Ángeles González-Sinde dives into the wounds of ETA terrorism with 'El comensal'

Spanish fiction has had a theme that for years it has been difficult for him to confront ETA's terrorism. With exceptions such as Imanol Uribe or Eloy de la Iglesia, it has never been an issue that the series and movies decided to deal with. The ceasefire of the terrorist group, the passing of the years, the distance, and an editorial success like that of Patria caused many producers to begin to lose their fear of such a thorny issue.

In recent years, it has been demonstrated with the union almost in time of the television adaptation of Fernando Aramburu's novel thanks to HBO and with the sober approach to forgiveness and coexistence that carried out by Icíar Bollaín in maixabel. The public also responded positively to these works that placed the conflict at the center. It was not a historical context to develop another plot, as it did happen in several of Uribe's titles, but it was the center of the story.

The wounds of ETA in a family, and how these are inherited from generation to generation as if it were something genetic, are the core of El comensal, Ángeles González-Sinde's return to directing 14 years after her previous film. An adaptation of Gabriela Ybarra's book in which the writer herself opened up her personal experience to understand the kidnapping and subsequent murder of her grandfather, Gabriel Ybarra, and how it marked personal relationships between family members during decades.

The former Minister of Culture, who was also president of the Film Academy, would have liked to raise this project earlier, "but it was not easy." The novel came out in 2015, and as soon as she came out and read it, it was clear to her that there was a movie in it. She asked her partner, the late editor Claudio López Lamadrid and responsible for the book, for the rights. He replied that they had already bought them. It had been the producer Isabel Delclaux, to whom Sinde quickly wrote an email offering himself, without knowing her, in case they were looking for a screenwriter or a director for the project. "I had a meeting with her and they decided that I should join the project," recalls the director.

There was something about "the writing" of the book that grabbed her. A book "without a clear conflict, very reflective and a very personal memory in the first person", but which dealt with important issues that interested her as a reader such as "family relationships, also with those who are absent, and how these works are projected on those present or the transmission of memory". Also about how politics always ends up marking even if you don't want to. "I was very interested in what talks about how the political and social impact on the personal. That helped me to talk about how, even if you think you are oblivious to what happens in your country, that changes your behavior or even what sentimental," points out Ángeles González-Sinde.

El diner predates the success of Patria and, in fact, the HBO adaptation and the film coincide in the leading role of Susana Abatida, who here plays the granddaughter of the murdered ETA man. "Our tests of Susana are earlier, she did the casting before that of Patria, and she has endured, she has had patience these years to make the film. It has been three or four years since those tests", points out Sinde who believes that "it is reasonable and logical that there are more similar stories that touch this world".

"An armed conflict, and even more so if it is in a context of civil conflict and that goes on for so many years and affects so many generations, is an enormous creator of stories. What would have been rare, what would have been an anomaly is that there had not been films or novels about the ETA conflict, because it is an issue that has affected us all. Not only the people of the Basque Country, but the rest of us as well. At least the people of my generation, who have grown up with that almost daily constant in the news. The names of the ETA members were as well known as those of any personality. I think it is a source of stories and will continue to be so in the coming years, it is logical that it be so, "he adds.

The film alternates two timelines, the one of the murder, in 1977, and another in 2011, where the victim's son is now a father of a family who is facing his wife's illness. The adaptation changes the narrative center to the relationship between father and daughter, and expands and develops elements that were only noted in the novel in a script work and, above all, editing. When talking about an issue like ETA at two different times there was a risk that the 1977 plot devoured the other. "A risk taken", as defined by the director, who also makes it clear that here there is no thriller to use and that it does not focus on the ETA members, but rather the camera stays with the family that awaits the return of the father. "I have tried not to open doors that I was not going to satisfy," she clarifies.

In full conflict over the modification of the Audiovisual Law that endangers independent production, Sinde warns of the challenges of the current moment of Spanish fiction and asks to fight "to preserve the sovereignty of our imagination". "It cannot be that the content of our imagination is decided by offices in Los Angeles or London, which is the risk of depending for the distribution and financing of our films on companies or people who are sometimes very far from our territory. That is the risk, that in the end we all make the same films because you have to satisfy the needs and business plans of some companies that have specific objectives," he says.

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