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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Camera Catalonia at Cambridge Film Festival 2014 Part II : Q&A with Jesús Monllaó, director of Son of Cain (Fill de Caín) (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

1 October

* Contains spoilers *

Jesús Monllaó brought his first feature, Son of Cain (Fill de Caín) (2013), to Cambridge Film Festival (@Camfilmfest / #CamFF) on Day 9 (Friday 5 September 2014) as part of this year’s Camera Catalonia strand (curated by Ramon Lamarca, pictured left below in front of the film-poster, with Jesús on the right, in a shot taken by colleague David Riley)

Ramon Lamarca and Jesús Monllaó before the poster of Fill de Caín,
by and courtesy of David Riley

Opening gambit

Before the 34th Cambridge Film Festival’s screening of Son of Cain (Fill de Caín) (2013), Ramon Lamarca kindly introduced @THEAGENTAPSLEY to Jesús Monllaó that evening : if you have read the review, you will know that comparisons had been drawn with Good Will Hunting (1997), and with the suspenseful Alfred H., and not be surprised that they were pleasing to Jesús (who has since had a chance to read the review in full and liked it).

After a good-natured meeting of minds and sharing of humour at the busy hub that is Festival Central (in its home every year, for 11 consecutive days, at The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturhouse)), and before parting, the hope was expressed that the audience of Screen 2 at Festival Central would take the film well. So that proved, with a full house, and almost everyone both seeming engrossed, and then staying for the Q&A.

If you have watched such a vibrant film for review purposes on even a 15.6” laptop screen, you want to see it again projected to see what it looks and sounds like – as Jesús had said, knowing which City he was in and that he some people would have seen through his trickery with the plot, he hoped that they had enjoyed the journey :

Spot on, because it does not matter at all that you know what unfolds (but do not read much further on, if you have not already seen it – or do not mind spoilers), and, second time around, one could appreciate both the construction, and the full range and subtlety of Ethan Lewis Maltby’s score. (One says ‘appreciate the construction’, because (as the review envisaged) one could view Son of Cain with a murder-mystery mindset* first time through, or when watching again, to see how what happened had been set up.)

Jesús Monllaó answering audience questions with Ramon Lamarca,
by and courtesy of David Riley

Interviewed first by Ramon Lamarca with composer Ethan, Jesús was on fine form, engaging expansively with questions, and wanting others to have credit for their work (please see below). He told us that he had had some resistance, but had insisted on Ethan to write the score, their having met when Jesús was studying the art of film-making in Canterbury more than a decade ago.

And it turned out that choosing a Mahler adagio (the fourth-movement Adagietto* (in F Major, Sehr langsam) from the Symphony No. 5), for the night scene with the family in the car, not only coincidentally accorded with where Ethan’s interest in music had first been sparked (by hearing Mahler in live performance), but also with Ramon’s love for the composer’s works… As Jesús told us, he had originally wanted to use the Poco adagio, marked Ruhevoll, from the Symphony No. 4 in G Major, but the cost of using that track had been prohibitive (and led to using the Adagietto, as more affordable).

Love was in the air generally, indeed, because Jesús (as other directors have been keen to do this year) wanted to stress that 90% of what mattered most had been done by other people. Though, equally, he had found that, having acquired the rights to the original novel, he had to fall out with its writer, Ignacio García-Valiño, on account of the offensive e-mail that he wrote on being shown the first draft of the script (and which, Jesús told us, he still has).

Happily, though, he later related that contact was re-made with the novelist, who saw the film in April 2013 and loved it, publicly writing so. In the event, Ignacio died fourteen months later : the fact he saw his novel filmed and liked it, despite the former confrontation, gives us some comfort now that he’s gone.

Back with the music, we heard from Ramon’s questioning how the texture / density had been ‘stripped back’ for all but the last ten minutes, paring down instrumentation – sometimes, as Ethan told us, by removing an instrument during mixing that had originally been recorded as part of a larger ensemble recorded, but edited down in this way. In this connection, Ethan was asked about the use of harmonics, bell-like sounds and a high-pitched part that might have been a high soprano or an instrument (he told us that it had been a guitar-sound), and said that each film-project requires him to determine the palette that he is going to use at the outset.

Ethan Lewis Maltby, far right, during the Q&A,
by and courtesy of David Riley

Usefully, which we might not have otherwise aptly appreciated, Jesús said that he had taken away all the recorded sound for the last seven minutes, leaving just the score, where Ethan had had full rein to break through, as the closing scenes unfold – one’s lips are sealed, but there is chess at their heart…

Later, as there was a Festival dinner-date for Jesús to make, and a departure for Brighton in the afternoon, it was agreed to meet The Agent at Corpus Christi the following morning for a more formal interview.

Middle game

Just after the appointed hour, the two indeed met and then headed to the corner of Pembroke Street, where Jesús’ wife and young son were finishing coffee at Fitzbillies.

At mention at the table of the idea of taking a boat on the river, an offer was made of a punting-trip, and so began their adventure on the Cam…

Now continued here


* A curious word, mindset, and one which seems fitting for Nico… ?

** Afterwards, Jesús shared that he had wanted the Mahler not only because he liked it, but also as the kind of music that the character in the original novel listened to : I wanted to pay homage to the novel with little details that would connect both media.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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