Lisandro Alonso is an Argentine filmmaker who first gained international recognition in 2001 with his debut film “La Libertad,” and whose last work, “Jauja,” won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2014 Cannes film festival. He is currently a research fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Crimson sat down with Alonso to discuss his thought-provoking body of work.
The Harvard Crimson: Most of your films, maybe with the exception of “Fantasma,” focus on landscape. What does landscape mean in your work?
Lisandro Alonso: Well, I’m a guy from the city, but I used to go [to the countryside] since I was a child. So I think it’s always good for me to get away and to try to put cameras and microphones where I never have been. So I like to go outside and spend some time in nature and see how people live far away from my place.
THC: “Fantasma” seems like a unique work in your filmography because it’s a sequel of sorts, following the principal actor for “Los Muertos” as he attends the premiere of that very film. How did that project come about?
LA: Actually, after I finished shooting “Los Muertos,” which is my second film, I just invited the main character of “La Libertad” and Argentino Vargas from “Los Muertos” [to the premiere], and the moment that they met I thought it was a good thing to make a film about it. They were in the city, far away from their places, and I see the reaction on his faces about people and the screening. ... In the films we shot I’ve been traveling to their places, so I thought it was a good idea to just invite them to come to my place, which is the cinematheque, where I learned a lot about cinema. So that was the beginning of the idea.
THC: Most of your films blur the line between documentary and fiction, but “Jauja” is not only a fiction, but also a period piece. What got you interested in it?
LA: Well after finishing my fourth film, called “Liverpool,” I just decided I was kind of repeating myself in the methods, in the tools, in the way I was shooting films. So I just stopped and went back to work at the farm with my family, and I started to have new questions about cinema, about rhythm, about people who I really want to work with. So I started to use, as you said, different times in the movies. This is why it’s a period movie. They talk in different languages. They are professional actors. They are kind of like more feminine characters. I think even if you can recognize signs from my previous films, you can also see that I am also moving a little bit away from my previous work.
THC: Thinking about the mysterious object that was dropped in the water at the end of “Jauja,” you seem to like to end your films with literal “signs.” The toy from “Los Muertos” and the keychain in “Liverpool” also come to mind. Is there a reason you gravitate towards these mysterious objects?
LA: Yeah, I think you are right. I think I use that kind of objects, or toys, or little things just in order to have some kind of, I don’t know how to even say it. … It’s like a secret between me and the audience, because most of the time, characters don’t even know what that object means, you know? As you can see in “Liverpool,” that little girl probably doesn’t even know how to read, but we as an audience can recognize that Liverpool is a city or a place that maybe they can find again or not, but there’s a lot of meaning in that word. For example, the little toys from “Los Muertos.” For me it’s like going back in time to when the protagonist was a kid. He’s back in the same place again. Also it reminds me of the first scene when there is a killing. So I think we can think through the character, with the character, what is the meaning of those things.
THC: Your films are certainly unique, and sometimes it’s difficult to discern where your style comes from. Do you have any cinematic influences? Directors whose work you particularly enjoy?
LA: Yes, I mean, I have a lot of film influences and filmmakers that I really like, but it happens to me that since I’m changing my mind, different people are just arriving to my mind, but for sure we can mention films from Iran, Abbas Kiarostami, Italian Neorealism, Werner Herzog—there are so many.
THC: Since you’re mentioning all these world cinema directors, your work appears to have grown increasingly global with “Liverpool” and “Jauja,” which stars Viggo Mortenson. What do you think about this trajectory?
LA: Well, I think I started in a very independent way, and every time I start shooting again the film is getting bigger in terms of its structure and people, and every time I start shooting I should open them up and see where is the new place, where I want to shoot the movie. For example, now I’m planning to make a film between South Dakota and the Amazon in Brazil. So I’m getting out more and farther every time.
THC: That’s very interesting, can you tell us a little bit more about the new project?
LA: Well actually, I’m developing an idea and a script here. I’m a fellow at Radcliffe, and I’m trying to do [some research on] what it means to be like a native, like an Indian, in the whole continent. So I will try to make some connections between past time and present time nowadays in the Indian reservation, and I will try to compare how people live here in the U.S. and how people are still living in the jungle as they were, I don’t know, 400 years ago.