Diego Lerman established a relationship with Norwegian moviegoers in 2003 with his debut film Suddenly, distributed by Arthaus. The film is a refreshing and unconventional depiction of sexuality and identity, and since then Lerman has made four other feature films and gone from being one of the most promising talents in Argentinian cinema to become one of the country’s standard-bearers at international festivals.
With frequent premieres in Cannes and an increasing degree of seriousness and social consciousness in his films, Diego Lerman has positioned himself on the international film stage as a chronicler of important social issues and gripping human fates; a conspicuous progression for Lerman from the youthful, casual energy in Suddenly.
In connection with Lerman’s visit to Oslo, in addition to A Sort of Family, Films from the South will also screen Suddenly and the mother/son-drama Refugiado (2014), in the festival’s Director’s Special Portrait-section, where Lerman also will participate in a lengthier conversation about his filmography. Solid and multifaceted female characters are found in all these three Lerman films and the director’s eye for how their fates are shaped by (and can be divorced from) the patriarchal Argentinian society becomes visible through the films’ subjective perspective and the plain honesty of the script.
In the interview below we talk with Lerman about his filmography, his thematic and narrative choices, and the ongoing wave of quality films from Latin America.
Karsten Meinich: We will see three of your films under this year’s Films from the South-festival. Suddenly (2002), Refugiado (2014) and A Sort of Family (2017), they all have in common travel is used the narrative tool and the emotional axis for your characters. Can you tell us about the meaning of travel as a motif, for you and in your films?
Diego Lerman: Yes, I used travel as a narrative tool in these three films to insert my characters in an unfamiliar situation, where they had to redefine who they are and what they want. Travel is for me one of the great motifs in both literature and film. I have used travel a bit differently in those two films. In Suddenly the story is primarily about falling in love and sexuality, and I wanted to explore what love is. Is it a precise moment one can say that love occurs, and does attraction and love happen at the same time? This film has both an outer and an inner journey.
In Refugiado the travel is an escape. A small boy and his mother are moving because the mother has been violently abused by the boy’s father, that’s looking for them. I wanted to convey this from the child’s perspective, because he doesn’t understand what is happening and because the escape from his father is more complex for him: Why can’t we meet dad? One day he will grow up, and then the question is; will he be like his father or will he protect his mother? Finally we have A Sort of Family, a sort of moral road movie. I wanted to write a dichotomy in the main character; that she’s suspicious and nice, transparent and dark, at the same time. She wants to adopt a child, but we explore her as antiheroine: how far is she willing to go? Meanwhile the story paints a picture of the class differences in Argentina and the moral and ethical questions that are bound with the question of illegal adoption.
KM: I am very fond of your debut film, Suddenly, which played in Norwegian theatres in 2003. Can you say some about what that film means for you today, 15 years after you made it?
DL: Thank you, that is nice to hear – Suddenly is a film with a special place in my heart. We used three years to make it, in black and white on Super 16mm, and the shoots were done whenever I had free time on the weekends – without money. But it has many ideas, and I really tried to capture what film was for me. I never knew if I would ever finish but one day it was ready, and suddenly I was a filmmaker.
KM: Your latest film, A Sort of Family, tackles a complicated issue – illegal adoption – in an interesting way, with the focus as much on the personal as on the political. Why did you choose this subject and how did you find the story?
DL: This is my most political film. The subject came about because a friend told me her story, about how she had adopted a child. I immediately thought this could be the premise for an interesting film, but didn’t do anything with it until years later. After I had completed Refugiado, I returned to this idea and took the story of A Sort of Family with the same concept as Refugiado but just backwards. If Refugiado is about the dissolution of a family, A Sort of Family portrays the building of a family.
I did a lot of research while we wrote the script, and in these discoveries I found several moral opposites that became more interesting to me than the adoption alone. It was then, when I had all these elements that I found the story and could make the film, as a moral thriller with a dichotomous main character.
KM: At this year’s Films from the South a large number of films from Latin-America are screened, and in the last years we have seen the growth of many dynamic film communities in countries like Colombia, Venezuela and Chile, as well as Argentina and Brazil. What are your thoughts on Latin American film in 2017? Do you work across the borders?
DL: Yes, it is a stimulating time for the films made in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America. I collaborate frequently with other filmmakers, and I am involved as co-producer on films from countries as Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia. We are definitely in a new exciting period. Diversity and strong personal voices is something I define as characteristic to Latin American film, and I try to see as much new film from our continent as possible.
The generation I belong to grew up making films, and we are all about to mature as screenwriters and directors. Two years ago I was in the jury at the Havana Film Festival, where highlights from the international film festival scene are shown, and it was solely Latin American films in the selection – and it was a very strong selection. That made me realize how many remarkable filmmakers we have in the region, and that is very inspiring for the future.
Tickets to the three films by Diego Lerman that are shown in a Director’s Special Portrait-section at this year’s Films from the South festival in Oslo (9. – 19. November) can be found here; among them is his newest film A Sort of Family, which is participating in the main competition.
Intervjuet er presentert i samarbeid med filmnettstedet Montages.no