Saturday, October 1, 2005

“Slouching toward Dystopia”

BRAINTRUSTdv interviews Carlos Atanes:

“In FAQ, writer-director Carlos Atanes envisions a Europe dominated by a hygiene-obsessed matriarchy. Digital video and the Internet have become the tools of the resistance; criminals are forced to choose their own grisly punishments. A Spanish production shot in Paris in order to increase its alienation effect, FAQ belongs to an older tradition of cerebral science fiction which tends to shun visual effects in favor of provocative ideas.

In the following interview, Atanes discusses the political implications of FAQ and examines its inevitable relationship to the dystopias of 1984,Brazil, Fahrenheit 451, and Minority Report.

BRAINTRUSTdv: You’re Spanish, and this is a Spanish production, so why did you decide to shoot in Paris with mostly French actors and dialogue?

Carlos Atanes: If a totalitarian government were to take control of the United States, the decisions would be made from the same place as now: Washington, D.C. There would be other viable options, of course, but why make life difficult? The state structure is conceived so that the power flows from the capitals. During the Spanish Civil War, Franco established a provisional rebel government at Burgos, but as soon as the Republic fell, he moved to Madrid. Nowadays Europe is politically decentralized, but France and Germany are the economic driving forces of the Union. FAQ describes a very plausible geopolitical future: Southern Europe is turned into a desert, and the decisions are still made from the usual places. I could have chosen Berlin, too, but Paris offered several advantages: some icons that would be very useful to me (Nôtre Dame and the Eiffel Tower); the nearness to Spain; a language more accessible to Spanish actors. On the other hand, I was very interested in using a foreign language which would be unfamiliar to an audience in Spain but also to the French-speaking audience, because the non-French actors who have roles in the movie exaggerate their strange pronunciation. It generates an alienation effect which greatly enriches the movie’s atmosphere, I think. It’s also very suggestive of the contradiction born in the use of a language as sensual as French (used for writing the best erotic literature of the last three hundred years) to describe the society of FAQ, which is so cold and de-eroticized.

Anyway, it’s a frequently asked question. That FAQ was not shot in Castilian or Catalán surprises people, and here in Barcelona some logomaniacs even interpret it as a little “betrayal”—which reaffirms my decision! But there are always people who, after seeing it, and after the initial surprise, understand it’s a good choice.

BTdv: You’ve made the point that in dystopian works of fiction, the rebel-hero doesn’t need to succeed. He is there to guide us as Virgil guides Dante through the Inferno. That’s a nice analogy. But at the end of FAQ, the protagonist Nono does succeed by entering into another reality where he can be with Angeline, his dead lover. It reminded me of Sam Lowry’s fantasy sequence at the end of Brazil.”

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