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Young filmmaker Rodrigo Cortes tells Subhadra Devan about his film that everyone seems to either love or hate
SPANISH filmmaker Rodrigo Cortes Giraldez likes it that people still think about his latest film, Red Lights, way after they have viewed it.
“At the end, when the credits roll, people usually leave the cinema. With Red Lights, there are certain ideas that don’t easily leave your mind,” says the 39-year-old director behind the 2012 Sundance festival pleaser.
“People who didn’t like the film, they tell me, I keep thinking about it two weeks after I saw it and I still don’t like it. I like it that they still think about it for a couple of weeks,” says Cortes, explaining that “the end of Red Lights is a big question mark, it doesn’t tie up everything”.
Red Lights is Cortes’ second feature after the Sundance runaway hit, Buried, in 2010. Both films were screened at the American premier showcase for independent film, held each January in Park City, Utah. Red Lights is scheduled to be released here by year’s end.
“The film polarised a lot of people and you must accept this, if you are honest. It’s part of the game, to accept every reaction,” says Cortes of his two-year-long project.
SHOCK AND AWE
Red Lights is a psychological chiller, with taglines like “Your brain lies to you” and “Truth is an illusion”.
The Sundance film guide states that Red Lights is about two investigators of paranormal hoaxes, the veteran Dr Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her young assistant, Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy, Inception, 28 Days Later), who study the most varied metaphysical phenomena with the aim of proving their fraudulent origins.
Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a legendary blind psychic, reappears after an enigmatic absence of 30 years to become the greatest international challenge to both orthodox science and professional sceptics. Buckley starts to develop an intense obsession with Silver, whose magnetism becomes stronger with each new manifestation of inexplicable events. As Buckley gets closer to Silver, tension mounts, and his worldview is threatened to its core.
Other cast members include Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House, 2012) and Joely Richardson (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).
Red Lights, he explains, has a compelling story that go beyond the regular structure. “You cannot interpret the film with a template. So, from the first moment, you must be aware that this is going to create division. And you must be very sporting with these things,” he says.
“You must remember there is always wind out there, sometimes it seems to blow for, sometimes against. You have to stay focused and remember what is the thing you are going to do.”
On choosing to film things that go bump at night, Cortes says it was more about filming “paranormal hoaxes”.
“I am more interested in such phenomena that affect people’s psychology and beliefs. Paranormal and hoaxes are two antagonistic words. Both are intangible but real to many,” he explains.
He marries that with “the kinetic code of the political thriller of the 1970s”, working on the mechanisms of perception.
Red Lights was shot in Barcelona, 800km from Cortes’ hometown, a wine district, called Galicia. On his start to film-making, Cortes says he recalls “reacting extraordinarily to films as a kid”.
He says: “I didn’t think I would or could, be one. That was like thinking of being an astronaut. By the time I was about 14, I had thought about being a film-maker so many times that I began to believe in it. It was like why not?
“At 16, I shot my first short Super-8 film, with my friend’s camera. I started to write Red Lights before filming Buried.”
Buried had a cast of one — Ryan Reynolds as Paul Conroy who wakes up in a wooden box buried in the ground. Red Lights features A-listers.
“In a way, it’s easier of course as they are better than others. And of course, I never dreamt I would find this amazing cast for my script. But I never limit myself, not because I think everything is possible but because life limits you well enough without any help,” he says.
“No matter how improbable it is, when you want an actor for a character and you want the best, you get a list of 10 names, and then common sense tells you that you are going to get No.7 or 8 but still you send it to No. 1 on the list.
“And in this case, every No. 1 says yes!
“I was told they responded very strongly to the script, to the characters, the lines, and the way this multi-layered story strongly resounded inside them.”
Cortes recalls that it was easy to work with De Niro, Weaver, Murphy, Olsen and the rest because “they wanted to be there, not because they were paid or anything like it”.
“They wanted to serve their script and their characters, which was very moving to me,” he adds.
While doing Red Lights remains an intense experience for Cortes — “it was just shooting and shooting and shooting” — in retrospect, he says he is profoundly affected by “seeing veterans with 40 years experience keeping that enthusiasm and that love for what they are doing”.
“It was fascinating to watch them at work. And they have very different approaches to the performance. For instance, when you see De Niro work, it’s mesmerising. He is obsessed on being, not on pretending to be,” says Cortes.
“He models words like they were clay and then magic happens. And when that magic happens, and you are fast enough, you still it and edit it.”
Cortes says he too needs to be obsessed to work on a film. Although he had written Red Lights before filming Buried, he stopped everything to work on his feature film debut. Then, he worked on Red Lights for two years.
“There are many films I would spend two hours with, but not so many I would spend two years with. So, you can ask (about the next project), but I won’t answer. I am looking for that idea that becomes for me a steamroller.”