Rodrigo Cortés (Orense, 1973) swears that he does nothing to earn his status as a green dog in Spanish cinema. The ‘Buried’ and ‘Red Lights’ director, who has worked with stars like Ryan Reynolds, Robert de Niro and Uma Thurman, writes regularly for newspapers, publishes books, collaborates on podcasts and shoots his films almost in secret. Like ‘Love in its place’, the story of a theater company during the Warsaw ghetto, whose members perform a musical while shuffling escape from Nazi horror.
The film recreates the staging of a real play that provoked two hours of smiles for four weeks in the midst of hunger, cold and barbarism. Out of 400,000 Jews only 50,000 survived. Spoken in English by an international cast, ‘El amor en su lugar’ hits theaters on December 3.
– In the Warsaw ghetto there used to be a symphony orchestra.
-That’s how it is. It was not a sacred mission of the artists over the difficulties. Rather, they did what they knew how to do; The one who was a turner tried to stay that way and the one who played the guitar tried to keep playing the guitar. We tend to attribute the imagery of the concentration camp to the ghetto, but it was a complex, crowded and highly hierarchical society. There were rich and poor who died and nobody cared about them. And artists trying to make a living. Musicians played in cafes, there were poetry recitals, classical music concerts, underground libraries and theater. This play, which in literal translation from Polish would be ‘Love seeks an apartment’, ran for four weeks and was successful in the worst of the winter of ’42.
–Where there is culture, there is civilization.
-It has to do with that of ‘Jurassic Park’ of ‘life makes its way …’. In any circumstance the human being tries to remember that he is alive. And, indeed, culture is a clearly human form of expression, the artist cannot avoid communicating in the best possible way. Even in an ocean of darkness as dense and black as that period there is always a light that tries to shine. And I’m not trying to poeticize things too much, but it’s a fact.
“A joke can save a life, as demonstrated in that dazzling eleven-minute opening sequence shot.”
– I don’t know if jokes save lives in practice … That joke foreshadows what is going to happen next. This very play was very funny even though it spoke of the circumstances of the ghetto. It was written by Jerzy Jurandot, who was a playwright and big band musician, well known in Warsaw. He did not decide to do a work of denunciation, but a musical with songs and jokes about typhus, cholera, the beatings of the Jewish police …
“That’s right, fatalistic and vitriolic.” Everyone knew that code and laughed for two hours.
– What do you think of ‘Life is beautiful’, where the fable helped a child to survive in the Holocaust?
–The part I like the most is when Benigni makes up rules for his son. It’s funny, when you alter the glasses from where you look at something, you give it a different meaning. Then I remember more mellifluous softness, perfectly legitimate and that justify the enormous success of the film. I’ve tried to avoid them, because when you tell the story of people trying to live half an hour longer, narrative cleansing is complicated. You necessarily have to embrace ambivalence and contradiction, which is what defines any human being. That allows you not to literature things more than necessary.
–Culture also helped us to cope with the months of confinement.
– I would not dare to compare the Warsaw ghetto with what happens when we all watch Netflix … In any human group, even on a desert island, it will be important that one knows how to farm and that another is funny and knows how to sing. In any circumstance, no matter how hard it may be, there is always someone who is going to whistle and that is going to make life more livable for another.
“Someone to make us laugh.”
“Even at funerals.” Personally I am wary of anything devoid of humor, the best melodramas always have humor. It is a distant and indulgent look at things, which relativizes everything and allows us to contemplate it from an absurd angle. If there is no humor, it is not human.
-That humor is becoming more difficult not to offend. Some of the themes of his most recent novel, ‘The Extraordinary Years’, would come under the label of politically incorrect.
– The only thing that bores me more than political correctness are the heroes of political incorrectness. In general you can say what you want. If you go in to answer, justify yourself or wave a flag saying that it is a heroic act in a deaf society, you are lost. No one has to give you permission to say something. What are the consequences going to be? In general, none. What will happen to you? If you answer the question, you give power to 0.00003 of the population. It is scientifically proven that if someone brings a gasoline can and you don’t light a match, nothing happens.
Rodrigo Cortés, photographed in Bilbao. /
– He has just premiered on Prime Video his episode of ‘Stories to not sleep’, a remake of the legendary series. Would you have liked to be Chicho?
-Chicho was a pioneer who carpeted the ground that the rest of us step on. I have enormous respect for that Martian figure inventing things that did not seem possible. But each one has his life, I have never wanted to be anyone, not even Scorsese, who is my pagan god.
–Chicho was the first star director in Spain.
“Yes, our Hitchcock.” Directors weren’t stars, people went to the movies for actors, even now it happens. In fact, Chicho’s name is a thinly veiled transliteration of Hitchcock. He was the host who wandered into the living room and was recognized by everyone on the street. That did not happen with Benito Perojo or Luis Lucia.
“You have a well-earned status as a green dog.”
“I have never sought to be a rare bird.” Even shooting under the radar isn’t so much about Kubrick or Nolan secrecy, who make great movies that everyone else wants to know about. I just don’t advertise what I’m doing, I don’t put up security guards. The book was also written in coffee shops, without advertising it. It has to do with turning off all the noise around you, with not having a look behind your shoulder, with concentrating strictly on the work and not on its theoretical repercussions. In keeping the process as clean and quiet as possible. I believe less and less in announcing things ahead of time in a world with a 30-minute memory. It only makes sense to do it with artifacts like ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Harry Potter’, which have to be primed well in advance. It takes so much energy to do something that is basically an act of improbability, that you better focus all your energy on the pure creation and not on the accessory.
The leading company of ‘El amor en su lugar’.
–Sure that fear guides you when choosing projects.
-They have to scare you a bit, if you are not doing something that you have already done or know how to do. You are not likely to come out smarter than you come in. If something does not seem like a good idea to you, it is surely an interesting place to peek. You will have to move muscles that you did not know you had.
– Do you like the movies that come?
–Reality is what it is, you can say that you like candles more than electricity. Now, the liturgy of the cinema forces you to move, to lock yourself in a chapel, to turn off the world and have a collective experience. That doesn’t happen at home. Even when you see something very good, there is a part of your body that does not fully respect it. It does not leave the same sensory imprint. In any wall there is always a gap. We have had defeatist visions of things, each decade speaks with nostalgia of the previous one and considers that the world is ending. But the truth is that there are great movies in the 60s, in the 70s and now. Life will break through, like in ‘Jurassic Park’.