Paula Ortiz’s terrific feature debut Chrysalis aka De tu ventana a la mía is a film of perseverance of spirit. With images that resemble a Braque painting one minute, a Dutch master the next, Ortiz fastens her portrayals of women to an insistent landscape. Maribel Verdu, Leticia Dolera and Luisa Gavasa represent the history of Spain with breathtaking performances as the story weaves in and out of narratives that could as well be reflections of Lillian Gish from Victor Sjostrom’s The Wind or Emmanuelle Riva from Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, mon amour.
Ortiz’s film was nominated in three categories for the 2012 Goya Awards; Best Director, Best Supporting Actress Maribel Verdú, and Best Original Song.
One of the characters In Chrysalis asks: “Can a butterfly become a larva? Can the process be reversed?” My question is why this film has not received any international theatrical distribution, even after it was screened at last year’s Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Spanish Cinema Now?
In my conversation with Paula Ortiz, at Instituto Cervantes New York, we spoke about the telling of three women, three destinies and the history of Spain
in the 20th century.
Women and Hollywood: You are telling three stories of three women. Was it clear for you from the start that you would set their stories in the 1920s, the
1940s, and the 1970s?
Paula Ortiz: Yes, the idea of the movie was trying to tell the story of the women in Spain through the 20th century. I tried for it to be like a
kaleidoscope of many many many women. Many lives. But we needed to crystallize them. Three stories, three ages of life, three landscapes and three moments
of the history of Spain. The first character, Violeta (Leticia Dolera) lives in the twenties, between the two republics in Spain. It was a very interesting
moment, especially for education, intellectuals, and for the possibilities for women.
WaH: You show her character wanting to go to Paris, to the Sorbonne, to study.
PO: Right. Then the second one, in 1941 is just after the Civil War, the beginning of the dictatorship. A really really hard moment, very difficult for
anyone. This is another kind of story, of women in lands with nothing.
WaH: Your choice for the landscape was brilliant. That wind and the desert and the strength of Maribel Verdu’s character Ines reminded me of Victor
Sjostrom’s The Wind (1928) with Lillian Gish.
PO: That was real. And that wind was very important for the character. My grandmother lived in that landscape. They were really strong women.
WaH: The woman of the wind and the man who is in the cave in the mountains. That is a good juxtaposition visually.
PO: Open in the landscape, so so open, and so dry and so hot at the same time. And the third one in ’75/’76, it was the moment when Franco died and it was
a really interesting moment when Spain came into democracy. So it was a transition as well. A character in transition like the country, reconstructing
WaH: The structuring in threes is also a common fairy tale device and matches some of your other themes. The cutting of fingers that turn the wool red. And
you have to think Rapunzel when three women have their hair cut for various traumatic reasons. Can you talk about the cutting of the hair?
PO: Yes, the cutting of the hair for me was a symbol of the weakness in the three of them. For the women individually, but as well socially and culturally
the hair is the symbol of femininity, of beauty. If you think about the religions, all the religions try to cut the hair or cover the hair. Muslim, Jewish,
Catholic all of them.
WaH: Fear of the hair.
PO: Yeah, it’s fear. It is fear of the hair. The wild women used to be an image like that. I wanted to join the three of them, three lives in different
moments, different conflict, different pain. At one moment the one thing that was the symbol for the three of them was the hair. One of them because of
illness, one because of the rape and one because of the social and political situation. The military used to do that to the wives or daughters of
republicans to show to the other people in the village.
WaH: It also connects them to other women, outside of Spain. I am thinking of Alain Resnais’ 1959 Hiroshima, mon amour, for example, and the
punishment for the Nazi collaborators.
PO: There is another Indian movie, very beautiful, that tells the same story, when Indian women become widows, then they cut their hair and they retire.
WaH: Better than the custom of burning the widows themselves… Tell me about the title change from the Spanish title which translates as From Your Window To Mine to the English one Chrysalis. Was this your choice? Was it suggested to change it?
PO: I like the title From Your Window To Mine, but in Spanish, it’s the beginning of a song. A popular, very ancient song. I liked very much the title
because it was talking between two people. From my window to yours, from your window to mine.
WaH: The two people are both female in the song, or you don’t know?
PO: You don’t know. It’s very symbolic and a very popular song in the lands inside of Spain. When we tried to translate it into English, they said it
doesn’t mean the same. “We don’t have the song. Maybe it’s too long.” So there was another title that I liked as well which is Chrysalis because of the
WaH: I didn’t know about the song and the title made me think of the beginning of Snow White, with the mother sitting in the window frame, pricking her
finger, which is a motif in your film.
PO: I think there’s a strong image with all the women knitting in the window or preparing something of the food in the window. Doing small things, not as
important things as men. But they were doing very very important things, and very important conversations did take place in the windows.
WaH: Being in-between the house and the outside world is a crucial location. The refusal to die before living a great love and cutting out the photos of
Vivien Leigh define your third character. What is her story?
PO: This story of Luisa (Luisa Gavasa) is inspired by my great aunt. She lives alone, she didn’t get married but she constructed by herself to herself
little symbols that she was happy with that world. With, you know, Vivien Leigh pictures, the movies, the opera, Zarzuela, which is a kind of opera in
Spain, and all of these ideas of platonic loves. My idea with this story was to try and tell how a woman like this, alone her whole life, suddenly, because
of a really strong shock in her life, like the cancer, she starts to live reality. She keeps her own world, the Vivien Leigh, Alfredo Kraus, and all of
that stuff that makes her happy but at the same time starts to live her own life. At the end she goes out and says, “yes, I am sick but I am alive and
well, and I love my cousin.”
WaH: She is in the “real world,” whatever that means. How close were you to your aunt?
PO: Very very close, because she used to take care of me and my brother when my mother and my father were working.
WaH: Some of her ideas might have inspired you to become a filmmaker?
PO: Yes, oh yes. Maybe not a filmmaker but when I was a child she used to comment on me and my tales. And she really supported that. Not everybody supports
WaH: She saw your film?
PO: No, no she died, ten years ago.
WaH: I love the scenes in the old shop, with all the drawers and ribbons. Did you remember these kinds of shops from your childhood?
PO: Yes, I remember, because all the women in my family – and there were a lot of women, because my mother had four sisters and my grandmother had four
sisters as well – I remember all of them buying in this kind of store all the stuff to make dresses.
WaH: I remember them as well, going with my grandmother in a small town to these dark, dusty smelly places that had miraculous objects in many drawers.
They seem to be international and you captured the feel.
PO: And I liked the idea of a man working there in that female universe. I liked how the character of Valentin (Luis Bermejo) works with women every day
and he likes Luisa. Just Luisa.
WaH: Is there a theme, as a filmmaker, that is closest to your heart, that you want to explore?
PO: In all my stories loneliness is a theme. Especially for me, it’s trying to tell the story, the small line between reality and non-reality. Not in
fantastic stories, no. Just like in the tales, the fairy tales. Like in the symbolic tales in that small territory between real and non-real. I like
storytelling because of the rhythm and sense of the symbol.
Paula Ortiz has published two books and numerous research articles in academic journals related to the world of narratives and screenplays. She is
currently teaching in the Universidad San Jorge Zaragoza. For the Visual XII: Cine Novísimo, Majadahonda, Madrid 2012, Paula was honored as Best New
Anne-Katrin Titze is the New York Critic for Eye For Film. She is a lecturer on fiction, film, fashion, and fairy tales and curates conversations and panels with filmmakers at Universities and various cultural venues. Anne-Katrin is also a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator.