Five years after winning the Palme d’Or for his acclaimed Oscar-nominated short Timecode, Spanish filmmaker Juanjo GimÃ©nez is back on the international festival circuit with his second scripted feature film, which premieres in North America on Monday in 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
Directed by GimÃ©nez and co-written by him and Pere Altimira, Desynchronized (Very in Spanish) follows a talented sound designer named C – portrayed by Marta Nieto, the star of Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s Oscar-nominated short Madre and his sequel of the same name – who must rethink his life and career when his vision and hearing are out of sync.
For his first feature film in two decades, GimÃ©nez, who has worked in several areas of post-production, wanted to play with the two most fundamental elements of cinema: image and sound.
“[Altimira and I] had this idea of [being] got out of sync very, very early on, and we wrote a first version where the lag was the main character, not the woman we now have as the main character, âGimÃ©nez told Observer. âBut then we decided to put this disease in a human and try to play with a woman who is aware of this problem. We play with [this idea of] internal and external desynchronization â, which means that the more C avoids confronting his personal problems, the more his vision and hearing become desynchronized.
In a brief Zoom interview from his home in Barcelona, ââSpain, GimÃ©nez talks with Observer about Nieto’s selection process for the lead role, how this film mixes elements from multiple genres and the unique challenges of filming asynchronous scenes. .
Observer: There is a real sense of dread and discomfort throughout this film, because hearing sounds is an integral part of human nature. When you started writing this screenplay, did you speak with specialists to better understand how the brain synchronizes sound, or the role sound plays in our daily lives?
Juanjo GimÃ©nez: Yeah, absolutely. We contacted neuroscientists, and there are even real cases of this disease. There’s a Korean pilot who has something similar to our character – not to those extremes, sure, but it’s a very real illness. And we know from reading these articles and our experience [of making this film], that being out of sync is very, very uncomfortable. Our brain does [an] effort at every moment, trying to synchronize the images and the sound. Even now with Zoom or Skype, we are used to this delay, and we watch the lips of our interlocutors move, and we do not receive the sound. [right away]. There’s always uneasiness, and you feel that kind of limbo, like you’re in a place nowhere, and I’m very interested in that. This place of nowhere where the sound and the picture don’t match, it’s very interesting to play with.
Marta Nieto called this project the hardest job than she ever did. How did she first get involved in this project, and how did you work together to build and develop this protagonist, who seems to have no full name?
Yes, she doesn’t have a name. No one in the movie calls her by name because she doesn’t know who she is. She gets to know herself [in this film].
Marta contacted the project early on. I was pitching in Galicia, about 1000 km from Barcelona where I live, and she was in the audience watching my pitch and watching a teaser we made. So after she contacted me and asked if I was going to audition, she wanted to be there. It was two years before pre-production started, so I contacted her when the audition was in Barcelona, ââand it was very, very clear that she was C from the start. We started to work, and it’s very, very difficult to repeat something like that. You have to rely on [each] other and have confidence in [each] other, and I had it with Marta. We made up new filming sequences that weren’t in the script, and it was very, very rewarding because we didn’t know exactly what the outcome of that was. It was an adventure.
Desynchronized blurs the elements of several genres, including thriller and fantasy. As a co-writer and director, how did you come to this blurry approach to genres for this film?
Working with Pere Altimira, my usual co-writer, we decided to make a fantasy film – not a science fiction film in the pure sense – but we decided to put everything [those elements] in the sound part of the film. I consider myself the # 1 [fan] superhero movies, like when Spider-Man gets bitten by the spider and starts climbing walls, so I wanted to create a female superhero. We have mixed the supernatural with this game of playing with sound and vision. It sounds very complicated, but if you put your own rules very, very carefully, and then you [follow] these rules, you can put them to the extreme.
Was it difficult to shoot these asynchronous scenes as opposed to the synchronous scenes, and how did you approach them differently?
Well, we had certain types of codes – one code for synchronized sequences and some completely different code for unsynchronized sequences. But even with that in mind, not only for Marta but for the rest of the team, it was like a little nightmare. (Laughs.) It was fun, but confusing at times. It was like an extra hurdle – we had the pandemic too – so it was like an obstacle [course], but in the end I think it boosted in a different way than a normal movie. Back when we were filming and even writing, we didn’t exactly know the outcome. It’s not an experimental film, but there is something subversive about it [that viewers donât always expect].
The protagonist begins with a rare disease that progressively progresses to the supernatural, where she is able to hear sounds from the distant past or even the near future. What was the reasoning behind this creative decision?
We were discussing it a lot because we needed to know the rules of this disease or whatever, so we decided to put it not only in time but in space. There is a turning point [point] in the plot that everything seems related to time, but it is not only time. It’s time and space out. There is also a desire to play with the cinema itself. There is a point where we use subtitles like in silent movies, and she begins a journey into her own past in the cinema itself. There are many parallels there.
For a movie that relies on sound design, you’ve probably spent even more time in post-production tweaking the audiovisual elements of that project. What did you do during this step of the process to really enhance the sensory experience and the role that silence plays in this film?
At the very beginning, I wanted to shoot the film differently. I wanted to shoot for two weeks and then stop and try to post-produce the audio and video to find out if this out of sync thing was working or not. It’s not a usual way of working, but I wanted to do itâ¦ but it was impossible because of the pandemic and the conditions at the time. So we shot in the usual way, for five or six weeks, then we stopped and started post-production.
But working with Oriol TarragÃ³ and Marc Bech, who were the sound designers, we talked a lot. There was a lot of footage that was better than [what was in] the script. They were forced to do it wrong. It’s hard to say to a sound designer, “Do it wrong, please, because that’s the point.” (Laughs.) But they got into the project in a very, very creative way. They were very involved, and they told me that for a sound designer, it was like candy. Normally they’re used to working a certain way, and this movie forces them to work on the opposite side, trying to work from a different point of view – or a sonic point of view. (Laughs.)
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Desynchronized will premiere on Monday, September 13 at the Cinesphere IMAX Theater in Toronto.