• GNCR Award  
  • International Competition  
  • Renaud Victor Award


Rafael Palacio Illingworth

Rafael Palacio Illingworth
Life begins, life ends. A title so elliptic that it is reduced to a law of nature, stripping family misfortune of its tragic nature. Death is a private tragedy. How can you capture the horror of its irrationality? Rafael Palacio Illingworth is the director of several comedy dramas including Between Us (2016) and Macho (2009). Here, he signs a feature film that is at once intimate, honest and generous, based on the tragedy that shook his own life. By weaving personal material, gathered over time, into a fictional narrative, he goes beyond a purely autobiographical framework, constantly playing with its codes.

Rafael Palacio Illingworth forges an alter ego, a doppelgänger and a family reflection. The images of radiant, everyday happiness are matched by a fragmented narrative that condenses a descent into hell, revealing pain. Fiction plays a role: that of preserving these images of this happiness. He thus ensures the memories remain intact, instilling them with a sense of grace. The dramatization of his play replaces the muted brutality of real life. Here, the director’s body must withstand. In the face of illness. Against despair. There, his character’s body, a gaucho from the plains of Argentina, self-inflicts the henceforth unbearable violence of a world and consecrates the fictional space as a catharsis.

Intertwining different regimes in three movements, Rafael Palacio Illingworth courageously exposes himself on several levels. The duplication becomes a dialogue. He stages his own family to better reveal the contours of drama as a genre, through a system of dialogue between fiction and the mechanisms of its production: sources of inspiration, musical score, characters and motifs, peaks and climaxes… It is not the evidence of a tragedy that is thus revealed, but the vibrant meeting of art and life.
(Claire Lasolle)

Interview of Rafael Palacio Illingworth

1/ You deliver a very intimate film that involves your family life and yourself but also a fictional character as an alter ego. Can you tell us about its genesis?
It was a long journey. After traveling extensively through Argentina, I had a deep desire to write a story about Gauchos being displaced from their land by corporate farming. I was trained in traditional narrative filmmaking so I was forcing myself to place this story in conventional narrative standards: beginning, middle and end; compelling characters; motivations, etc. It was meant to be a story about a man losing his history, his roots and, in general, his purpose for life. For several years I wrote many versions of the story and I was never happy with any. It never felt authentic, or close to me. I was born in Mexico, living in Los Angeles, and here I was trying to touch the core of the Argentinian soul. In the midst of this creative struggle my life made an unexpected turn. My wife was diagnosed with cancer, we were forced to move to Zurich for her treatment, I had to leave my film career behind and focus on taking care of my wife and my two small daughters. In a way I started living the displaced life of the fictional Gaucho I was trying to write. It happened organically. But more than an alter ego, he was my companion, I created him, and he existed and moved around somewhere in Argentina, even if I had never seen him. He gave me purpose and obligation to continue making a film, to bring him to life even if it seemed impossible. He helped me escape into an imaginary world when I needed to distract myself from the reality of my wife’s cancer, he allowed me to explore pain and loss and suffering outside of myself. In exchange, I came to Argentina to give him a proper burial, a beautiful end.

2/ Fiction overflows the intimate. You intertwine autobiographical material with fictional characters, a family in mirror image. When did you decide on this narrative construction? Was it planned from the start?
It was all planned in a stream of consciousness way. Having death dancing around your house makes you focus on only the essential. So very quickly all selfish cinematic ambitions dissolved and what remained was a pure desire to record the moments I was going through with absolute honesty, without any dramatic rules or guidelines. I bought myself a 35mm camera on ebay, trained myself to expose properly and decided, naively perhaps, to invent my own way of making cinema, a method that would allow me to keep the raw ideas from ever landing on a page. I wanted to go from the abstractness of imagination to the pure visual language of cinema without filtering it through the written word. So I sat down and made a collection of drawings that I could use as a guideline for a possible film. I let my mind and my hand bounce freely, so naturally there were pieces of the Argentinian film still lingering in my mind, there were medical treatments, there were lonely moments, fictional characters, family vacations. This was not a storyboard but just drawings of situations or feelings that I saw when I thought of the movie. Perhaps closer to a Graphic Novel. Naturally, this approach brought a very “disconnected” narrative that bounced between all the things happening in my life, internally and externally. The final film is structured closely to the initial drawings I made. And I decided to shoot it all without considering aristotelic principles or cinematic conventions, just trusting that there would be a bigger power that would connect it all without me needing to explain or even understand it myself while making it.

3/ You set out the secrets for the making of the music of your film, a fundamental dramatic tool. Why this choice and what does it say about the relationship you establish between music and cinema?
This had also to do with my desire to disobey the conventions of traditional cinematic language. I don’t always believe in music being subjugated to the image or image to music. Although I do use score sometimes, I always try to rebel against it. I feel both art forms have equal power to elevate the viewer (or listener) into the realm of pure emotion without the need of each other. Of course, their power, when used together effectively, can be additive, but very often it’s not. So my idea was to string a chain of emotional moments, some visual (scenes) and some auditive (music) to try to provoke a global feeling by compounding. In other words, it was sort of an experiment to see if the feelings set during a music performance can carry on and set the emotional tone of what comes after and vice versa.

4/ You place your film under a body of works. How did they accompany the making of the film and why did you decide to reveal them at the opening of the film?
I had the desire to dismantle the formality of keeping inspiration hidden from the viewer. There is always a certain shame associated with an inspiration being identified in an artwork, and I wanted to go against that. To be upfront. Putting inspiration upfront, especially in the form of books, could be seen as pretentious if just interpreted superficially. But far from being considered a cultivated author, my desire was to share the things that were in my mind while I was making this movie in the hopes that people that found it interesting, could trace the line from inspiration to realization. Like how some statements of Oscar Wilde directly represent the philosophy of the movie, or the sketches of Roberto Bolaño became the animated life-lines that appear throughout the movie, or the often quoted essay from Truffaut where he talks about “The films of the future”, which directly represents the type of movie I present. I hoped it also functioned as a “further reading” section, like the ones presented at the end of wikipedia articles.

5/ You integrate several surrealist elements (the speaking tumor, the drawing of the cross on the body of Gaucho…) related to magic realism. To what do they refer and what are their functions?
I didn’t consciously intend to relate them to magic realism, although I can see how they could seem as that. I’ve always liked to include “lo-fi”elements that break the “formality” of filmmaking. This makes everything closer to me, more imperfect. It is my own exercise of not taking myself too seriously and acknowledging the fact that what is being presented on screen is, in the end, only an imaginary construction and, in a bigger sense, a very simple joke.

6/ The announcement of the death of your companion appears in the middle of the film. However, the montage proceeds with the reappearance of her. Why did you break the expected linearity that operates in the fictional narrative axis?
I think this is related to the same desire I explained earlier about breaking the “expected” cinematic language. We are used to be so serious around death and so scared of it, specially in a movie that deals with cancer and suicide, that I felt like balancing with a lighter side. In reality, this was not supposed to be an announcement of a real death or a turning point in the narrative but more of a prank, a way of provoking my small daughter. I felt like it was important to also portray the way in which I communicate with my family, the jokes we say and the way we make fun of each other so it would help to give a more complete portrait of the experience. To make clear that even when death is close by, there is still space for humor. Interview by Claire Lasolle

  • GNCR Award  
  • International Competition  
  • Renaud Victor Award

Technical sheet

Switzerland, Argentina / 2021 / 83’

Original Version : English, Spanish, German, Swiss.
Subtitles : English.
Script : Rafael Palacio Illingworth.
Photography : Rafael Palacio Illingworth.
Editing : Rafael Palacio Illingworth, Dounia Sichov.
Music : Tobias Preisig, Ephrem Luechinger, Alban Schelbert.
Sound : Alban Schelbert.
Casting : Cristian Salguero, Mariana Anghileri, Eleonore Meier.
Production : Rafael Palacio Illingworth (NORA films), Mauro Andrizzi (MONO films)
Filmography : Alma, 2021. Between Us, 2016. Macho, 2010. Man in a Room, 2010.