Giulia Ghigi Who was Moisés Sepúlveda before becoming a director?
Moisés Sepúlveda Before being a director, I was a professional magician for ten years. I performed numerous shows at bar Mitzvahs, weddings and birthdays, but gradually cinema won over, leaving magic to friendly gatherings. Now I hardly ever do shows but I enjoy them more.
GG Why did you choose this story for your debut film?
MS I think that the theatrical piece Las analfabetas, which this film is based on, raised some important questions about our education in an indirect way that caught the viewer unaware, by surprise, making its criticism even sharper. Illiteracy is not a central problem in the country, it practically does not exist, but it works as a vehicle to talk about the whole system and to criticize its faults.
GG Why did you choose film, beside literature, as a medium for your artistic expression?
MS As an adolescent, I was very exuberant and I always wanted to be the first to say my piece, often regretting not having thought it out enough. As an adult, I discovered that my opinions sounded even stronger if I gave them at the end of a conversation and after having listed to the opinions of others. Cinema works the same for me, it is an art that is cooked slowly, where you work by layers, digesting it many times and where you need to be really sure of what is said, because it stays forever.
GG The film is based on a successful play written by Pablo Paredes in 2010 where, from the beginning, the protagonists were Paulina Garcia (Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013 for Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria) and Valentina Muhr (La noche de enfrente by Raúl Ruiz). How was it to work with a couple of actresses who are already so close? And how was the screenplay’s work?
MS It is my first feature-length film and it’s also Pablo Paredes’ first screenplay. Neither of us knew what we were doing. Adapting the story from theater to cinema was a job that we learned to do along the way, the writing, the shooting, the editing, the rewriting, going back to shoot and editing again. And even if it does not seem so, Las analfabetas is a film that found its definitive form at the end of this process.
Regarding my work with Paulina and Valentina, who had effectively been closely united by the theater play, I posed a series of problems that, in the end, all turned into something positive. Both had had the time to ask themselves many questions about the text, about the conflicts and the resolutions that it contained, much more than I did when I started the film. In brief: both were so combative and intelligent that they made me understand many things. And, naturally, this is all in the film.
GG You were a magician, a job where you have to hide the mechanisms of the actions to maintain the illusion, while here you are bringing to life a film where the unveiling of signs is a great conquest. A revolution?
MS Actually, I do think there is an inversion in the process. From the point of view of an illiterate adult who has had to invent what he or she could not read for their whole lives, the learning process becomes a revelation of a hidden world, a kind of “looking into the magician’s hat”. And, in general, nobody is ready for that.
GG Regarding the play Las analfabetas, it has been said that illiteracy is presented as the impossibility for people who are a part of a community to join a social project. Considered symbolically, can Ximena’s illiteracy represent that of a whole society?
MS The theater play and the film present the problem in a similar way: a woman who invented everything that she did not know and a teacher unable to build anything, trapped by conventional wisdom. So these visions of the world face each other, they dialogue, bringing to light different kinds of illiteracy: emotional, creative and social illiteracy. There are many ways of being illiterate, not knowing how to read is only one of these.