INTERVIEW: Julio Medem Guides "The Lovers of The Arctic Circle"
by Brandon Judell
Not everything in Spanish cinema revolves around Pedro Almodovar. Basque-Born Julio Medem (“Cows,” “The Red Squirrel,” “Tierra“) is a serious alternative, both in person and on the screen. His complexly structured “Lovers of the Arctic Circle” tells of two lovers who meet as children, and how fate keeps bringing them together and tearing them apart. Expertly crafted, the film shifts back and forth in perfect parallel form between his protagonists’ points of views.
But complexity and Medem is not a new union. When critic Jonathan Holland was letting loose on “Tierra” (“Earth”), he noted, “The ambitiousness of Medem’s movies strikes fear into the hearts of journalists who are worried that they might have missed the point. His press conferences ring with questions like :’Julio, what is the metaphorical significance of the wood lice?’ or ‘How transcendental is the pesticide exactly?'”
When sitting down with Medem and a translator supplied by his distributor, Fine Line, indieWIRE was ready to get profound too, speaking about criticism, literature and love. “The Lovers of the Arctic Circle” will be released wider on May 7 and continue to more cities throughout the month.
indieWIRE: The New York Times gave your film a great review that was featured on the front page of the Arts section. What does that mean to you?
Julio Medem: In Sundance when I got a very positive review of the film, I was very, very excited. When I came with the film to the New Directors Film Festival here in New York, it was the first time I got to see the city. There was a very, very good review that came out during that time, and the people here in New York and at the Festival told me how important the reviews are. In Spain, reviews by critics aren’t as important as they are here. I understand now the significance of what it means to get a good review in a paper such as the New York Times.
iW: French film critics treat movies more as an art form. American film critics treat movies more as an entertainment. What’s your take on that? Do you personally feel films are more an entertainment than an art?
Meded: I don’t really know any American critics or the style of any American critics. I know very well the style of French critics. I just got back from France because my film premiered there yesterday. I’ve read many French critiques of my film and they’ve been very positive. So my comparison is always with Spanish critics. French critics have a very intellectual perception. With French critics, what they expect are films that aren’t conventional, films that are not standard, that are not part of a particular genre. They’re interested in the new and the risqué. They have their own style of film which results in something very particular.
iW: So when a critic likes your film, is he smart, and when he dislikes it, is he stupid?
Meded: When I finish a film, I become profoundly benevolent to it. While I’m making it, I’m always very critical and subjecting myself to severe criticism. It’s an act of defense on my part that when I complete a film, I become very indulgent with the film, and to me it’s stupendous. When it’s time for me to read criticisms, I never like to read the bad ones. I have a group of friends and family who first read them and only give me the good ones. When I made my first film, I also read the bad critiques. With my second film, there were critics, particularly in France, who felt that the film was very good and some who felt it was very bad. When I read both a good review and a bad one, I would get very confused about what to think. For me, to maintain myself in a state of liberty and preserve my self-esteem, I prefer not to read the bad reviews, but of course I don’t think the writers of them are imbeciles. But I have read very good review that are imbecilic.
iW: One gets the idea that by watching this film you are profoundly intelligent. That you are very well read. Was “Lovers” inspired at all by the Greek tragedies?
Meded: Not especially from the Greek tragedies. As far as literature, I’ve been very influenced by Latin American literature: Garcia Marquez, Borges. I’ve also been influence by Russian literature such as Dostoevsky and 19th century French literature.
iW: Now parts of this film are autobiographical. Is “Lovers” autobiographical emotionally or factually or both?
Meded: Much more emotionally. I started to write the story and I didn’t really know what I was going to write. Sometimes that’s how I begin my stories by not knowing where I am going. I know I was at a very delicate moment in my life and I wanted to tell the story from both protagonists’ point of view. The first thing that occurred was the casual encounter between both children. I also wanted to begin the film like a child in the manner that each scene articulated itself in a way as a child’s game. I realized I was escaping myself with my own personages of reality. The movie is marked by coincidence and by an instinct of escapism from the reality the characters do not like. What I realize was that I was looking for some wish with the two personages — and the wish they are looking for is the utopia of love.