A few years ago I lost my five-year-old son in a park and it was the worst 10 minutes of my life! Whilst he was having great fun hiding under a slide, my mind was a broiling mess of self-recrimination, wracked with guilt and fear, concocting grim scenarios, grieving over the dark future my carelessness had wrought, all the while frantically running back and forth questioning unlikely suspects and searching impossible places for a child to hide. It was that tail chasing ‘doing’ however which kept me functioning whilst my brain was in near overload, an option cruelly withheld for the protagonist at the centre of Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s torturous short Mother (Madre) after she receives a phone call from her abandoned six-year-old son on a deserted beach. I caught up with Rodrigo to discover how lens selection, character movement and solid casting enabled him to ramp up the tension to unbearable levels in this stomach churning phone call thriller.
In recent years you’ve been busy making features, are there aspects of short filmmaking that you miss when working on those larger projects?
No, there are no aspects I miss, because I think it’s the same language.
The frustration of being powerless to, yet having an overwhelming desire to act is extremely palpable in Mother.
Consoling a loved one, having to trust only what they say, without actually being present, is a terrifying point of view, in the best sense.
Marta Nieto gives such an impressively multi-layered, intense performance, how did you lay the groundwork for that?
The first thing is that the actor understands the screenplay and so we really work through the relationship a great deal, what the character is feeling. My belief is that a good director of actors has to choose the right actor for the role, and the choice of Marta Nieto is absolutely right.
We wanted to pump up the feeling of being in a nightmare, maximum tension.
Although predominantly unfolding within the confines of Marta’s flat Mother doesn’t feel constrained by that single location, how did you use Marta’s movements along with Alejandro de Pablo’s roving cinematography to maintain visual interest while steadily increasing the tension?
As soon as we got down to work and saw that the whole short film was going to take place inside an apartment, we knew that we wanted to play around with wide angle lenses, with a 16mm lens because it is just one shot, and we knew that this was going to make it much more dynamic, with much more movement, a much greater feeling of terror also by making the rooms bigger. I knew I wanted a sequence shot from the very beginning and that this would give the short a lot of tension.
Given the real-time nature of Mother was post predominantly focussed on grading and sound design?
Yes, the sound design is very important because you can play around with it, and in our case, we wanted to pump up the feeling of being in a nightmare, maximum tension. I recall that together with Roberto Fernández, we did a really good job on the sound.
Despite ending with several questions unresolved Mother still feels well contained within the short film structure. However, you’re in the midst of expanding the short into a feature. Can you tell us anything about what the larger story will entail?
It will amount to an almost totally radical change in the character of Elena, played by Marta Nieto, who is the absolute protagonist and tells a story which takes place ten years later, which is something nobody expects and, I think, one of the strong points of the film. It’s not what the spectator is expecting.
Mother is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.