For almost three years, from 2012 to 2015, Juan Diego Botto took the stage every night to talk about exile and immigration. the work was called An invisible piece of this world, and in it, Botto was torn to tell, among others, the true story of Samba Martine, a Congolese woman who died after spending 40 days in the Aluche Foreigners Internment Center. Thousands of people passed through the seats of the Naves del Español in Madrid and were moved by testimonies that focused on the terrible Spanish immigration policies and their consequences on people that the newscasts treated as mere numbers.
One of those people who was moved with Botto's work was Penélope Cruz, a friend of the actor since they shot La matchmaker in 1996. Since then they had not met again in a movie. When she finished the performance, Cruz approached her and asked her to write something to "do together." She proposed a story about "jealousy" and Juan Diego Botto promised that she would do it. "I tried to write it, but it didn't come out. What did come out was a scene in which a couple were arguing out of jealousy the night before they were evicted. I did like that. There was something in that couple's anguish," recalls the actor. and director in conversation with elDiario.es.
That request, hot after a play, materialized in the script for On the Margins, his debut as a film director, which opens in theaters on September 30 after what will be its entry into competition for the Horizons section of the Venice Film Festival and Pearls in San Sebastián. Juan Diego Botto wrote the script together with the elDiario.es journalist Olga Rodríguez. She was the one who took him to meet "a lot of people from social movements affected by the issue of housing." From a story of jealousy to a polyhedral look that not only talks about evictions, but also about the personal and emotional consequences of a crisis that devastated everything and that still continues to leave hundreds of people homeless.
They were clear that this script should be written together and that the raw material from which it should be nurtured was reality and journalism. "There was a report I published in elDiario.es in which I spoke with two social educators and they told amazing things, and at one point one of them said, 'this is a war without bullets'. They recounted the situation of precarious people who no longer asked for money to have electricity, but instead directly asked for candles. That report also inspired Juan and there was a moment when we said, we are going to write this script together", recalls the journalist, who explains that the character of Penélope Cruz, a woman with a son who faces the 24 hours before are evicted, is a compendium of "20 or 30 women" who have met in the process of researching and documenting the film.
"A large part, or most of the work was in some way journalistic. I let myself be carried away to Olga's field, because we spent a lot of time with those affected, getting to know their stories, and those stories led me to other stories. Olga told me, 'you have to meet Fulanito, you must meet Menganito', and that led us to another topic. All that immersion of years, of soaking up those stories, was causing the collaboration to be born naturally, "he points out Botto on this libretto written in four hands.
Their tribute to all those stories they knew is present in the film, which includes people from the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages, journalists like Juan Carlos Moure, who always comes "with his photo and video camera to document evictions". "He appears for half a second, no one is going to realize that it is him or that those who are in certain scenes are really affected people, but we believed that it had a symbolic component that was important. Or that Mercedes Revuelta appears, a lawyer who leads committed to this for many years and who appears as a judicial secretary who comes to evict a family", reveals the director.
The two screenwriters of On the Margins emphasize that it is a film about evictions whose heart is inhabited by a broader idea: "How an economic crisis affects personal relationships." "A situation of economic stress violates affective relationships, and that is inevitable and we have seen it in all the cases that we have known that have housing problems, because at the core of everything is the issue of housing." That would be a first pillar. The second: women.
Although there are three main stories, starring Penélope Cruz, Luis Tosar and Adelfa Calvo, "in the heart it is a story of women and above all, a story of mothers". Olga Rodríguez emphasizes that "it is women who are responsible for keeping the flame of affection alive", and that when one approaches the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages, one realizes that "they are, fundamentally, women". "Those affected are also men, but they usually face it differently. Men are theoretically required to have a successful life, to be the ones who support the family, and when they cannot do that because of the difficulties of life they prevent it, because many times they completely collapse, and that's when they emerge. Supporting the family, fighting, creating social fabric, creating community and not giving up, trying until the end".
The master of social cinema, Ken Loach, always responds to accusations of making a tremendous and excessively dramatic cinema that if they heard some of the true stories that are on the street they would not say the same, and that even lowers their scripts to be plausible, something confirmed by Juan Diego Botto and Olga Rodríguez. "If we had reflected the stories they told us, it would not have been credible. Reality is often not believable because it goes so far beyond the parameters of what we consider possible...", says the director, who confesses that they were also "forced to lower the script ".
They give the example of one of the stories that inspired them, that of Richard, who has taken his case to the United Nations, who has agreed with him, and who participates in a scene. The same day they filmed with him, he received a new notice to evict him. It was the seventh. "Suddenly everything stopped and all the companions hugged him. It was a very brutal and very emotional moment, where what we were telling crystallized in the person of Richard", they both remember.
The consequences of the crisis and the evictions is not something that is usually the focus of fiction made in Spain. That's why it was crucial that Penélope Cruz was involved from the beginning. Not only as an actress and initiator of the project, but as a producer together with Morena Films, which she also soon signed up for this adventure. But it wasn't easy. "It cost a lot," acknowledges Juan Diego Botto. "First we had a very long period of construction of the script, which was also longer by all this time of immersion and investigation. Then, once we had an acceptable script, we were doing versions and versions and, obviously, there were people who did not She wanted. There were production companies and television stations that didn't want her. When Penelope got more involved and we found Álvaro Longoria, who threw himself into the project, from then on everything was more fluid."
The material from On the Margins seemed likely to end up being a documentary, and in fact both recognize that they have been wanting to do it and that they have enough material for it, but that first it's time to stop. Furthermore, "a fiction can reach wider places and move other things." Ironically, the rest will have to wait. Juan Diego Botto has a promotional season left that starts in Venice, passes through San Sebastián and, perhaps, also for the next Goya. All without giving up the theater, where he continues to represent that Lorca that He has given him all the possible prizes in a moonless nightanother work where he shows that he only understands art from political commitment.