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Elena Martín Gimeno: Spanish Filmmaker Makes Her Cannes Debut With ‘Creatura’

The Spanish presence at the 2023 edition of the Cannes Film Festival goes beyond Pedro Almodóvar and Víctor Erice. They are living legends but a name like Elena Martín Gimeno represents the promise of a future that is already here.

Martin Gimeno’s second feature film, Creatura, is part of the Directors’ Fortnight, a section that Cannes dedicates to the discovery of the independent and unique spirit that defines today’s cinema and its future.

We had the opportunity to speak with the actress, screenwriter and filmmaker – a Catalan-born artist from her hometown of Barcelona – as she prepared for her trip to Cannes.

How do you feel about this Cannes journey?

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve never been to the Cannes Film Festival as a spectator. As an actress, I have been to San Sebastián and the Berlinale but never Cannes. So, I don’t know how it works. I don’t know what to expect but it’s very exciting.

Creatura is a project I have a lot of confidence in, one that I believe in and I’m very eager to share it. More than Saturday (May 20), which is the premiere, I’m really looking forward to Sunday (May 21), which is the screening with the audience.

I want to see how they react, if it generates questions, debates, if people feel encouraged to share their experiences. It’s very exciting because Cannes is a platform, if not the most important platform, for a film to cross borders and reach many places.

How did Creatura come about?

The initial idea started about six years ago when many things came together. I was 26 years old, involved in a performance project with a group of girls who are my friends. We were researching female sexuality, desire and working with the body.

At the same time, I became interested in sex education and the importance of the relationship between sex and the body in a person’s development. All these years were spent writing the screenplay with Clara Roquet – a very slow and challenging process.

Clara, who has made many films, said it was the most difficult one she ever wrote. It’s a screenplay that simmers slowly, not relying on plot twists but on the complexity of the characters. It has five acts to achieve this mirror game that gives it an intention but not a cause and effect.

The best description of a film, as one of the members of the Cannes selection committee commented, is that one can identify with it but there are no good or bad characters.

We were clear about that from the very beginning and that was our quest. From the start, we couldn’t say what the film was about because it’s a very vast, broad topic. It’s about life, about the relationship with oneself.

The phrase “Mila is a girl who feels she has a stain inside, she searches, searches, searches and the only thing she finds is her own desire” helped us a lot. This phrase served as our statement of intent.

How much of personal stories, your own or those of others, are present in Mila?

There’s a bit of everyone. Childhood was the easiest part because there is a lot more documentation about those processes and very few cinematic references.

Everything was still being built and we had a lot of freedom. We even considered making the film only about childhood.

For adolescence and adulthood, we started conducting interviews, mainly with women but also with parents and men, asking them about their experiences, memories and their current relationship with masturbation. We requested permission to use the answers.

Mila is a Frankenstein’s monster composed of the experiences generously shared by these people, some things Clara remembers and others that I do, mixed from many experiences.

Both the perspective behind the camera and the body in front of it were yours. Did you have doubts about exposing yourself in both ways?

Absolutely. Clara had fewer doubts than I did. She was clear about it from the beginning. I had doubts because I know what it’s like to be in front of and behind the camera since I did it in Júlia ist. It’s double the work and at the same time half the work – half actress, half director.

The big question was whether I could sustain it during the limited shooting time. The scenes with the adult Mila are very complex. That’s where the doubts arose but the performance aspect was the most exciting part for me, to embody it physically.

While it wasn’t autobiographical as a director – I’m very clear that it’s fiction – I did use my own wounds as an actress to connect with that Mila who isn’t me. It was a very intense journey.

I was very exposed in front of my team, scenes where I would cry while being naked and to stay connected, I would tell my team, “Let’s do another take.” It made me somewhat self-conscious but it was also the best way to do it.

I also switched in and out a lot because there was a lot of preparation beforehand and I knew perfectly well what I had to do. I knew the character inside out.

Your presence at Cannes contributes to what its director, Thierry Frémaux, has confirmed as the year with the highest number of films directed by women in competition in the history of the festival.

But in a conversation with the HFPA, Frémaux also mentioned that in case of doubt between a film directed by a man and one directed by a woman, they would choose the latter. When will this explanation stop being necessary?

It’s exhausting, this need for justification. The fact that institutions and festivals still feel the need to say, “We’ve done our homework.” What would be amazing is if that homework was done without having to mention it.

There are many reasons for selecting a film and that is absolutely clear. Programming a film festival is a very challenging job because you’re creating a narrative with the selection of films. There are many criteria based on territory but also on themes, perspectives and age and this is implicit in the work.

It would be great if it wasn’t necessary to emphasize these things. That being said, it’s great that institutions have obligations regarding gender parity. But it would be nice if the external discourse didn’t underline the fact that “there are women but only because there’s a quota, not because their films are good.”

What do you know about your fellow filmmakers in the Directors’ Fortnight?

I did some research yesterday. There’s a film by a director-actress-screenwriter (Joanna Arnow, The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed) that deals with her relationship with BDSM and it made me really excited to meet this person

I’m familiar with the work of Hong Sang-soo and Michel Gondry was an idol in my adolescence. As for the others, I’ve heard of some of their films. I’m eager to find out although I don’t know how much time I’ll have.

You started at a young age. By the age of 24, you already directed your first film, Júlia ist. How did it all begin? What led you to filmmaking as a means to express your inner desires?

What came most naturally to me was directing. When I was little, I was very shy and what I liked was filming people and interviewing them.

My parents really liked cinema, theater and culture and it was something that was very present in my home. They are architects; they don’t work in this field but every Friday, we would go to the video store and rent three movies, one each for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was like that, every week.

I had a strong interest in storytelling. I didn’t just think about cinema. I could imagine myself hosting a TV show or writing for a newspaper. It was more of an interest in narrative in general.

My mother enrolled me in a theater school when I was 13 because I was very shy, to see if it would help me come out of my shell so parallel to that, my interest in acting grew.

When the time came, I decided to study audiovisual communications because it encompassed everything that interested me and I started working in radio and theater. It wasn’t until Les amigues de l’Àgata (2015) when I acted, that I thought maybe I could also act. I did it before directing because I took acting classes but I never considered it as a profession, more like something therapeutic.


Translated by Mario Amaya