“I didn’t want an actress, I wanted a co-writer,” confesses film director Eduard Cortés.
Sitting next to him, Sílvia Pérez Cruz smiles shyly. Cruz is a singer, songwriter and now also co-writer and star of her first movie, Cerca de tu casa (or, Near your house), a musical drama about home evictions in Spain.
Filming began on February 2 in Barcelona on a very tight budget of €1.5 million, which creators hope to round off with a crowdfunding drive.
Cortés still remembers how “shocked and afraid” he felt at the first news of people getting kicked out of their homes after defaulting on their mortgages, around three years ago now.
It wasn’t the plot that needed to be unpredictable, just the perspective”
Eduard Cortés, moviemaker
“I began attending meetings at PAH [Mortgage Victims Platform, a support group for struggling homeowners], and I soon realized that there was movie material there due to all the dramatic personal stories involved in each eviction.”
But then, as he was mulling over the script and the plot, seeking unexpected twists to the tale, he began worrying that perhaps he was trivializing people’s pain.
“I discovered that I had to explain a typical case and set it in 2007, when the support movement had not yet begun,” he recalls.
Cerca de tu casa tells the story of a couple with a 10-year-old child who lose their apartment and move in with her parents, only for this new home to come under threat as well because it was used as a guarantee on their mortgage.
“It wasn’t the plot that needed to be unpredictable, just the perspective,” says Cortés.
That is when he considered introducing songs into the film: “In a way, music sublimates those feelings.”
By then, he already knew that he wanted to work with Sílvia Pérez Cruz, whom he had seen perform at concerts. He just didn’t know how.
“This was the right time,” says Cortés. “And I want to underscore that this is not a musical, it’s a song-punctuated drama.”
At first, the singer turned down the offer. “I know a lot of actors, and I have enormous respect for acting. I had never worked with this artistic language before, and I didn’t see the need to start,” she confesses.
But Cortés insisted: he did not want a singer who would also act, but who would commit to help build the story and write the songs. In the end, Cruz ended up crafting the music and the lyrics all by herself.
“As for her acting... anyone who has seen her perform live knows of her talent to convey emotions,” says Cortés.
Cruz says she finally agreed to the project for several reasons.
“First, because it was a story that needed to be told; then, because it was a challenge to make a musical our way, which includes banishing the term ‘musical,’ a genre that I am not passionate about. And finally, because it was a luxury to be part of the search from the very beginning,” she says.
The cast includes Oriol Vila, who plays a tormented bank employee (“a collateral victim” in the filmmaker’s own words) who sees his clients get pushed out of their homes; Lluís Homar, Adriana Ozores, Ivan Massagué (who plays the lead actress’ partner), Iván Benet and Manuel Morón.
“They all sing, and it was important for them not to be singers, but to do it because they felt like it, to really bring out that fragility in each song,” explains Cruz. “I quickly realized that I couldn’t set just any old scene to music, and that the lyrics were an essential element that focused more on moods than on action. The goal was not to create a musical, but for the songs to become one more cinematographic tool to work with.”
The only positive impulse has not come from politicians but from people, people who are supporting one another”
The choreographer Sol Picó also contributed to the film with a dance that is performed during the toughest scene in the story, when the protagonist breaks down emotionally.
“In order to dance out an eviction, you need to find a very serious place from an aesthetic viewpoint, you need to work on other movements,” explains Picó. “As an experience it is quite a challenge, but at the same time I wanted to be part of a movie that explores a brutal problem in today’s society.”
Both the director and the singer/actress admit that they, too, went through several crises throughout the project, especially because of budgeting issues. Support came from a veteran producer named Loris Omedes.
“We’re going to film this in five weeks,” explains Cortés. “It will be just enough time. The movie had to be made, we had to go back to that can-do spirit, like back when I was shooting shorts and our desire was strong enough to move mountains. If someone, the government maybe, wants to shoot down artistic creation, that is something that we cannot allow. And the best weapon against that is simply to film.”
Cortés is pessimistic about the future when it comes to the subject of his movie.
“Unfortunately, we know that the situation will not have changed by the time we premiere the movie,” says the director. “The only positive impulse has not come from politicians but from people, people who are supporting one another. If there is anything good to come out of this dramatic situation, it is that it has reawakened the spirit of association, solidarity and cooperation. Let’s not lose that.”