Interview: Inês de Lima Torres

"To encourage and support works produced by young talents "– this is what the International Film Student Meeting stands for. As part of the 65th San Sebastián International Film Festival, the ISM allowed 14 young talents to present their work. Among them was At Dawn the graduation film by Portuguese director Inês de Lima Torres, a product of the Portuguese film school Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema. In the film Torres poetically explores questions of staying through images of motionless bodies and memories of the pasts that appear in the shape of apparitions.

Cineuropa Shorts got a hold of the young director in San Sebastián and chatted to her about her current work and her future plans.

Cineuropa Shorts: Your film deals with a new generation looking at the past of an older generation and not wanting their story to be forgotten. Was this the outset for making your movie?

Inês de Lima Torres: No, because this goes far back in the process. In the beginning I wanted to deal with this girl of my age. I had this idea of someone who wanted to depart and leave their homeland. I wanted to explore more this idea of departure related to our generation. Now everyone is leaving to study or work abroad. But as the time was going by I started to think about how I could put this in a story. I didn’t just want to take the subject and film it itself but to rather explore an idea through other elements that could surround this centre. That was maybe the first time I thought of this family but I didn’t want to portray someone – like the grandmother. I feel, in the end, the film isn’t about someone in specific. I think it is about everyone and I don’t mind. I think it grew from an experimental desire and the wish for the film to be in-between narrative and experimental.

CS: The setting of the house also plays an important role.

ILT: I think the house is very important because it is the main plateau but also I was afraid that it could be very intoxicating for the viewer. The film itself feels very slow if you are not in the mood for this kind of pace. The house could trap you in a way, but in the end, if you understand the relationship between the house and its surrounding environment near the sea, I think it is enough for me to show this idea of the characters themselves who embody the atmosphere that they are feeling. The summer itself and what it represents, the heat, the boredom and doing nothing.

CS: The film is very dark and mysterious, in a way, due to the soundscape and colours. You have these scenes at nighttime with a snake or a man slowly climbing a staircase. It is almost nightmarish. How did you develop this filmic style?

ILT: One of the things I wanted to explore was this idea of the ghosts that could be kind of trapped in the house. That is why I manly filmed inside the house. Being in this environment - my interest was in these ghosts which were related to the grandmother and in what way they could grow more and more until the end of the movie, so we could feel these characters being pulled into the grandmother's atmosphere. Maybe in the end you feel this kind of dark style. What happens to a lot of people when they read the synopsis is that they wrongly think it is a kind of horror film.

CS: There are a lot of things unspoken of, that you as a director chose not to tell. It seems like you wanted to keep as much information from the spectator as possible.

ILT: In the beginning, no. There were a lot of scenes cut out in the editing. I followed the script very closely during shooting. In the editing the first cuts were very true to the script and it made sense – but it didn't represent what I wanted to show. And I thought, sometimes the script is not really what you want. So, the editing process was really the way for me to find what I wanted. The most difficult thing then was really to decide if I wanted to explain everything – as I filmed it – but in the end I thought I have to choose what I want to tell. I might have focused more on the older sister or the grandmother – but I didn't want to make the film about any of them in particular. I realized with my editors that we have to make compromises and not be afraid to leave things aside.

CS: Do you recall any influences?

ILT: When I saw Voices through Time by the Italian Franco Piavoli, I think, I understood maybe the feeling that I wanted to give to my movie. It is a fictionalized documentary portraying a bucolic small village in northern Italy called Castellaro. He films the cycle of seasons and generations passing through infancy, youth, adulthood and old age. He films kids leaving the school, old ladies sitting on a bench doing nothing, youngsters in the midsummer afternoon, dancing with friends or waiting for their lover. And little bit of all these little moments of time in your life – especially during vacations that are so simple and dreamlike at the same time. That was an important influence also because it reminded me a lot of Portugal.

CS: This was your graduation film. What are your plans for the future?

ILT: This year I was finishing this movie and it was very exhausting not only in the end but also in the process of shooting. It was a very questioning moment for me, as it must be for many film students. This doesn’t really mean that I want to leave fiction. But I believe for us film students that just left school, and I speak for myself, the academic environment sustains mainly in a narrative foundation, and despite its significance, it can be very tiring – at least for me. So now, to leave school and be on my own artistically, it is very important to ’clean’ my old habits and influences with other subjects or things – that really exist. Also, the time you spend getting funds for a next project gives you enough space to question the things you are doing or have done. Now I'm having a bit of a troubling time with fiction itself. I feel very attracted to documentary but I don't think I would leave fiction.

16 October 2017, by Sabine Kues