Spanish writer and actress Itsaso Arana joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about The August Virgin (La Virgen De Agosto). Directed by Jonás Trueba, the film follows Eva (played by Arana) as she undergoes a personal journey during the hot summer months in Madrid.
Q: As well as playing the lead role, you wrote the screenplay for ‘The August Virgin’. What inspired you to write this story? Does it come from an especially personal place?
A: Jonás and I had talked about how August in Madrid has a very special atmosphere and could be the perfect time and place to imagine a summer story. The city is practically empty, and the heat makes people lethargic and keeps them inside during the day. The few who remain in Madrid go out at night, to meet at the popular festivities of the downtown neighbourhoods. Relationships are lived in a different way. They’re calmer, and those days of August are specially favourable to contemplate and rethink one’s relation to the city and if you will, to one’s life.
Writing is always an intimate and non-transferable act, even if it is done with others. For me the film was born from a very specific mood, my own summer “of the virgin”. It talks about a vital moment in which you change your skin, a time when you want to change and, if possible, become better, and you are rethinking how to live, what to do…
Q: It sounds like Eva goes on a journey of self-discovery through Madrid. What is the nature of Eva’s journey and what does it say about her?
A: We wanted to make an adventure movie without leaving Madrid. Eva looks at her city and her own life with new eyes, almost like a tourist, to try to understand herself and to find again the pleasure of small and big things.
Q: After writing her story, did you get to know Eva on a different level when you came to play her? What was it like acting in a film you had written?
A: What surprised me the most is that, for me, the writing process was already acting, even writing the other characters. There is something about writing that makes you try to put yourself there. It is a sensory and imagination exercise, which is not far from acting. But, obviously, during the shoot I discovered how Eva breathed and observed. Acting is to write with the body, and if you’re lucky, with the soul.
Acting in a movie you’ve written involves keeping “the big picture” in your head, and that gives you a complete sense of the film and that allows you to propose more, risk more, to have less respect for the text, which can be liberating.
Q: Jonás Trueba directs the film. The two of you worked together in the past on ‘The Reconquest’ (La Reconquista). Why did you trust Jonás to help tell this story? And what was your collaboration like this time around?
A: As a spectator I loved Jonas’ films, before I even met him. I think he has a capacity to capture life in an unusual, free and overwhelmingly simple and honest way.
La Reconquista gave me the opportunity to enter to the “Dreamer” family (their film production company is called “Los ilusos films” that means dreamers, staryy-eyed, which already says a lot about them) and the funny thing was that I felt right there. It is a place where people live film and the creative process in a way that is totally recognisable to me. Meeting them has been like coming home!
With La Virgen De Agosto, I had the pleasure feeling that I was part of the process as one of them. I feel lucky.
Q: You mentioned that not many people stay in the city during the summer. What was it like making this film during the summer?
A: This movie is fiction, but it has been partly shot as a documentary. We shot in the middle of street parties, where everyone is drinking and dancing. We inserted our characters and their stories into the real life situations (to recreate them would have been expensive and felt fake). It was a big challenge for the whole team, but it gives a truth to the film that is very difficult to imitate. The whole shoot was pure rock and roll.
Q: What was your favourite scene to shoot?
A: There were many fun ones. The day by the river was beautiful, and the scenes with Vito around the viaduct, where I meet him, were specially fun.
Q: ‘The August Virgin’ is coming to festivals soon. What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
A: When I see a movie that I like, it inspires me to live a little better. Eva tries to be in the world in a different way, kinder, more authentic, more open. If this film inspires someone in that way, it would be great.
Q: Would you like to write – and possibly direct – more films in the future?
I would love to. Making a movie is a miracle. But it requires faith! The film is also about this, about our ability to believe!
Q: What is next for you? Any projects or ambitions to share with us?
A: I am shooting two series for Movistar + and in the fall I will shoot a film in Basque for the first time. I also want to continue writing. But first, I want to release the movie; somehow to show it is to set it free. Then I will start with the next one; in the creative process I am very monogamous!