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

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
Interview by Claire Lasolle