Juan Miguel del Castillo on giving voice to victims of violence in Spanish thriller ‘Unfinished Affairs’

Screen Daily
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Spanish thriller Unfinished Affairs premieres in competition at the Malaga Film Festival this week, marking the second feature of director Juan Miguel del Castillo. It is also one of three titles receiving special ‘market premieres’ in the festival’s Spanish Screenings industry event by sales outfit Latido Films.

The film stars Natalia de Molina as a victim of domestic abuse and Fred Tatien as a damaged and dangerous cop, who find an unexpected connection in the Spanish port city of Cádiz. Molina previously starred in Castillo’s 2015 debut feature, Food & Shelter, for which she won a large haul of best actress prizes including at Malaga and the prestigious Goya Awards.

Produced by Aralan Films and A Contracorriente Films in Spain with Aleph Media in Argentina, the film is an adaptation of Benito Olmo’s novel, La Maniobra De La Tortuga. Andalusian director explains he liked the idea of working on a story “that combined light and shadows… not only those of the two characters that are trying to start anew but also that of the city of Cadiz itself”.

Female victims of violence are often seen as “as bloody number, as statistics,” says Molina’s character, Cristina, at one point in the film. One of Castillo’s goals as director was to give a voice to their stories.

“In our research, social assistants working in the field were always telling us that they are always working against the elements,” says the filmmaker. “They feel they are dealing with a problem that is like a bottomless pit, never with enough resources.”

The detective played by Tatien may be a hard-boiled hero but Castillo says he was looking for “a more realistic look that doesn’t quite follow the conventions of a classical thriller”.

“I wanted to strike a balance,” he adds. “The fights, for example, are always in sequence shots, avoiding fast-paced editing. And the two main characters become friends because they help and need each other. They are mirror images.”

On reuniting with award-winner Molina, Castillo says: “I’m so happy with the acting in the film, both Natalia and Fred have been great to work with. I knew Natalia of course, and I couldn’t wait to work with her again. I discovered Fred Tatien in the casting process, a big guy that makes the character’s demeanour believable but who is also incredibly sensitive and tender.”

The filmmaker is also pleased to be back in Malaga, not only because it was here that he was discovered as a director with Food & Shelter but also because it was during that same festival that he began talks with the producers behind Unfinished Affairs.

“It’s noticeable how the festival has grown,” he says of the Malaga event. “The selection of films keeps getting better and better and more open to independent and auteur films. I already feel I’ve won by just being selected.”