How has your Swiss-Peruvian, multi-country upbringing influenced your filmmaking?
I went from a city of eight million people, Lima, to a small Swiss town of 8,000 people when I was 10. There were mixed feelings, I enjoyed the proximity of things, being able to walk to school, the nature, riding my bike everywhere, but at the same time I hated the silence, the emptiness of the streets, the calm. It was a place where everything was predictable and predisposed. I was used to chaotic, noisy and busy. The quiet made me very anxious.
So when at 18, I moved to Florida, I was able to step back and take some distance towards all these different life “scenes,” the places where I grew up. When I created Cora, I wanted her to be an outsider but with solid roots of one particular place, so she could have some distance, in order to think the foreigner not as a danger but as a bridge to the outside world that she also knows, and at the same time, to be able to identify herself as part of a clan. I have a special interest on how people adapt to different contexts and what the social context can do to people.
Does the film mirror any true events?
Back in 2002, I read in a Swiss newspaper that a six-year-old kid had been found unconscious on the snow, half-naked, because he was abused by a dog. I was so choked by the absurdity of that tale, bringing a dog to “abuse” a child, that it stayed on my mind for years. A few years after, I read that the parents of the kid never believed in the dog story, but that the kids from the small town did it. The kid’s younger brother had seen it all. I wanted to talk about what it is to live with a secret and guilt, what it is to grow up carrying that. I decided to imagine the story of the guilty kids of the town 40 years later, as grown up. That is what made me tell the story.
Are there many villages in the region where religious pilgrimages are the lifeblood of the economy?
The place where we filmed those scenes is truly a place where pilgrims come to pray and where people say Virgin Mary has appeared, but it does not have the economic importance of the film. It’s truly small.
I wanted to set up the family in a town where there was a certain image to maintain, needing people from the outside nourishing it in a certain way. I did not want to do the Swiss ski tourism spot, so I decided to do a holy place. What could be worse than to have a crime committed in a touristy holy place?
The acting in this film is phenomenal, especially the protagonist with her haunting eyes.
Thank you! Ondina Quadri is very intriguing, Cora was supposed to be much younger, but when I met her through a common friend, it was evident that she was the one. I rewrote the script with her in mind and the story became much more intense.
For Saverio, I had seen Fabrizio Rongione in the brothers Dardenne films, I really wanted to work with him for a long time, so that was clear. For the other members of the family, each character came very naturally, when I met Diego Ribon for example, as soon as I saw him I knew he was going to be the father. The connection between all actors was very organic and that really helped.
How did you select the location? Does Bucco even exist?
Bucco does not exists, the real town is called Palagnedra. It’s in the south of Switzerland, in the mountains. I was looking for a town for almost a year. the problem with all the other towns I would see is that they were hanging on the mountain. There was never a 180 degree view of the town. On the other hand Palagnedra is on top of a mountain, and there are other bigger mountains around it. It gave a sense of isolation that the other towns did not have. I thought it was perfect to illustrate a place that seems perfect but that is much more claustrophobic than the others.
What are your plans for the film?
The film is starting it’s festival life. It premiered at the Locarno Film Festival and I try as much as possible to attend the other festivals.
It’s not an easy film, it is not a pleasant story, neither a pleasant family, or pleasant pilgrims. Under the pictural face of the small Swiss town, it’s grey, it’s raw, it’s ugly, and dark with small touches of dark humor. The reactions I have seen so far are that either the viewer likes it a lot and is very intrigued by it, lets the story takes its own place, or hates it, strongly, and is very bothered by it, in its entirety.
To me, this is the major success of the film. I am happy that either way, it creates such a strong reaction in people, no matter what the reaction is. I work with my guts, I don’t like perfection, I don’t like pretty and soft.
Therefore, I can only hope the film goes around and is seen by many people.