When love came to a Galician town

'Vilamor' is the story of a 1970s commune in northwestern Spain

Actors César Cambeiro and Mayka Braña, pictured during last year’s shoot of 'Vilamor'.
Actors César Cambeiro and Mayka Braña, pictured during last year’s shoot of 'Vilamor'.XURXO LOBATO

As its name suggests, Vilamor (to be distributed internationally as Lovetown) is a romance. But director Ignacio Vilar’s latest film also tells the true story of a failed utopia that briefly flourished in the years immediately following the death of General Franco when a group of young people set up a commune in a tiny village called Foxo, in A Fonsagrada, a remote parish in the mountains of Galicia’s Lugo province.

The plot is simple enough: Breixo, played by Rubén Riós, now a successful writer in late middle age, takes a sentimental journey back to Vilamor. A series of flashbacks tell us the story of his hopeless love for Sonia, played by newcomer Sabela Arán. Breixo is studying to enter the priesthood, and in so doing hopes to preserve Galicia’s fast-depopulating rural communities; Sonia is escaping from the real world, believing like her friends and lovers in the commune that she can create a new, better world.

“The story dates back to 1976, when a group of mainly university graduates, politically aware, educated people, decided to try to create a new society,” explains Vilar. “But the commune had begun to fall apart by 1982, by which time, hard drugs were on the scene,” he adds.

Vilar first heard about the commune in the late 1990s, when he was in the area making Un Bosque de Música (or, A forest of music) a documentary about a group of Galician musicians. The filmmaker met some of those who set up the commune.

The car would only take you so far; it was like shooting The African Queen

“There was a guy called Nilo, who later had a bar in Lugo where the customers paid what they thought was fair. The idea of the commune was to establish a new way of living, of equality between men and women, treating children differently: they tried to set up a school… Some of them are now teaching in universities. One woman set up the Fingoi Schools, which have established a good reputation for their approach to teaching,” he says.

Some of those involved in the original project appear in cameo roles in the film, and part of Vilamor was filmed in houses belonging to the few who carried on with the project and still live there to this day.

Vilar says that recreating 1970s Galicia in A Fonsagrada was not hard, but making the film itself did present serious challenges. “The place hasn’t changed much; there is still nothing made of concrete or aluminum up there. Foxo is around an hour from Fonsagrada itself, but only 20 minutes of that can be done by car. The shooting was like The African Queen. After climbing 1,600 meters, with the snow one meter deep, we had to start moving equipment around by hand. The electricians said it was the most difficult film that they had ever worked on,” says the director.

The production took nine weeks, with a team of 150 people, and all on a budget of 1.7 million euros. It was shot using local actors, in the Galician language.

We Galicians have a duty to tell our own stories in our own way”

Looking back over Vilar’s 15-year career, and the nine films he has made, it’s easy to see what attracted him to Vilamor. For a start, he sees the world through the prism of Galicia, largely limiting distribution of his work to the region and working in the local language. In 2003 he made Ilegal (Illegal), a low-budget, fast-moving thriller about two reporters based in Galicia who try to uncover a network of people traffickers. In 2008, he released coming-of-age movie Pradolongo, also with Rubén Riós in the lead role.

Although he has international hopes for Vilamor, for the moment, he’s promoting the movie throughout Galicia, traveling in a vintage Volkswagen camper (predictably called the love van) with actors and others involved in the film on a grueling schedule to around 350 schools and arts centers until May 17 that sometimes involves up to three screenings a day.

Aside from spreading the word about the film, he says he wants young people to learn something about the recent past, and the speed with which Spain has changed. All too aware of the difficulties of winning a distribution deal at a time when fewer people are going to the cinema, Vilar has cut a deal with more than 100 towns and villages, who will show the film in the open air over the summer.

“If people won’t go to the movies, then the movies will have to come to them,” he says, adding: “Galician cinema has to continue: we have a duty to tell our stories in our own way.”

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