Interview with Juan-Carlos Fresnadillo

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

Juan-Carlos Fresnadillo on INTACTO

Juan-Carlos Fresnadillo is a very lucky man – or perhaps very talented. Or perhaps it amounts to exactly the same thing – which is exactly what his his debut feature Intacto is all about. A thriller in which good luck is a commodity which can be stolen and accumulated by especially gifted individuals, it’s easily one of the most original features in this year’s Viva! season at the Cornerhouse.

At the Edinburgh Film Festival I suggest that he’s had more than his share of good fortune already – an Oscar nominee at the age of 25 for his short Linked, and now sitting pretty as the wunderkind (or maybe bambino-magnifico?) of Spanish cinema, having picked up last year’s Goya award for Most Promising Director.

“Yes, in the early conception of the project we were extremely lucky,” he agrees, nodding to his co-writer Andres Koppel, “because our producers ‘bought air’, as we say in Spanish – we just had a very small idea, almost nothing, but they trusted us and said ‘Go ahead.’ This is very unusual in Spain, to get the chance to make a first-time movie just from an idea.”

In fact, Intacto and its director aren’t typically Spanish at all – born and bred in the British package-holiday hotspot of Tenerife on the Canary Islands, Fresnadillo (who with his dark hair and soulful eyes might be played by Gael Garcia Bernal in a biopic) grew up “about as far from Madrid as it’s possible to be and still be Spanish,” he says.

“I couldn’t make the kind of movie you would make if you were from Madrid or Barcelona or somewhere on the mainland – my vision as a writer and director comes from a guy who’s been brought up on this far-away island.”

Fresnadillo reckons that maybe “sixty percent” of the film takes advantage of Tenerife’s starkly beautiful natural scenery – including the casino in the middle of a field of calcified lava which serves as the the hideout of the ‘luckiest man in the world,’ holocaust survivor Sam (Max Von Sydow). But it isn’t the Tenerife that will be familiar to most holidaymakers: “Well, like they say in the brochures it’s an island of contrasts, and you can often find a place that’s somehow magical.

“And because of the weather it was known as the ‘lucky island’ by the Romans, which of course fits the movie. We filmed in the forests, on the lava fields, and on the coast, but we don’t follow the real geography so local people will be confused when we suddenly jump from one part to the next,” he admits. “When we wrote the script, we thought we would have to film on the mainland, but the producer came to meet us in Tenerife and said we should film there because he said it was like ‘the end of the world’.”

The results have attracted plenty of interest from Hollywood studios keen to find the next Alejandro (The Others) Amenabar – and an English-language remake is already in the works. But Fresnadillo is keen to move on to new projects, which include working with legendary Mexican maverick Alejandro (El Topo) Jodorowsky. “I wouldn’t want to be involved in any remakes – it’s like when you have an ex-girlfriend,” he laughs – “she sees other men after she leaves you, and you just stay out of it.”