited democracy. We have to understand that we can improve institutions. We can improve the political parties. We can improve the constitution and we can improve the model of country we want. Let me be clear: it’s not a clean and perfect process.
There’s a general feeling now that that it’s going to stay the way it is now forever. For example, there are a lot of problems with Catalonia and in the Basque country. But the central government always says that the constitution is perfect, because transition was perfect. To them, there’s nothing more to say about it. There were a lot of problems and conflicts that were buried in that moment, and they have to be solved. And of course, after 40 years of dictatorship a society isn’t able to be democratic just in one minute. And my film speaks about that there was this illusion; an illusion in an optimistic, exciting way… an illusion in a way that you’re lying to yourself, like a mirage. I did some interviews with people that were 20 years old at that time and they all told me that there was a general feeling that everything was done; we were living in a modern democracy.
About a creative cultural movement like La Movida Madrileña, I think that there was a moment in the late Seventies that was about being cynical about politics—to just dedicate yourself to having fun and enjoying the present moment and living freely in a very joyful and hedonistic way, and laughing about all those very serious older brothers and sisters that were fighting against Franco. Because in the late Seventies there was a feeling of disappointment called el desencanto. The people wanted to have a revolution, to build a country, a socialist country, a country that wasn’t related to Europe or the United States. There were a lot of idealistic and utopian ideas about how Spain should be. And when most of these people who fought against Franco saw that the leaders of the political parties were making agreements with the king and the same Francoist ministers, and that the power was held by the same big enterprises, so there was huge sense of disappointment from 1976 to 1978.
So it was transgressive and subversive just to say that you only want to have fun and that you didn’t believe in politics. It was also related to the punk movement. So, I thought La Movida Madrileña from ’78 to ’82 was a very, very powerful and interesting and subversive cultural movement. I mean, Spaniards broke with Catholicism. It was a very, very huge movement: gay rights, women’s rights. It was linked to the underground, this cultural scene. And that’s very, very interesting. The point is that from 1982, the Socialist party used this cultural scene to build a kind of superficial culture. They institutionalized the punk movement.
The Basque punk scene seems to be completely different than La Movida Madrileña in that the music was entirely political and that was part of their protest against what was going on.
Of course, of course, I'm speaking of generally.
In the film, your characters talk about all sorts of things. They're talking about politics. They're talking about the economy. They're talking about the changes. They're making small talk. They're talking about drugs. But they're always being overpowered by the soundtrack of the times. And you seem to have chosen a lot of music from that scene that is actually fairly obscure, at least to me. I'm left with not so much the politics or the economics, but this kind of soundtrack for people’s lives in the Eighties. Could you comment on that? And why you chose these songs in particular.
I wanted to make the music very, very loud because we were trying to give you the atmosphere and the feeling of an amateur home movie. It was interesting for us just to use the aesthetics of home movies. But of course there’s a kind of metaphorical idea that in the Eighties, this party, this music, this way of living avoids the possibility of speaking or having any serious conversation or discourse about anything. That was the motive for using music so loud that it doesn't allow you to hear the dialogue in a proper way. It also allows you to be inside the party constantly. I wanted to use a soundtrack that isn’t well known as a way of telling viewers that there were a lot of things happening in the early Eighties, beyond the stereotypes. It was important to communicate that Spanish music was richer and more interesting and as pluralistic as the young society. I didn’t want to do a nostalgic or retro or melancholy movie.
Film-wise, I see several influences, but it seems with El Futuro there are probably two main stylistic tendencies going on. One is a sort of Cassavetes-style narrative, and then there's kind of a more experimental avant guard thing going on with black holes, the way the film is cut with jarring rhythms, and black film leader. Can you tell me about some of your influences for this film in particular?
I’ve had a strong interest in Cassavetes’s films since I was a film student—his way of approaching characters, his way of building atmosphere. The improvisations from Faces. . . they’re very present. And also I was very interested in Andy Warhol’s Portraits, even his Screen Tests, and of course films like Chelsea Girls, where you only have the fiction of a group of people on the screen and there’s not any real interest in any narrative from the filmmaker. So those movies were very, very important to me. I’m also interested in Spanish documentaries from the Seventies—independent, underground documentaries and experimental works from Ivan Zulueta. And also direct cinema—the Maysles brothers and Fred Wiseman. That, and in a more experimental and material way I was thinking of Michael Snow’s Wavelength. I don't know if it's exactly in the movie but I was thinking of Wavelength—the way the film itself shows time, using it in an expressive way. I also watched Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore as a way of thinking of young people and their behavior and of the atmosphere of disappointment after the utopian movement of ’68.
I was thinking particularly with the black holes. They reminded me very much of the structuralist films of the Seventies. And speaking of black holes, by the end the different characters disappear behind these circles of blackness. My impression is that the legacy and the faces of the generation of ’82 have disappeared. They're almost edited out. Do have any other sort of explanation for your use of that effect in the film?
Well, firstly, this is not exactly an effect. It’s the burn-out of the image. These black holes are made in the film laboratory. They make these holes in the film to mark the start and the end of the reel. We didn't use postproduction or any effects. We used things that there were in the film, in the negative. I knew that there was going to be a lot of information and marks and blurrings and burnouts and these holes in the image because of the 16mm camera. I've done other 16mm works with my director of photography, Ion De Sosa, and I knew this kind of artifact, by chance, could appear. I decided to use it.
Most of the songs in the film speak about the void and emptiness and. . . I don’t know, exactly. They could be a lot of things. People born in the Sixties, who were in their twenties in the Eighties, left a generational gap because many creative and working class young people died from the twin epidemics of heroin and AIDS. Another way to see it is this idea that the future of Spanish society is going to end in a kind of black hole—that the society and the democracy that is being built in that moment is not going to end in a good way. There’s also the idea that because of these black holes, the image is not complete: that we don't have a proper storytelling or a proper image of that decade, that the image of transition and the early Eighties isn’t complete. There are some critics that have connected these black holes with the idea of time tunnels. I didn’t think of it, but it’s interesting too. Could the black holes be like a time tunnel that links 1982 with 2014? I don't know. I'm not sure.