Fernando Trueba’s latest film, Memories of My Father (El olvido que seremos), has traveled a long, winding road to movie theaters in the United States.
Based on Colombian author Héctor Abad Faciolince’s autobiographical novel, the film was introduced by Caracol Televisión during its post-production to potential sales agents at Ventana Sur 2019, one of the most important markets for audiovisual content in Latin America. The film was jointly acquired by Cohen Media Group and Artificial Eye for distribution in the United States and the United Kingdom in 2020, with plans for a summer 2021 release.
But after this little bug called COVID-19 postponed those plans, the film finally is seeing the light of day. It premiered commercially in New York on November 16 and began its slow, strategic nationwide rollout the following week.
Memories of My Father opens in Chicago and other markets on Friday, December 2, and will be available for rent or purchase on digital platforms on December 16. Cohen Media Group provides a full list of theaters screening the film, which was selected by Colombia to represent it at the 93rd Academy Awards in the Best International Feature category and the Premios Goya in the same year—the second time the same film has represented Colombia at both awards.
Trueba kept busy. He just finished post-production on the animated documentary They Shot the Piano Player, co-directed with Javier Mariscal. The story revolves around the disappearance of a young Brazilian virtuoso during the ’70s and features such musicians as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, with Jeff Goldblum voicing the journalist investigating the musician’s disappearance. The title is an obvious tribute to François Truffaut’s second feature, Shoot the Piano Player (1960), starring Charles Aznavour.
Trueba also just finished shooting Haunted Heart, a film noir starring Matt Dillon, on a remote Greek island.
Memories of My Father opens, in black and white, in Turin, Italy in 1983 as Héctor Abad Faciolince (Juan Pablo Orrego) leaves a movie theater showing Scarface with his girlfriend. He will travel to Colombia the next day where his father, Héctor Abad Gómez (Almodóvar veteran Javier Cámara), is being honored by his fellow teachers and students after being ousted from the university with the excuse of “compulsory retirement.”
The screen bursts into color as it flashes back to Medellín circa 1971. Héctor Jr., also known as Quiquín (now played by Nicolás Reyes Cano), may be spoiled by his mom but, as the only son in this family, he is far more attached to his father, a focus reciprocated by Héctor Sr. as he takes his son along on visits to underserved communities and wrestles with the radical student fervor of the era. His anti-poverty stance earns him the government’s derision.
But this first half is far more concerned with family life and Héctor Jr.’s coming of age than with the politics taking place at the margins, although they begin to slowly encroach on the tight family circle. As the patriarch shares with his children the news that a sister is gravely ill inside a car, you can see police officers, people, and even victims run from and towards the scene of a car bomb detonated by the cartels.
The movie then transitions back to the black-and-white ’80s and the retirement ceremony. Héctor Sr. is now far more active politically and far more outspoken. He continually receives death threats but ignores them. Héctor Jr. begins to resent his father’s activism at the expense of their family. This push-pull between the personal and the political is the motor of this gentle drama, one that in tone and narrative drive reminded me of Trueba’s Oscar-winning La Belle Epoque.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Trueba via Zoom while he was attending a retrospective of his films at Quad Cinema in New York. This interview was translated from the original Spanish and edited for clarity.
How did Héctor Abad Faciolince’s memoir come into your hands and why did you think it had potential as a movie?
When the book was published I read a couple of very interesting reviews that made me want to read it. So I bought it, I read it, I was moved, I loved it, but the idea of making a film never crossed my mind. It seemed that it was a book that was too personal, intimate. It is the book that I gifted the most times, starting with my mother, brothers, friends, etc. I don’t know how many times I bought that book.
Then, suddenly the years went by and the producer Gonzalo Córdova and the author contacted me and proposed that I direct the film. My first answer was no, because of what I told you—because it seemed to me that you couldn’t make a movie out of it.
It seems to me that very good books are better left untouched, you know? But then I thought about it and said, damn it, this man, this beautiful character, Héctor Abad, deserves that we not be cowards and take courage. It took me a while to consider it. I was flattered that the author and producer offered it to me, but I thought it was a very dangerous gift.
What did you find in the book that seemed it could be translated well into film? What did your brother David bring to the script?
Well, David gave dramatic form and a dramatic structure to a book that is not written for the cinema and that is written from the most intimate memories of a son. That’s what makes a great adapter. It is not a book with a dramatic structure; it is a book of memories, poetic, nostalgic, full of emotion, very beautiful, very literary. And a movie requires another series of things.
Why did you structurally divide the film into color and black and white?
It’s not for any rational reason. This is because, in my head, when I was preparing the film months before, I always saw that happy part in color and the hard part of the present world in black and white. I saw it like that. And I never follow my intelligence when making movies. I save my intelligence for other things. When directing movies, I only follow my instincts and my sense of smell and my feelings.
Choosing Javier Cámara for the main role of Héctor Abad feels counterintuitive to me, since we identify him so much with Spanish cinema. But the ability with which Javier assumed not only a Colombian accent, but an accent as regional as that of Medellín—to such a degree that at times I thought his voice had been dubbed—was amazing. How did he do it? Learning that accent requires iron discipline.
[Also] a great ear and a gift for doing that kind of thing. He had something that helped him a lot, which is that there were recordings both from the radio and from those letters that Héctor recorded to his family that have been preserved. So Javier was able to use that material and get in there and blend in and make it his own. And that was very good, to the point that Héctor Abad [Faciolince] told me how his father and his Javier were now mixed in his head.
How would you compare working with this team of Colombian filmmakers with previous teams?
I loved working there so much, and I had such happy feelings that, in the film I just shot in Greece, I am joined by Juan Pablo Urrego, the actor who plays Héctor when he is young, and also the cinematographer and production designer, Diego López and Sergio Iván Castaño. It was such a good collaboration and they are such good professionals.
Don Héctor, precisely because of his way of being and his political and social vision, did not please anyone. The Marxists called him a facha. The fachas called him a Marxist. And I can’t help but think that this has a correlation with the moment in which we live, of extreme ideologies, in which if you are not one of us, you are the enemy.
He was a humanist and a good citizen, and so he tried to contribute something to the politics of his country and his city, using his experience that he had as a doctor. He is a person who was congratulated during his time by the World Health Organization because he carried out the first mass vaccination against polio. He was a guy who realized that the most important thing in politics is to end extreme poverty. It is something as simple as the fact that societies that have extreme poverty are inevitably doomed to violence, because you don’t give people another exit. So, in order to live in a livable world, the first thing to do is to eliminate extreme poverty.
I would like you to tell me a little bit about Haunted Heart now that you just finished shooting it. I understand it is a noir. What attracts you so much to noir?
I have always said that my two favorite film genres are comedy and film noir, which has nothing to do with thrillers. Noir has a poetic essence. The thriller can be more journalistic, more action, more police.
And why Greece?
I think it was influenced by the France of Patricia Highsmith. I have read all her novels, biographies of her. I even interviewed her when she lived in France. And I kind of wanted to have that sense in her books. There is always an American stumbling around Europe, or Tunisia, or Greece, or Italy.
And what can you tell me about the animated documentary They Shot the Piano Player?
It is a musical at the same time that it is a political film with elements of a thriller, and at the same time it is also a film about memory, not only the historical memory of what happened in Latin America in the ’60s and ’70s, but the memory of how a person’s life is reconstructed through the bits that remain in the memory of others. I am very glad I did it.
At the same time, I think that you have to be crazy to make a film like that in these times. And that, instead of regretting it, makes me feel proud.
We just lost Brazilian pop legend Gal Costa, and now that you mention the political environment of the ’60s and ’70s, and given the role she played as a co-founder of tropicalismo, what do you feel world music has lost with her passing?
She was one of the great ladies of Brazilian song. My favorite album of hers is the first album by Caetano Veloso that they did together, Domingo, and where the voice of the two is a kind of marvel. A record that never gets old. It’s still precious. And curiously, the character in this animated film of mine, about which all the research is done, Tenorio Junior, collaborated with her on a song called “Volta,” where he does a beautiful piano solo.
It is a great loss for Brazilian music.
Featured image: Spanish director and producer Fernando Trueba (FICG GUADALAJARA/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)