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ND/NF '08 INTERVIEW | "Valse Sentimentale" Director Constantina Voulgaris and "XXY" Director Lucia P

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire April 2, 2008 at 6:01AM

In the fifth installment of short interviews spotlighting emerging filmmakers in the current series New Directors/New Films, indieWIRE received remarks from "Valse Sentimentale" director Constantina Voulgaris, about her film that focuses on a summer of love in Athens as well as Lucia Puenzo's film about an intersex adolescent, "XXY." Both films are screening in ND/NF, co-hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art through April 6 in New York.
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In the fifth installment of short interviews spotlighting emerging filmmakers in the current series New Directors/New Films, indieWIRE received remarks from "Valse Sentimentale" director Constantina Voulgaris, about her film that focuses on a summer of love in Athens as well as Lucia Puenzo's film about an intersex adolescent, "XXY." Both films are screening in ND/NF, co-hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art through April 6 in New York.

"Valse Sentimentale"

Constantina Voulgaris's first feature film is a delightful anomaly in contemporary cinema, sort of like a Cat Power song. Raw, earnest, melancholy, awkward in parts, razor sharp in others, it's lyrical, yet with an undercutting touch of offbeat humor. And more than anything it's unapologetically a girl's bedroom song, an utterly sincere home movie. Made with the ever-generous currency of a cast and crew of friends, and the ample downtime that Greek summer-in-the-city affords, when everybody else is sunning and hooking up out in the islands, it's a film about two exiles -- in Athens, in summer, in love. A sentimental dance between a girl and a boy who could be stuck in downtown any-ville, yearning to be with each other but too cool to dare, too chicken to admit it, too clumsy not to step on each other's Doc Martins, and too damn sentimental not to surrender, in the end, to that old-fashioned thing called love. (Description provided by the Film Society of Lincoln Center).

Responses by Constantina Voulgaris, director of "Valse Sentimentale"


What initially attracted you to filmmaking?

I don't really know what attracted me to filmmaking...I think it has to do with the fact that I am very shy as a person, and it was always easier for me to express myself through something else than confronting other people. I always loved watching films and sometimes filmmaking is like daydreaming...the same way I close my eyes and dream of things I wish to happen to me, or I freak out with fears and all sorts of problems...well it's just making these into images...and because I am shy it is easier to send someone to the cinema to watch " a film" than explaining things myself.

What was the inspiration for "Valse Sentimentale?"

The inspiration for this film is... my experiences in "love matters" and not only love matters... relationships and communication problems in general. I don't know if it's just me but I feel that the way the couple in my film behaves is not that rare, I feel that people have lost their ability to dream and to hope for "magic" in their lives, and by magic I don't mean the way Hollywood films usually propose. I saw a very moving American film this morning, "Waitress" by Adrienne Shelly and there is a line where the main character wishes to her unborn child to experience at least one time in her life being held in someones arms for like 20 minutes. Just that! And I feel that my film is about how difficult is that.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film...

I don't know what to say about how I made my film, I didn't have any money at first, so all the people who worked on it where friends or very kind people that we are now friends, and to be honest I really liked that. I loved that I sometimes had to cook myself while shooting in order to have a break, I loved that the whole neighborhood was out watching and participating where needed, I loved that my brother was in it, and most of all I loved that because I didn't have any money, while shooting I knew that none of these people was there for the money, or for the fame, or for that sort of reasons. It was just because we wanted to express ourselves. It is a pity we can't come to New York because you would see how "antisocial" and "shy" and "un-cool" we all are. And we are proud of it.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making and completing the film?

I think my biggest challenge was first of all to complete it, and the second one was to find the proper line between me wanting it to be a very personal, almost autobiographical film, and making a film that other people would understand and watch. It's not something serious for other people, it was mostly a psychological challenge to be and at the same time detach myself from it.

What are your goals for the New Directors/New Films?

I don't know...I wish I could come to be at the screening, to be honest my favorite directors are from New York and one of them - Todd Solondz - is in the programme. It might sound silly but if he watched my film I would be so happy! But apart from Todd Solondz I would feel great if people go to the screening and like my film.


"XXY"

For just about everybody, slipping past adolescence means having to confront a number of choices and life decisions, but rarely any as monumental as the one facing Alex (Ines Efron). Born a hermaphrodite, Alex has been raised as a girl, but the moment has come when a decision must be on the surgery that will define her future. Some family friends come to visit Alex's family, bringing along their teenage son, Alvaro (Martin Piroyanski). Alex immediately feels some kind of attraction to the young man--adding yet another level of complexity to Alex's personal search for identity. Debut director Lucia Puenzo handles such potentially explosive material with extraordinary grace and tact, probing past the sensational outward appearances to uncover the rich, emotional core of this story. Efron and Piroyanski both give brave, deeply touching performances, and Ricardo Darin is superb as Alex's father, a man of logic and science trying to make sense of a situation for which reason offers few answers. (Description provided by the Film Society of Lincoln Center).

Responses by Lucia Puenzo, director of "XXY"

What initially attracted you to filmmaking?

I've written literature, novels and short stories, since I was twenty. And scripts for other directors. I began to direct short films some years ago, alternating the team work with months of solitude and writing. I've always enjoyed literature and cinema that raises questions more than that which gives answers. Finishing a book or going out of the cinema with the head full of questions is good enough for me. The cinema of Haneke, Tarkovsky, Mallick, Dumont, Cassavetes, Bresson, Herzog... The literature of Cheever, Nabokov, and the argentines Aira and Puig. They all work with characters and relationships more than with plots. My interest when I wrote this film was, above all, the relationship between Alex and Alvaro. I didn't want my film to become a medical case, a clinical case, almost a documentary. Even if the script had been supervised by doctors and genetists, it's was important to make them understand I was not looking for any medical realism, I even worked with more than one diagnosis in Alex's body.

What was the inspiration for "XXY?"

"XXY" is based on a short story called "Cinismo", from the Argentine writer (and my husband) Sergio Bizzio. From the moment I read his story -the sexual awakening of a young girl who has what doctors call genital ambiguity - I couldn't take it out of my head. I began to write with that image in my head: the body of a young person with both sexes in one same body. I was especially interested in the dilemma of inevitable choice: not only having to choose between being a man or a woman, but also having to choose between that binary decision or intersex as an identity and not as a place of mere passage.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film...

From all the experiences that define this complex theme that we call intersexuality in Argentina, one is especially painful: it's not the corporal differences nor the well-intentioned brutality with which medicine and law have treated children born with genital ambiguity in the last years, and the irreversible consequences these surgeries have on their bodies and their lives... When I began to write XXY I was surprised to see there are almost no stories on this subject, there's a strange cultural silence over it. If the subject is explored it's in the language of testimony, of medical diagnosis, but with almost no fictions, as if the subject would be a taboo for any kind of poetic and fiction around it, as it was in ancient times.

To write the script I worked with Sergio's short story, with my own imagination, and with doctors, genetists, teachers, parents of children who were born with different diagnosis of intersexuality, young adults who had or had not been operated when they were born. The time I lived in Paris I contacted Alex Jurgen, a german intersex person who made a documentary of her life ("Octopusalarm") in which, after of years of operations and taking hormones to become a man, Alex's realizes he will never be merely a man or a woman. The word used for the surgeries (normalizations), says it all. Some think intersex means not having a clear sexual orientation, and that the only discussion around this issue is to avoid the mutilation of their body.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making and completing the film?

Everything was a risk: being a writer who is directing her first film, the mix of very well known actors with young kids who were doing their first roles, the subject, having a main actress six month pregnant (with a pregnancy that had to be disguised)... As for the subject, knowing intersex should be discussed as a cultural phenomenon, and should not be reduced to the body of a few individuals and the experience that they might have. While I was certain of this things, I wanted to find I way to say them in a small love story between two very young persons who, while they were falling in love, would be discovering their identity... An intersex body that has not been mutilated, and not only survives but demands the opportunity to be desired... Who decides, after all, that there are only two ways to be human?

What are your goals for the New Directors/New Films?

Just to see the reaction of the people to the film... It's been incredible for me to see the film with different audiences, some as far from Argentina as Japan and Thailand. People see so many different things in one same story... Being my first film, it's all new.

This article is related to: New York, Interviews