Everything Passes: An Interview with Lina Rodriguez
Colombian-Canadian filmmaker Lina Rodriguez’s sophomore feature This Time Tomorrow is a film of quiet beauty. Like her debut, Señoritas, it is a delicately observed look at human behavior refreshingly devoid of overly dramatic or obvious emotional beats, consisting instead of long studied takes of conversation and interaction. Interested in the negative space of our lives that make up most of our time, Rodriguez finds intrigue and insight in what may first seem like the mundane, and in doing so uncovers the humanity of her characters. The film’s protagonist is a 17-year-old girl named Adelaida (Laura Osma). It follows her as she navigates two different, clashing worlds: her domestic life with her parents, and her teenage social life with her friends. In part she’s spoiled and naïve, but the film tenderly portrays her attempts to form herself—and without any coming of age movie clichés, captures how the small world of adolescence can abruptly expand into the real world.
This Time Tomorrow is part of Neighboring Scenes, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s showcase of contemporary Latin American cinema. It screens on Saturday, January 28th at 7:00pm at the Walter Reade Theater.
Adam Cook: Can you talk about the genesis of This Time Tomorrow?
Lina Rodriguez: One of the original images I had in my head was of the sun shining through leaves, an evocative image of light coming through foliage. For me, it’s a kind of melancholic image of the present. It makes me think about how everything passes so fast. Not only because I moved from Colombia to Canada, but it deepened my longing for the past. Longing for family. Even though I’ve been in Toronto for many years, but because I left when I was 20, I feel like I’m in an in between space of the past in Colombia and the present in Canada. I’ve always been very attached to the present. Things could change suddenly. Things come together and things fall apart.
Cook: And family plays a huge role in both Señoritas, your first feature, and This Time Tomorrow.
Rodriguez: It’s really only when I start talking about the films that I see these connections. My mom is in Senoritas, a big part of This Time Tomorrow comes from my parents. My dad used to say that this moment will pass, you’re longing for something today but then the future will come and the past will be the past. I like making films about family because it’s a great laboratory to look at how people behave, and so much of our behavior is guided by the expectations of others. How do you construct a sense of identity and self? It comes from who you are, but also from what people expect you to be.
I find it interesting to see how people perform as themselves. Are we who we want to be or are we compromising? So much of our life is about how we perform. In family there’s power and hierarchy. Looking at how people fight for their own space to be authentic. And in particular looking at young women defining what it means to be a young woman.
Rodriguez: And taking the present for granted. It was never interesting to me to predefine a format in a script and understanding everything, the psychology of the characters, the drama. As soon as I wrote something I wanted to take it back. I’m always finding ways to sabotage my own script. I don’t want exactly what I wrote. It’s about exploring.
Cook: Can you talk about casting, and the young lead Laura Osma?
Rodriguez: She’s an up and coming actress, she’s been on TV in Colombia. I had written a younger character. I’m really interested in this expectation of young women to be sensual and innocent. I needed someone who was able to be both. She has such a layered gaze when you look at her, there’s a lot there, a depth. She’s melancholic and questioning, she brings a mystery.
Even if you record a face in cinema, or the movement of a body, there’s a mystery of what’s behind that. I’m not interested in exploring through dialogue. How can you capture what’s impossible to capture? It’s about the aura.
Cook: In your films you’re able to create these very natural conversational sequences, often shot in long takes. There’s an incredible sense of intimacy.
Rodriguez: I have parameters for a scene, but I’m looking for moments as we shoot and long takes are a valuable tool to do that. I’m not interested in the heart of an action in a dramatic sense, in what moves the movie forward, but to me what happens before and after those moments is more interesting. The approach to longer takes is to find something else, not the obvious dramatic point, in exploring what’s around that. Working with the actors, most of the time was spent not on having the actors prepare specifically for the scenes, but that they build relationships together. I call it a prehistory, in both films, I prepare exercises for them to execute without me. So I’d be like “you guys have to cook a meal, figure what you’re cooking, who’d doing what.” With Laura and Francisco, I said you guys have to do something on Saturday, and Laura chose skating. I give them exercises to relate as people. I have the actors choose their own character names. They tell me who they’re going to be, and that’s what they’re known as during the whole shoot. Because of my obsession with the present, I see filmmaking as a chance to do something in the present. If the actors don’t put something in and take something away, it’s a waste of time.
Cook: Do you have any influences you would consider significant?
Rodriguez: Lucrecia Martel, Chantal Akerman. People who are uncompromising with what they are trying to do and aren’t out to prove something. There’s an idiosyncrasy to their own search. Filmmaking is a way of facing the world. Claire Denis, Pialat, Fassbinder, Cassavetes. It’s about putting your own vulnerabilities in the filmmaking. The cinema I relate to is when I can feel that the filmmaker is part of the mess, they’re not executing an idea, they’re making sense of the world.
Cook: You began working in experimental film, is that still part of your identity as a filmmaker and does it inform your current work?
Rodriguez: I think so, it effects how I see the editing, how to find rhythm and movement. I’m always trying to keep my eyes open, it’s about being open to new possibilities constantly. I don’t want to make what I thought about initially, I don’t want it to just be mine.
Cook: Would you make a film in Toronto?
Rodriguez: Yes, I’m writing one now. I’ve been a Colombian-Canadian filmmaker but I haven’t had an opportunity to be part of this industry. You have to fight really hard to make a film in Spanish about a Colombian working in Canada. I’ve lived here for 16 years; I want to make a film here.