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The Beat of the Heart The Major Tones by Ingrid POKROPEK
2024-05-05 12:05:00Hits 900
25th JEONJU International Film Festival (2024)

Ana is a teenager who lives her peaceful life in Buenos Aires with her father and her friends until something happens to her body: a metal plate in her arm that she has had since an accident when she was young, starts to receive strange signals. Halfway between a fantastic film and a coming-of-age story, set in a wintery Buenos Aires, the director portrays the exact moment in the life of a teenager who leaves behind one stage of her life to begin another.

In this year’s March issue, the prestigious French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma dedicated its cover to you (using a photo from the film Trenque Lauquen, screened at this festival last year and of which Ingrid is one of the producers) and edition to Argentine cinema exclusively. At this very moment, the Argentine film industry is going through a very difficult time. Could you tell us a little about what is happening now with Argentine cinema and its industry?

It’s very good that right now the rest of the world is paying attention to what is happening with our cinema because what we need is visibility. This is a time in which uncertainty is all for us. The institutions that protect and allow the existence of Argentine cinema are in danger because the current government’s policies ignore the value of culture and only prioritize the market “value.” Now there is the threat of completely removing state support for cinema, which would put our industry in extreme danger. However, fortunately, the Argentine film community has come together to defend it. That is why now and more than ever, Argentine cinema needs support and alliances with filmmakers and cinematographers from other countries.

Although I reinforce my support for state support for cinema, in the case of my film, in addition to the fact that it is my directorial debut, it was produced completely independently. It started as an initiative of my production company (36 Caballos, consisting of Iván Moscovich, Juan Segundo Alamos, and me). But it was thanks to our co-production with Gong Cine (consisting of Magdalena Schavelzon, Pablo Piedras, and Gonzalo García-Pelayo) that we were able to finance it. In this way, the film was financed with private funds and was carried out in a non-traditional way. We filmed in six stages spread over a year and a half, with a very small crew. Parallel to the filming, together with the editor Miguel de Zuviría we edited what was filmed in each stage—an exercise that allowed us to anticipate the next stage. Once we had the first cut, we had no money to carry out post-production. So we participated in the Market of Almost-Finished Films of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (MECAS), where we were able to meet another independent production house called Jaibo Films, from Spain. Adán Aliaga and Miguel Molina from Jaibo immediately became interested in the film, bet on it, and got the funds for all the remaining post-production processes. This is how we (two Argentine and one Spanish production houses) were able to finish the film together.

 

The Major Tones does not seem like a debut film. From the performances to the script of the film, you seem very confident in your work. Tell us a little about your previous work.

Thank you very much for the comment. Although I had already directed five short films and produced several features before this film, I didn’t feel so confident at the beginning of the shoot. I had never directed a project for so long, and the commitment to all participants was much greater. However, I think that the film benefited greatly from the fact that it was filmed in stages. As I mentioned before, being an independent film and not being able to film all at once, we divided the shoot into six small stages over a year and a half. The time between each stage was vital for me: between one shoot and the next, I feel that I grew a lot. I could review and understand the mistakes of the past stage to improve in the upcoming stage. Likewise, the film’s technical team was much more than just a team—they were a group of friends with whom we had already filmed together many other times in other films. That mutual trust and understanding were key to going through a process as complex as filming a movie.

As for the script, I had written another feature film years ago that I ended up not making (The Major Tones appeared and topped it, so to speak), and I also had experience as a screenwriting teacher and commissioned scriptwriter. But in this case, I also had the fortune of having, throughout the entire writing, the mentoring of the Argentine playwrights Walter Jakob and Agustín Mendilaharzu, who gave me feedback as I was writing. Their companionship and knowledge were transcendental for the film.

To conclude and not go into too much detail, my short film before The Major Tones had strong ties to this film. In Electric Boy (2021), a teenager has a strange power. He has a charge of energy in his body with which he can charge cell phones, turn on lamps, and start engines; he takes advantage of the power outages in his city to make money by offering his domiciliary services. I was especially interested in the relationship between a teenager’s body (a body in permanent conflict) and the possibility of something fantastic.

The film tells us a moment in the life of a teenager, but at the same time includes fantastic elements and I suppose they’re autobiographical. How did you manage to amalgamate all this in the script? 

I desired to make an urban and fantastic film. Portraying the city of Buenos Aires but allowing the possibility of something strange to enter into it. This comes from my fascination with the fantasy genre in literature, which Argentina has a very strong tradition with references such as Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Silvina Ocampo, but which does not have, except for some clear cases, the same development in cinema. What I like about the genre is the fact that it starts from a plausible reality and then rarifies it, introducing a supernatural element into it. 

In conjunction with that interest, I was interested in portraying adolescence—that moment in life when one lives with little money in one’s pocket, little battery in one’s cell phone, and little capacity for foresight. I liked working with such precariousness of the teenage movement: wandering through a city that one is beginning to know, far from home, unaware of the danger. And when I talk about “far from home,” I mean that I included an autobiographical element: the girl lives on the outskirts of the city (just like in my childhood and adolescence) and it’s the desire to decipher the enigma that motivates her to travel constantly to the capital, to be on a bus or a train all the time. The combination of the complex body of a teenager and that of an invisible enigma were the elements that gave rise to writing this film.

How did you find the young protagonist? Is it also her first film? What was it like working with her?

Sofía Clausen appeared in a casting call. She was a finalist along with five other girls, but we thought she might not be chosen because she was the youngest (she was only 12 years old), and the protagonist Ana was 14. However, once it was her turn, Sofia’s performance was amazing. The actors’ task was to learn a fairly complex text (the character Ana’s monologue, which in fact remained intact and is in the film). Being the smallest of all, Sofía said the monologue in front of everyone without forgetting a comma. She also found in it the desire, the confusion, and the instability that the character must have felt at that moment. Sofía was, without a doubt, the one for Ana. Then the experience got even better during the shoot. It was Sofía’s first film but it didn’t seem like it at all: her professionalism, her curiosity, and above all her enthusiasm made this film possible. She was more than the protagonist. She was the driving force of the film, and we were all delighted with her intelligence, her desire, and her vital energy. I am infinitely grateful to Sofía for also trusting us.

In the film, there is also a particular use of music, not only the original soundtrack, which we would also like you to tell us about but also as part of the plot. Tell us a little about the use of music in the film. 

Indeed, music is very important for this film. First for the narrative. Ana, the protagonist of this story, gets strange pulses on her arm that her friend Lepa turns into a song, “The Heartbeat Song.” It is thanks to Lepa’s score of the song that it will later be possible to decipher the mystery. Pulses on an arm can also be a dot and a dash, a quarter note, and an eighth note. But also, I was interested in the film having a strong musical presence. Thanks to the Argentine musician Gabriel Chwojnik, it was possible to build a melody from the encrypted code and then convert it into a leitmotif. Together we worked on a soundtrack that alluded to classic sci-fi films and that hinted at the possibility of something strange or mysterious. We were interested in music that could combine “spatial” or “extraterrestrial” sounds with bright and happy elements. It was also about musically narrating the protagonist’s state: the passage from childhood to adulthood that is adolescence, and how that bridge is inhabited by both magical thinking and the courage to enter the unknown.

In the film, the protagonist lives surrounded by art or rather, by people who dedicate themselves to art, whether it’s music or painting—something that, returning to the topic of the autobiographical element, I suppose also happens in your life. Why did you choose cinema as a form of expression?

The appearance of art in the film, indeed, is part of my own life. On the one hand, my father is an architect but also a sculptor (his sculptures appear in the film, they are those of the character Alfonso) and throughout my childhood and adolescence, I lived surrounded by his strange labyrinths and inventions scattered throughout the house. Thinking about art and its problems was something that was part of everyday life in my house, and above all discussing its importance as something necessary for the human spirit. As for music, although I am not dedicated to it, it has been very important to me essentially in my adolescence, and I wanted the character of Ana—whose greatest characteristic is curiosity—to be also surrounded by interests, stimuli, and people dedicated to a passion or a particular art. Finally, from a very young age, I knew that I wanted to dedicate myself to cinema, and I don’t think there was a decision there but rather something that simply could not have been any other way.

We started talking about Argentine cinema, let’s end in the same way. What are your influences within Argentine cinema? 

To begin to talk about my influences within Argentine cinema, it is unavoidable to say that I had the enormous fortune of having worked for almost ten years at the production house El Pampero Cine (consisting of Mariano Llinás, Laura Citarella, Alejo Moguillansky, and Agustín Mendilaharzu). Since I was 19, El Pampero Cine was a second film school for me in a way. These four have been my teachers (in all areas that have to do with cinema and in life, too) but they are also filmmakers that I admire, and to whom I return permanently. Mainly, I thank El Pampero Cine for their faith in adventure and fiction, a religion to which I’m also devout. I would also like to mention Gabriel Medina, an Argentine director who knows how to bring in heart and tenderness without losing elegance.

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