If magical realism came to the cinema a long time ago, can we also talk about magical documentary? The director Ainhoa Rodriguez (Madrid, 38 years old) explores this concept in his first feature film, Brave flash. He spent nine months in the rural corners of the Tierra de Barros region (Extremadura) building a script based on the stories, fables and legends of its inhabitants. It was the time he needed to gain their trust and have the doors of their houses and their emotions opened to him. The result is condensed into a very personal audiovisual game with documentary elements seasoned with fiction that has just been screened in the Rotterdam International Film Festival (Netherlands).
Set in a small town suspended in time, the film represents the decline of a traditional way of life about to disappear. The depopulation and apathy of the day to day mark the existence of his neighbors, especially his women, who repress a deep desire for liberating experiences. “The way the film was made began with an intuition like many of the things that happen in this story. I knew that I had to create a bond with the people of a town where I knew absolutely no one ”, explains the director, who in this way explores the hidden part of her roots.
“They were born to me in Madrid,” he says. It was like this because his maternal family is from Madrid, but Rodríguez grew up between Cáceres and Almendralejo, where his paternal family is from. So it can be said that she is a woman raised in Extremadura and trained in Madrid, the place where she returned to study film and audiovisual communication and where she continues to live.
“Filming in these places has been an exciting experience, because these people could have been the neighbors of my grandmother Concha and my grandfather Antonio. The initial idea was to show how hard-working people in something as hard as the field fable in one way or another, whether in a religious, esoteric and even psychedelic way, to find meaning in their existence ”, he reveals. The filmmaker also really wanted to shoot with non-professional actresses and actors from a small town, “because they are the most captivating and rich raw material you can have”. He thought that exploring the limits of reality and fiction together with them could lead him “to find new avenues in the cinema.”
An initial shot with two women in full drunkenness, as noisy as they are tiny in front of the imposing nature that is imposed on the screen, starts a plot that is not always linear and full of an underground tension typical of the horror genre. At one point, a group of middle-aged women go into a trance and begin to dance sensually in the living room of one of their houses. The reference to magical realism is inevitable. “When you visit certain places in Latin America and you see such overwhelming landscapes, you understand that if someone tells you that one of the people went up to heaven, you have to believe it. And that is why I also understand that in Tierra de Barros they dream of getting on the back of an animal to fly over the field ”, defends Rodríguez. Brave flash it leans on those Extremaduran landscapes that so hypnotize its creator. He shows them on screen from a “more agnostic than that of the protagonists” vision and with a highly personal audiovisual technique, always concerned with including intense light and sound textures. “I wanted to twist the sounds of the field,” he confesses. With this aesthetic resounding it also reflects “the dualities of the film, between the documentary and the traditional and an invented, emotional and subjective reality.”
Some of those sequences loaded with subtext reflect “the unjust patriarchal inheritances that are transmitted from generation to generation, which is something universal that he shared with them.” To prepare together with her actors, and especially her actresses, these situations that they would never have imagined living in their real life or before a camera, the director transferred to the field the form of work typical of the film workshops she has attended or Has imparted. One of them, held in 2006 at La Casa Encendida in Madrid, was impregnated by the words of the Iranian Abbas Kiarostami in his encounter with the Spanish Victor Erice. “He said something like that we Western filmmakers have everything much easier, so we have to be very demanding of ourselves.” Since then, she has been looking for new audiovisual languages, without forgetting the great masters. It is precisely Erice’s poetics that are often brought out in the reviews that have been published about the film since its screening this week at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. “He is a benchmark, but I add my black humor, my way of scratching the corners, which is not in his work,” says Rodríguez.
With its premiere in this contest, Brave flash follow in the wake of The year of discovery, the documentary by Luis López Carrasco that was presented in January 2020 before the attendees of this same festival and that has become in these months one of the most celebrated titles in Spanish cinema. The debutant has felt that her work “has had a great impact” on the audience, although she has had to check it from her living room. For the first time, the festival has been held virtually. “The way to feel the water has been listening to what the organizers were telling us about the demand for visualizations, observing the interest of the critics and the reactions in social networks,” he says.
The Madrid-Extremadura woman still hopes that the film can be seen on the big screen, which is what it was conceived for, in a face-to-face event that the Dutch competition is preparing for the month of June, as a “poetic justice”.