Interview with Santiago Mohar Volkow

Lumbre is an extremely free film in constant evolution, characterised by the use of different cinematic registers. What was the starting point for this film?
The film started out as a collection of independent images I wanted to film, later in the process the links between them became clear to me and I discovered that they all somehow revolved around the idea of death. So I understand the film as a kaleidoscopic essay on death where the shifting of styles and tone is organic to the shift of perspective on the subject and the evolution of the narrative.

The film is shot in 35mm. What led you to make this decision?
What made the film possible in the first place is that one of the producer was generous enough to give me a box with thirty cans of expired 35mm film. It was the excuse to start the project. Once I had the film stock in my hands, I knew that I wanted to take advantage of the beauty of the format and shoot this collection of very painterly images stuck in me head. I didn’t know exactly what held them together but I trusted that the process would reveal that to me.

As the opening credits may suggest, the film seems to follow a structure of musical nature, divided into four parts, or rather movements, preceded by an overture. How did you conceive the script? And could you tell us more about the logic behind the structure and editing of the sequences?
Yes, I thought of the narrative structure of the film as a musical fugue. Since the starting point was the independent collection of images, I thought of them as independent melodies that would intertwine amongst themselves as the film progressed. So I had the couple, the children, the mother, and so on, and I trusted that in the radical juxtaposition of these “melodies”, the hidden links would become apparent and, in consequence, “a new melody” would emerge. It was done with intuition during the shooting process and later in the editing room it became a far more rational process where we stuck to more conventional logics of narrative structure.

Events are barely mentioned, often relegated to the background or off-screen, or even bypassed through temporal ellipses. On the other hand, the focus is more on the bodies, particularly the faces and hands. What ideas or intuitions guided the direction of the photography?
As I said before, I started out less interested in telling a coherent story than simply filming a collection of very specific imaged I had in my mind. Many of these images where portraits of people in my life. Everyone in the film is either part of my family or a very close friend. Their faces have deep meaning for me and I trusted that under a certain light, those images would be enough to express what the story that was built in the editing room needed. If events are often relegated to the background or offscreen it’s because I think that a face or a landscape can often be a more accurate description of what I believe that event means than the actual event itself.

In addition to the human figure, particular attention is given to the landscape, which is highly mobile, varying between urban and rural settings. How did you work on this aspect and how did you choose the different locations in the film?
Similar to the people portrayed in the film, most of the locations are also places I knew quite well. There were places and specific lights that I wanted to film such as my mother’s house in the afternoon, where most of the portraits occur, or the city at night. Some activities, such as the burning of the dry fields, I had seen all my life in the countryside and I filmed them without knowing that they would ended up being an important metaphor to sum up the cycles that the film tries to capture. Other places I had never actually been to but had always intrigued me, such as the crematorium, a place where death becomes present in such a matter-of-fact way that it has no mysticism at all and filming it was also discovering it.

The film is punctuated by elements that reappear and act as a subtle link between sequences, such as fire, which becomes a kind of leitmotif and gives the film its title. What led you to take this decision and what does “lumbre” represent for you?
As I said before, ultimately the film is about death or about dying. Lumbre, which doesn’t exactly mean fire, but translates better into english as “ember” and I think, “braise” in french, is a transitory state of burning, just like living is a transitory state of dying. Which can be seen as gloomy idea but it’s also exciting and beautiful. I think that’s what the film shows under several different lights.

Interview by Marco Cipollini