Ever notice dead walls, those sides of buildings which were forgotten by the architect? Dead walls (their correct name is ‘party wall’) sometimes have a single tiny window dead their center. It makes you wonder, why did that one person get a window and not anyone else?
Those walls, silent enigmas which only the poet could decode, are called “medianeras” in Spanish. New York’s medianeras, visible from far, are often covered with the half-erased brand names from the seventies or magnificent banners advertising running shoes or rappers.
First-time Argentine filmmaker Gustavo Taretto has made a movie chronicling solitude and the city on the theme of those hidden surfaces—it’s called, “Medianeras”; behind the window lives a human being in search of a meaningful connection.
Mariana (Pilar López de Ayala) and Martin (Javier Drolas) live in the same neighborhood in buildings separated by a dead wall. They hang out in the same neighborhood, pass each other often but do not know each other. How will they meet each other in a town that separates people as well as brings them together?
Taretto, who previously worked in advertising, has traveled to various international film festivals and gotten hugely positive feedback for “Medianeras.” It’s won him the grand prize at the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival, was shown at the last Berlinale and is currently being shown at the L.A. Film Fest.
Taretto spoke to Screen Comment’s Ali Naderzad recently.
“Medianeras” was adapted from a short you had previously directed? Yes, I first made a short film that was produced and performed with friends—it cost about $ 2,000. I never imagined that the short would create so much enthusiasm and so many people would identify with it and get behind it.
What was the thought process like after that? As soon as I finished the short I started thinking of length issues. I initially attempted to recapture the spirit of the original idea, then used another narrative structure to finally end up going back to square one. Going back to the exact story used for the short is what truly interested me.
Were there any challenges in expanding the story in this way? The only thing I always tried to maintain as we moved to a feature-length film was the breadth of details. I like to delude myself that people will see the movie more than once, and will discover new details upon each new viewing.
What was the added value of making the feature-length project? This longer format allowed me to include a visual meditation about Buenos Aires—it was my own essay on modern life and the comedy of romance.
Some of the funding for the movie came from Spain. Is state funding available in Argentina? Yes, the biggest portion of our budget came from the Institute of Cinema, a state organization. Without them it would be impossible to have a film industry in Argentina.
Basing a movie on the concept of party walls is super original. All this life teeming behind these hidden faces of buildings—it’s creepy and exciting at the same time. I’ve spent a long time taking photos of Buenos Aires, my city. At first, it was just an experiment in composition but then ideas began to appear behind the shapes. I started with specific details and finished with an overall perspective. There I started playing with the idea of Buenos Aires as being similar to us. It’s like, who has to adapt to who?
Right. And? I began paying attention to the windows that people build illegally on the party walls of their buildings here in Buenos Aires. Some of those windows seemed to connect Martin and Mariana together (the name of the characters from his movie). Only then did they manifest themselves to me.
When I started working on “Medianeras” I had not thought of any one format in particular. The ideas which piqued my curiosity simply starting taking shape on the paper. I knew they had potential but I wasn’t at a point in my life at which I could undertake the project.
A sort of invisible nemesis seems to keep Martin and Mariana away from each other. Is it their fears, or does the big city make people seem more alone?
We’ve built giant cities that fill us with anxieties–I’ve concluded that we have invented our own fears.
The difficulties of finding love seems to be a recurring theme in your movies. Yes, it’s definitely a leitmotiv of mine. I don’t think so much about what searching for love is, but rather what finding love is all about. I believe that there are people out there who engage like the cogs in a timepiece that make the machinery work smoothly.
Are Martin and Mariana done in, psychologically? They are, but each in his own way. She’s fighting against her uneasiness and her being accustomed to that uneasiness.
It’s said that New York has the most singles. Do you think this is more true of Buenos Aires? I believe that the trend is reversing. Or maybe it’s one claim that’s been exaggerated. Anyway, the same goes for psychologists in Buenos Aires. I understand that we have the largest number of psychologists per square meter in the world.