We sit down to talk to Sunday's Illness director Ramón Salazar about the creation of the film and the importance of telling women's stories.
Sunday’s Illness is unlike any film you have done to date. Where did the inspiration for the film come from?
The inspiration for the film would have to be Susi Sánchez, who I worked with on my previous film. Since our past creative effort and collaboration was so fruitful, I knew I had to write her as the lead actress in my next film. Being able to work closely with her for two years, the extraordinary part of creating this film was being able to do it together with the actress. On the thematic side, we arrived there after reading a book by an Israeli author who collected testimonials from mothers who bravely admitted that they had no affection for their children or felt no empathy towards them. In that book, there was such a powerful theme that felt inexplicable, but still fascinated us. That’s when we decided to create a story centered around the idea of abandonment, showing both perspectives.
The mother-daughter relationship was the most powerful element of the film, and the catalyst for the story. Their nuanced dynamic felt so effortless and natural. Did you draw anything from your relationship with your mother?
Not at all. It did mainly just spring from my fascination in the book, and also my love for working with amazing actresses like Susi Sánchez, which is a characteristic you find in most of my films. I’m attracted to characters that have both a light side and a dark one, and I love doing stories that don’t take an obvious approach. If anything, my mother pushed me to tell the press that my films have nothing to do with her.
Most of your work consists of female-led, female-driven stories. They’re intimate looks at their relationships and dynamics. There’s a great importance, especially now, that stories like these be told. Creatively, what draws you to them?
Growing up and reaching adolescence as a gay kid during the 70’s and 80’s in the south of Spain was nothing simple. If I had anything in my life during that time, it was female support. Whether it was my mother, my grandmother and my aunts, or my female college friends, they made sure I never failed or gave up, especially under all of the pressure. That’s why, everytime I brainstorm, there’s a strong, female protagonist that comes forward in all of my films. Perhaps it’s because I’m grateful or because I feel like I owe them since they are likely the only reason I’m still alive today.
There female characters were powerful in this film, and were able to truly become the focus of the film thanks to your minimalist approach, which included natural settings and light dialogue.
Well, we had 2 maxims for the film. The first was to never have the characters verbalize any of the major themes, like the abandonment. The other was to make sure that the characters never showed what they were really thinking or feeling. Because of that, I ended up practically writing two stories. One of them had to do with what Anabel did in the 35 years after abandoning her daughter, and the other followed Chiara’s life after she was abandoned and leading up to reconnecting with her mother. This helped the actresses by giving them insight into the motivations of their characters. The actresses were also only ever told their side of the story, not knowing the other’s story at all. While directing, I would have to work with each of them in secret, whispering any information their character would need in their ear so that the other actress wouldn’t be able to hear. These secrets strengthened their performances by having them react as naturally as the characters would because they were being put in the same situation. Because there was so little dialogue, this helped them have to really on their facial expressions and breathing and interpreting the silence to tell the story.
All of your films have dealt with complex themes and complicated emotions. Are there any themes or topics you would like to tackle in your future projects?
I’d like to create a film where the film isn’t about the conflicts with the mother, but with the father. For my next film, I would like to tackle some of the more masculine issues, like the relationship between father and son. Throughout my career, I think what I’ve done with my films was transform the issues I have with my father into something more feminine and maternal. I think I’ve reached a point in my life where I need to confront these issues head on and create a more autobiographical-based film.