Paula Ortiz's terrific feature debut Chrysalis aka De tu ventana a la mía is a film of perseverance of spirit. With images that resemble a Braque painting one minute, a Dutch master the next, Ortiz fastens her portrayals of women to an insistent landscape. Maribel Verdu, Leticia Dolera and Luisa Gavasa represent the history of Spain with breathtaking performances as the story weaves in and out of narratives that could as well be reflections of Lillian Gish from Victor Sjostrom's The Wind or Emmanuelle Riva from Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, mon amour.
Ortiz's film was nominated in three categories for the 2012 Goya Awards; Best Director, Best Supporting Actress Maribel Verdú, and Best Original Song.
One of the characters In Chrysalis asks: "Can a butterfly become a larva? Can the process be reversed?" My question is why this film has not received any international theatrical distribution, even after it was screened at last year's Film Society of Lincoln Center's Spanish Cinema Now?
In my conversation with Paula Ortiz, at Instituto Cervantes New York, we spoke about the telling of three women, three destinies and the history of Spain in the 20th century.
Women and Hollywood: You are telling three stories of three women. Was it clear for you from the start that you would set their stories in the 1920s, the 1940s, and the 1970s?
Paula Ortiz: Yes, the idea of the movie was trying to tell the story of the women in Spain through the 20th century. I tried for it to be like a kaleidoscope of many many many women. Many lives. But we needed to crystallize them. Three stories, three ages of life, three landscapes and three moments of the history of Spain. The first character, Violeta (Leticia Dolera) lives in the twenties, between the two republics in Spain. It was a very interesting moment, especially for education, intellectuals, and for the possibilities for women.
WaH: You show her character wanting to go to Paris, to the Sorbonne, to study.
PO: Right. Then the second one, in 1941 is just after the Civil War, the beginning of the dictatorship. A really really hard moment, very difficult for anyone. This is another kind of story, of women in lands with nothing.
WaH: Your choice for the landscape was brilliant. That wind and the desert and the strength of Maribel Verdu's character Ines reminded me of Victor Sjostrom's The Wind (1928) with Lillian Gish.
PO: That was real. And that wind was very important for the character. My grandmother lived in that landscape. They were really strong women.
WaH: The woman of the wind and the man who is in the cave in the mountains. That is a good juxtaposition visually.
PO: Open in the landscape, so so open, and so dry and so hot at the same time. And the third one in '75/'76, it was the moment when Franco died and it was a really interesting moment when Spain came into democracy. So it was a transition as well. A character in transition like the country, reconstructing herself.
WaH: The structuring in threes is also a common fairy tale device and matches some of your other themes. The cutting of fingers that turn the wool red. And you have to think Rapunzel when three women have their hair cut for various traumatic reasons. Can you talk about the cutting of the hair?
PO: Yes, the cutting of the hair for me was a symbol of the weakness in the three of them. For the women individually, but as well socially and culturally the hair is the symbol of femininity, of beauty. If you think about the religions, all the religions try to cut the hair or cover the hair. Muslim, Jewish, Catholic all of them.
WaH: Fear of the hair.
PO: Yeah, it's fear. It is fear of the hair. The wild women used to be an image like that. I wanted to join the three of them, three lives in different moments, different conflict, different pain. At one moment the one thing that was the symbol for the three of them was the hair. One of them because of illness, one because of the rape and one because of the social and political situation. The military used to do that to the wives or daughters of republicans to show to the other people in the village.
WaH: It also connects them to other women, outside of Spain. I am thinking of Alain Resnais' 1959 Hiroshima, mon amour, for example, and the punishment for the Nazi collaborators.
PO: There is another Indian movie, very beautiful, that tells the same story, when Indian women become widows, then they cut their hair and they retire.