35 years ago, a melodrama was the great winner of the night of the Oscars. Memories of Africa, a film directed by Sidney Pollack and starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, had received the statuettes for best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay. The commercial success of the work re-impelled the figure of the protagonist: the Danish writer Karen Blixen, who (initially under the masculinizing pseudonym of Isak Dinesen) had related her experiences in Kenya through different books.
This Friday a very different look at the same story comes to the commercial rooms. Karen It is the first fiction feature film signed by the Extremaduran director María Pérez Sanz. It stars Christina Rosenvinge, who is also in charge of the music, and Alito Rodgers. The multi-talented singer plays Blixen, while Rodgers plays his assistant Farah Aden. To a large extent, Pérez Sanz decides to focus on that unusually close relationship “which was highly criticized and generated mutual animosity between her and the British settlers,” the director explains to elDiario.es.
The proposal differs from Memories of Africa not only because of its different approach to the character but also because it does not come wrapped in a classic story. Karen It is a minimum story by vocation and also by duration (just 70 minutes). It is composed of small fragments of life, dialogues and silences. Its director states that “someone has said that it is like a antibiopicBecause he leaves out the great milestones and momentous moments, and fixes on a relationship that occupied a marginal space in Pollack’s film. “
For this one antibiopic, Pérez Sanz has counted on Rosenvinge, whose presence is, together with the delicate collective work with light, landscape and interior spaces, the backbone of the film. The interpreter approached the project in a way that she qualifies as obsessive: “I read Blixen’s books, her letters, a book that one of her workers published, university articles … I needed to imagine very clearly what she might think when I interpreted the Dense dialogues, but I also documented myself for pleasure, because I couldn’t stop. Both Maria and I did a lot of field work. “
Regarding his way of approaching this acting work, Rosenvinge has also found inspiration in his personal experiences: “Part of the work was a little done, because I come from a family with a social stratum similar to that of the character. So I know where from. Some values come, some ways to educate oneself … I know emotional repression, for example. I found some things that were very familiar to me. “
When it comes to revealing cinematographic references for his film, Pérez talks about his taste for cinema, which tells the least expected moments of mythical characters. Albert Serra’s heterodox look at Quixote in his film Honor of cavalleriaShe found it “inspiring because of the change in landscape and language it brought”. The Spanish filmmaker also mentions an illustrious name in world cinema, that of Ingmar Bergman, “for the care he transmitted in each frame. In the work we do with the interiors, the faces, her illness, there are remnants of some of her movies like Screams and whispers or Person”.
The director explains that the project took shape gradually, “slowly and with many twists and turns. Initially, I had imagined a film that was more outdoors, more about landscape.” The end result can be seen as the product of a process of casting the epic, highly romantic varnish that decorated Memories of Africa. With everything, Karen It is not only born from a process of emptying, but also from additions and substitutions: “When reading the letters that she sent from Africa, I realized that her existence had been mainly indoors and not from big safaris or parties. And also I perceived that the little anecdotes, the everyday, the domestic, had a lot of force “, says Pérez Sanz.
Rosenvinge defines Karen like a film where many explanations are not given: “The viewer is thrown in the middle of a story, in a house that is crumbling, in a life project that is sinking. Each one must suppose where what we see comes from” . Pérez Sanz is aware of the fragility of such a minimalist approach, and for this reason he has accompanied it with a visual and sensorial experience, in search of a beauty without fanfare or artifice.
The director of photography, Ion de Sosa, shot on celluloid, avoiding artificial light and electricity that Blixen did not have. The filmmaker intended, and it can be seen in the result, that “each frame was well thought out. If we did not work well with the images and sound, the moments of her washing or combing her hair could be swallowed by the overdose of audiovisuals that we live ”. Rosenvinge sympathizes with this artisan bet to illuminate the scene with lamps, candles and reflectors made with ears of wheat: “Rolling on celluloid, without being able to see what you are doing, is an act of faith”.
If we were facing a large studio production, Karen it would surely generate great scrutiny from critics and the public. How is the controversial figure of a European writer depicted who explained colonialism from a certain vantage point? Rosenvinge affirms that “a postcolonial review of Memories of Africa, which was an idealization that respected many of the stories she tells in her book, but she did so from a paternalistic white position. “For the film, Pérez Sanz has chosen to reflect a power relationship that is” deeply marked by the slab of colonialism “, choosing not to judge it” from our contemporary point of view: we look at it from very closely so that each one draws his own conclusions “.
Karen can be understood as a work that fits into the making of a herstory, of a genealogy of female authorship, as the filmmaker declares that “it is a film about Blixen, but also about many other women, including Christina Rosenvinge.” However, there is no idealization of the character, nor a criticism underlined with a fluorescent marker. Putting up a mirror is enough for the contradictory mood that characterized the writer to emerge. For example, in a conversation about her workers’ wages, the Karen in the film authoritatively imposes herself on Farah and exercises her power to silence the colonized.
All these internal and external frictions and conflicts run through the Karen incarnated by Rosenvinge. The singer and writer believes that “it seems that the writer was more classist than racist.” She states that “she insisted on building schools, so that people had fair housing and salary conditions, and was criticized and isolated for this. However, it cannot be ignored that she had a farm in Africa because she was able to buy land that they belonged to the indigenous population. Their world was built from a tremendously unfair situation. “
Pérez Sanz believes that all that complex reality appears in the film, albeit in a subtle way: “There is respect and intimacy, but also mistrust … or Farah’s fatigue, because Blixen becomes very heavy”. However, “in these types of dialogues [de la Blixen empresaria con el Aden que la ayuda en su empresa]You realize how dependent she is on him. Without Farah, she would not have been able to move forward, “says Rosenvinge. The director also highlights that the author of Winter tales was always “a woman from another time: she dreamed of Arabian Nights and with Shakespeare. That made her contradictory and strange wherever she was. It would also be today. “
Rosenvinge also hopes that the film will contribute to reflecting on the plundering of the African continent and on the migrations of people from territories impoverished by such plunder. “Migratory movements are natural and occur throughout the history of humanity for many reasons. For idealistic reasons, for economic reasons, for reasons of climatic changes, for wars … The inalienable right that a race or a group completely appropriates a territory, “he concludes.