The Galician filmmaker Eloy Enciso has garnered attention for his previous film Arraianos (2012). Now with his new feature, Endless Night, his work continue sto explore the use of texts with non-professional actors to invite the viewer to a dark and mysterious journey through fascism during the post-Civil War years in Spain.
We interviewed the writer-director about Endless Night at its world premiere as part of the International Competition at the 72nd Locarno Film Festival.
NOTEBOOK: Endless Night seems to explore the social and political foundations of fascism. Could you please elaborate on your decision to set the film in the post-Civil War years in Spain?
ELOY ENCISO: When this project started, back in 2013–14, Spain was going through a deep economical and political crisis. I was myself having a bad time, almost broke and with no job. This situation was all around: in the conversations, in friends and relatives losing their jobs, so many friends emigrating. In the background, the media were bombing day and night a cocktail of political corruption, the threat of risk premium, the drama of evictions. I started to get interested, as person not as a filmmaker, in the reasons of this crisis and especially the failure of the institutions to deal with it. I first read some books about the democratic transition in Spain, back in the mid-seventies, as I thought the key facts to understand my present could come from that foundational moment of today's Spain. But soon I realized the further I was going back in time, the more the things I read were significant to me and were helpful in order to understand the present. I found this specially significant around the post-Civil War years, a period not so well known for our generation, who was educated in the key principle the social pact of the transition was based on: "if we want to move on, we have to leave apart our past, don't dig in it." So at some point, I was very much immersed in the reading of books from the late 30s and 40s, especially memoirs from Galicians who fled during or right after the Civil War, also others who decided or had to stay inside the country. I was enjoying it a lot and very much surprised myself about this intergenerational connection. Those people, most of them dead and with such a different life and circumstances, were much more lucid and accurate in portraying and somehow explaining my social and political reality than the current press, the politicians and opinion holders, et cetera.
NOTEBOOK: I was going to ask you later about this connection between past and present, as I don't feel Endless Night is a film about the past, regardless if it is set in the past.
ENCISO: Yes, that's the point. As I was discovering the dialogues of the characters that are now in the film—the liberal ideas of the business man, the submission of the old woman in the bus station, the populism of the candidate and other stories of exile and repression and fear the protagonist listens to along the film—I was myself surprised about how actual the echoes were, as if they were written based on our present. The connection between our grandparent's generation and my own experience was more and more evident to me, between the failure of the ones who lose the war and the need to assume the lie behind the maxim my generation grow up with: "we need to forget to move on." The film is an attempt to re-link them, but not from an historic interest, not to show what happened (facts from the past) but how it happened. Getting close to this idea that [Jean-Marie] Straub often says: "to make a revolution also means to put back into place things that are ancient but forgotten." The feeling that sometimes the past is a better mirror to understand today's reality than the actual present because the way things happen, "the method" as one character says in the film, is the same and it is easier to see that from a distance.
NOTEBOOK: What about the work with texts? How did you select the excerpts from plays and letters from the Franco regime? How was the work of editing them all together?
ENCISO: My first idea was, as it happened in my previous film Arraianos, to find a sole text as the basis for the film: a whole body of text to work the plot, the dialogues and the work with actors. But very soon I found out everything related to that particular period, the literature and the written memory included, is fragmented, suffering from a long process of dispersion and oblivion. The historical and cultural memory of the posguerra is part in the diaspora that happened right after Spanish Civil War, part in memoirs and oral history, part in the civil associations for historic memory, another part inside the official archives, which are disperse and with restricted access still today. I naturally started with the literature of the diaspora, as they were the only ones who could freely write and publish at that time. There, I found most of the texts for the first part of the film: Max Aub, Luis Seoane, and Ramón de Valenzuela. At some point I felt it was important to see how those who decided or had to stay inside the country experienced the dictatorship. Not the heroic life of the hidden guerrilleros in the mountains but the silent, antiheroic day-to-day life of the losers who were, apparently, also integrated in society. The second part of the film is based on fragments of their memoirs. The third chapter of the film is based on letters from prisoners of the time, women and men who wrote to their families and to the institutions while they were imprisoned. Referring to your question of how I edited all the material together, as I was going myself through this many-sided and complex process composed of different visions and points of view, I thought it was more intelligent and honest not to follow a conventional and univocal structure or plot with a perfect match of the different parts and points of view, but to present it as an exploration of them. I think it's to the viewer the right of drawing conclusions, if he actually wants to.
NOTEBOOK: How did the film structure in chapters came about?
ENCISO: As the sources and materials were diverse, the idea of chapters came from the first drafts of the script as a tool to organize this diversity. Also because I didn't want, at least from the very beginning, to try to knit too much the characters, situations and the plot. As I was saying, I was suspicious myself about the occupational habit in cinema of having an univocal and conclusive plot and narrative. As versions passed by, I was more confident about showing and making the viewer conscious about our recent history—especially the memories related to this period—being broken, weak, and dispersed. I feel is more honest. This also refers to the cinematographic language, as the film traverses different styles and the chapters were useful to be clear about this intention too. Finally, regarding the hidden pact between every film and the public, I really believe in the right of the viewer to build up, with freedom and imagination, its own vision of what is shown. My global intention along the process has been to create not as much a thesis about a historical period or a political system as a humanist, anti-violence sentiment.
NOTEBOOK: The Galician landscape also plays a key role on the film. How did it impact your writing?
ENCISO: If you refer to the writing of the script, I barely add notes of the context, the locations or the intention behind every line or scene when I'm in front of the computer. I let this aspects naturally come to the film along the different stages rather than the other way around, the way of industrial cinema which usually consists on implement a rigid and very detailed script. When we refer to the visual/cinematographic writing, it is true that I knew soon landscape will have an important role and it would be the milieu to make possible the artistic exploration of the night and darkness I was interested in.
NOTEBOOK: From early rehearsals to the actual shooting of the scenes, how do you guide your non-professional actors from text to set?
ENCISO: We rehearsed during some months, usually once or twice a week. We worked with words and the text as I guess dancers do when they prepare their performances: come again and again to the same movements to finally embody them during the performance, not just repeat them. Through the automatization of the movements—which in our case were words, pauses, tones and body presence. I tried to create a space for them to feel free, to be themselves. But this is not possible without this process—sometimes easy and playful but others arduous—of memorization and getting away from, paradoxically, the text itself or, being more specific, the weight of the text itself, this including the temptation of the psychological dramatization of the content.
What about the choice of the Galician language? Why was it important for you?
ENCISO: Which language I was supposed to use when making a film about Galicia shot in Galicia? I've never seen French or American filmmakers being asked why they shoot in French or English. That's the problem of the less spoken or less known languages; the only fact of choosing them calls for a justification, and not the natural thing to do. I think to better answer your question we should ask to those who don't use the local language when they shoot their films. I know your question was not headed in this direction, but having a rural background my relation with Galicia was always through Galician. So I didn't even think about it. Anyhow, my interest in Galician as filmmaker is not because of nationalistic vindications but because I like to explore language in both musical and rhythm perspectives and try to endow it with a poetic and somehow mysterious value. I believe Galician has a good prospect for that, also because it has been little used in cinema until recent years, so in image and sound terms it is a language not that mediatized, more pure and unknown, not so worn-out and undermined.
NOTEBOOK: There are more films in Galician now than ever before.
ENCISO: This is something positive, there is no doubt about it. But it is not a fair, equitable fight. Putting your question in a broader context, I think in the next future most of the visible cinema will be shot in English, regardless the territory where it will be made. It's already happening. I wish I'll be wrong, but I feel this reality will be established in the next two or three decades and naturalized through the same old marketing arguments of "potential audiences," "cost-effectivity," et cetera. Shooting in Galician it is a way of not contributing to this tendency, before called cultural imperialism and nowadays "international marketing options" and so on. I can't help feeling cinema is resigning one of its main potentials as cultural expression: the privilege to make you live during the time of a film inside a language and culture you don't understand at all, as if you could. This attribute makes you be more sensible to underlying qualities in every language like musicality and rhythm, properties that are present in our own languages too, but to which we don't pay attention to in our daily life. So it's beautiful to see how you listening to other languages make you be more aware and respectful about your own. Many of the films I like the most in today's cinema are made in languages I don't even speak a word: Thai, Tagalog, Farsi... There's a very special relationship with it.
NOTEBOOK: What are your ambitions for creating a mood in this film and how do you realize it?
ENCISO: My first ideas and intuitions in this sense were about making a really dark film. I was back then and still I am disappointed when watching today's cinema or TV. There's an overwhelming problem of horror vacui, a desire of filling everything with obvious, univocal significances and dramatic, sentimental content. I generally feel there are too many things on the screen and in the soundtrack and a "more is less" logic prevails. As in bad poetry, I feel everything is "over-adjectived" and this problem is also, in my opinion, a mistrust of the viewer's capacity to understand, to his adulthood. So my first idea for the film was: "it would be good to go in the opposite direction, explore through darkness the boundaries of perception and narrative." Starting from more conventional elements and representation and appeal in a gradual way to the sensitivity of the viewer, he/she to be more and more headed by sensations rather than by the factual representation of events. In this sense, I was imagining in both visual and narrative terms the film clearly heading to memory's space rather than to any "historical realism," as it's usually said. So the first step was to organize the script so it could progress from a day-and-night logic (chapter I) to an "endless night" sensation (chapters II and III).
Later, during the visual research, I remember refreshing with Mauro Herce, the cinematographer of the film, some romantic and tenebrism painters, recent films by Pedro Costa and some noir classics. Also contemporary artists like James Turrell or Hiroshi Sugimoto. All of them because of their treatment of night and gloomy atmospheres. I remember Apichatpong Weerasethakul's work was also in the discussions for his ability to establish a very special relation between nature and the human experience, which was another goal for us. Due to the technical limitations of the digital cinema projection, which are long and boring to explain, at some point and after different tests, I understood my first idea was unpractical for most of today's movie theaters and the DCP format, so I decided to work in a different way and reserve the potential of this idea for another format, maybe an installation, where you can better control the amount of light in the projection room and printed on the screen.
NOTEBOOK: What about the sound?
ENCISO: We worked on it as with the image, with similar intentions. The film passing through different stages along the chapters, from a more frontal and literal expression during the dialogue scenes, to a more sensorial and enveloping one in the second and third parts. This is more evident when you watch the film in a theater. Conceptually, the idea in mind was not to faithfully reproduce a forest, a landscape or a cavern, but rather to call for the audience's sensorial memory related to those places/moments. It was a very interesting exploration. We started with a more saturated, Baroque proposal, full of ideas and complementary layers, and step by step we realized the film was clearly asking for a "less is more" logic and, as we finally worked with the image, a more punctuated soundtrack. The feeling of silence as the one of darkness is better perceived when you have an element of contrast, a counterpoint.
NOTEBOOK: Finally, to what extent do production decisions impact the creative process and shape the final film?
ENCISO: Production decisions impact in all possible senses the creative process. I don't believe is possible to separate one from the other.