By HOLLY JONES
Oscar award-winning veteran producer Gerardo Herrero, (“The Secret In Their Eyes”) returns to the director’s chair with “Under Therapy,” his stark and unnerving big screen rendition of playwright Matías Del Federico’s theatrical production. The project bowed in competition at the Málaga Film festival earlier this week and is set for broader theatrical release in Spanish cinemas on Friday.
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Enamored with the staged rendition, Herrero was inspired to add a distinctly cinematic touch to the script, honoring its darker underpinnings amidst the narratives’ anxious banter.
“The first time that I saw the production, I fell in love with the work,” Herrero told Variety. “Despite the fact that the show’s very well directed, written and performed, for me it’s much lighter than the movie. The movie’s not a comedy, it’s a drama with humor,” he revealed. “I love that they laugh and that afterwards they freeze, smile and think: ‘What the hell am I laughing at?’ The micro machismo that we all carry inside, the movie talks about many things, about the education of children, about relationships, sex between a couple, jealousy, about the acceptance of husbands, women’s work outside the home, and various other issues.”
Following three disparate couples as they attend an unconventional group therapy session, the adaptation sees its characters tasked with helping one another recover from deep-seeded traumas that unravel frantically from the instructions their therapist has scribbled and stuffed inside eight envelopes.
A well-appointed set becomes an additional key element as its nostalgic and precisely-placed fittings ease the characters around the space from scene to highly-charged scene, allowing them room to envelop the location, cleanly maneuvering their peers. An Eames-era office chair used as refuge during a difficult conversation sits near a bar cart, paintings from acclaimed artist Fermín Alvira become an ice breaking mechanism for the group: Every portion of the space has a purpose.
“We dealt a lot with the decoration, the colors of the walls, the paintings and the furniture. We went through the furniture stores in Pamplona to choose sofas and tables. For example, the armchair where Alexandra turns while Fele moves around,” stated Herrero. “The set was inspired by the camera movement. I chose the painter whose paintings also helped me to reveal the characters.
Herrero manages to capture the raw and emotive state of the actors as they inhabit their roles, something he contributes to the rehearsal periods before shoots.
“The key was the week of rehearsals on the set, with the set dressing almost finished, in the mornings and part of the afternoon we did rehearsals with movement. Every day, before shooting started, we did more rehearsals of the texts and movements, for an hour or so, and then filmed non-stop until time ran out,” he explained.
When speaking to the divide between stage and screen, he added: “The decision to abandon the idea of the sequence shot, which we converted into sequence shots of up to eight minutes, but from different camera angles, I was enthusiastic about the idea of seeing theater not in a general shot, but in different sizes, as if you were seeing what happens to the actors in different sizes, and above stage.
A dynamic ensemble cast that includes Malena Alterio (“Vergüenza”), Alexandra Jiménez (“Historias Para No Contar”), Fele Martínez (“La mala educación”), Antonio Pagudo (“El síndrome de Svenson”), Eva Ugarte (“Velvet”) and Juan Carlos Vellido (“El Hierro”), throws full-emotion to the fore as they hurl jabs, inquiries and judgements around the room as the plot makes its way towards its seismic final scene.
Hererro admitted that this blazing set of actors, “could have done it all in one shot,” and that directing them was ultimately about, “delivery, effort, knowing the text perfectly, being generous, listening and interacting with their peers and having talent.”
The project is produced by Herrero and Javier López Blanco’s Tornasol Media (“No Mires A Los Ojos”) alongside Spain’s Alcaraván Films (“A Twelve Year Night”) in conjunction with Movistar Plus+ and the government initiatives of Navarra. Distribution in Spain is handled by Syldavia Cinema (“Eva No Duerme”).
As a two-time top winner at Málaga and a competitor in San Sebastián, Herrero has proved one of the most resilient of Spanish directors, ever-evolving since breathing fresh air into Valladolid in 1987 with “El Acecho.”
To this, he observed that, “it’s rained a bit since ‘87. The years give you experience, security in what you do and you discover that the most important thing in a film are the actors,” concluding, “I detest boring movies, they don’t talk about anything.”