It was 1992 and Spain wanted to project an image of modernity internationally. On televisions around the world, the impressive display of the Barcelona Olympic Games was seen, while Raffaella Carrá or Las Mama Chicho entertained Spanish homes and the ‘Put it on, put it on’ campaign in a society that, nevertheless, managed to to retire. Because the vestiges of a dictatorship that had lasted forty years still reached the base of a country that, from the inside out, continued to maintain a certain gray halo.
With these wickers, the director Pilar Palomero has built her debut feature, Girls, which shows the contradictions of that society through an 11-year-old girl, played by Andrea Fandós, her classmates in a nun’s school, and her mother (Natalia de Molina). A film that has been presented at the Malaga Festival, where it has received a very good reception that already nominates it as one of the favorites to get the Golden Biznaga of this edition.
How do you interpret that good reception?
I am hallucinating with the impressions and the beautiful words that they are dedicating to him. The most gratifying thing for a director when making a film is that the message is understood. At the moment, I am seeing that the emotion I wanted to provoke in the viewer is understood. That’s why I’m completely happy.
It is her first film as a director, which opens on September 4 in unusual circumstances. How are you dealing with that uncertainty?
In a normal situation you have a huge illusion and we knew that we were going to enjoy the moment of being able to share the movie. In these circumstances, even more so, because everything — the Malaga Festival, our own premiere — has been on the tightrope. Being able to get to this point and have these reactions I think makes the gratitude and the illusion triple.
Regarding theaters, as a spectator I go to the cinema, I have not stopped going and I will continue going, because I feel it as a safe place. I’d rather go to the movies than to a terrace, safety-wise. I hope people feel that way too and want to see it so that they can share it with the public, which is the goal of any film.
As for safety: I prefer to go to the cinema than to a terrace. I hope people feel that way too.
The story is a critique of that gray education that girls received in Spain in the early 90s. What is its own?
It has the autobiographical part of the context. I was the same age as Celia in ’92 and that’s how I remember my transition to preadolescence and that universe in which I moved, from the nuns’ school as opposed to ‘Put it on, put it on’ and Las Mama Chicho. That is the germ of the story: to show how contradictory that society was. And although Celia’s family situation is not the one I experienced, nothing is made up. Everything is taken from the testimony of people I know, from interviews that I conducted or experiences that I myself witnessed.
Silence, the submission of women, decorum … seem to be core subjects in that Catholic education. Will a generation of women feel identified?
I think yes. My documentation process was to speak with friends, with acquaintances, with people from another generation, a little older or younger … I started from the basis that it was not an experience or a perception of mine, but that it was something that we shared many persons. There were secular schools, there were mixed schools, and although I am focusing on the experience that I lived in a religious concert, I always clarify that the education we received in school was not only in school. What I see now, as an adult, is that the message they gave us was very out of date, very old-fashioned.
And then there were the backpacks that families carried. For my parents, the education I received was very modern compared to what they had received. In the end it is a mixture of all these elements and although your circumstances have been different there is a point at which the viewer recognizes herself. For me, as a director, it is the most rewarding.
The germ of the story of ‘The girls’ was to show how contradictory society was in 1992
It is also a story of the first times in that transition from childhood to adolescence and of that intergenerational clash. Is education ahead of society or is it the other way around?
From the talks I have had during the preparation of the film and afterwards, especially speaking with the girls who participate, I feel that society is always a little ahead of education. I think that today the challenge is the Internet, a super powerful weapon that can be very useful, very formative, but that also has that opposite part in which if one is wrong, it can be very harmful. We already see the theme of cyberbullying.
One of the things that I wanted to raise in the script is this: how education in schools, at home, in society, was that little step behind the needs we had and what we wanted. I think it has to do with the fact that in the end we carry the backpack of our parents’ education, they carry that of our grandparents and we surely carry our own backpack for our children. That is what makes education a little behind society, without underestimating, of course, the work of teachers or educators, whom I admire.
A scene from the film shows what happens when a nun comes across a poster for the ‘Put it on, put it on’ campaign revealing the silence around sex education. Have we advanced on this?
It all depends on the environment of each person, where each one comes from, their family … Individuality is important, but in general terms we have evolved, you can talk more and choose. Imagine the drama of coming out of the closet in the 90s, for example. Regarding the campaign, it seemed interesting to include it because it is the one that has had the most success in the history of advertising in Spain, but it was withdrawn. Even so, it has penetrated the collective imagination. We come from a society that succeeded in withdrawing a campaign that was indispensable. It did not encourage sex, it reported on a very serious problem that society was experiencing, which was AIDS.
We come from a society that succeeded in withdrawing a campaign that was indispensable, such as the one called ‘Put it on, put it on’, which reported a serious problem such as AIDS
There is also a glimpse of one of the worst faces of schools in ‘Girls’: how cruel children can be. He bullying no time?
I’m afraid not, although we didn’t name it. There was simply a partner who made your life a little, or a lot, impossible. One of the good things of today is that the kids are warned to be very attentive to this, that they have teachers and parents to talk about and that there is a greater care of emotional education. What I wanted to reflect with the film is how those messages had penetrated us.
What the companions say to Celia – who does not have a father – is the consequence of the prejudices that have been instilled in them, because they repeat things without knowing very well what they are saying and what it implies. It is a process that I went through as an adult. When reading stories that I wrote when I was 14 years old, I realized that I had super internalized macho messages. I had to do a self-criticism exercise.
She is part of a generation of Catalan filmmakers or those settled in Catalonia who are showing themselves in almost all the important honors: Belén Funés, Carla Simón, Nely Reguera … Why is that quarry so strong? Do you feel that they are opening the door to other colleagues?
The inequality between the number of directors was so abysmal that I think it was our turn. Thanks to the policies and awareness that we have been able to manage. I have been wanting to direct and preparing for 15 years. It is not that three years ago I started with the project and now I am presenting it here. I studied photography at the Madrid Film School and it struck me that most of them were students, but when I started working, especially as a technician, I wondered where were all those women with whom I had studied, because most were mens. It was an obvious inequality, which has been corrected.
The lack of references was one of the issues that could harm us the most. There was that point of saying that you wanted to make a movie, let’s see … But we lacked the self-esteem to say: “I’m going to make a movie.” I think there has been a change in mentality and a group has been created with a very beautiful synergy, in a very natural way, also due to the geographical proximity, between women we are directing, with team leaders, sound, photo dires, wardrobe, from all departments.
The inequality that existed between the number of directors was so abysmal that I think it was our turn