That’s why we wanted to place our story in an indefinite present, with characters drenched in casualness, without any sweet topping on their affective links. To unsettle this day-to-day world, we wanted to create a clash between the need to escape and the impossibility of achieving it: although Esteban has no obligation to stay in his village, he never takes the decision to turn his words into deeds. He suddenly feels he has to defend his place there, even when his true wish is to leave everything behind. This was the actual starting point of the film.
We wanted to delve into the gap that exists between how we see ourselves and how others see us. You can build your own identity, but only the others can uphold it. In Barren and Empty the Sea we wanted to figure out the price that entails preserving one’s identity against the stubbornness of others. At the same time, and from the beginning on, we did not want to make any impositions. We prefer that everyone builds his own film out of the film. It is not necessary to look for answers about Esteban’s story like a starving wolf. Does rationalizing everything to get tweaked answers help anyone? It is preferable to leisurely play with the questions that the picture may suggest.
When we wrote the screenplay, there was no nightwatchman showing us the way with his flashlight. We just wrote one page after another till dawn woke us up. It was during the pre-production meetings that we looked for references.
Now, going over the finished film, we hear underneath its images the whispers of Unamuno and Pirandello. Not of a specific work, but their naughtiness towards the rules of behavior of fiction and their acceptance of life’s absurdities. In a more direct way, we were influenced by Ibsen and his strong portraits of women and Azorín and his analysis of Spanish village life:
Life in a village […] is clearer, longer and more painful than in the big cities. The danger of living in a village is that you feel how you live… that is the greatest affliction. Due to this, there is excessive effort in each gesture, in everything -the ferocious method abhorred by Montaigne. This is the origin of the prejudices that crystalize here with uncanny hardness, the small passions… Human energy needs an escape, a purpose. It cannot be repressed, but here it falls prey even to insignificant details -because there aren’t others- and aggravates, deforms, multiplies them… […] Feeling yourself alive makes life sad. Death seems to be the only matter of concern in these villages.
Volition, First Part, Chapter VII
If you want to know about filmic references, the cinema of Manuel Martín Cuenca and Hours of the Day (2003) by Jaime Rosales showed us that each story can have its own rhythm. It is not mandatory to speed up the movie to reach its target. Barbara (2012) and Phoenix (2014) by Christian Petzold also demonstrated this to us through their slippery surfaces.
The movie draws a line between the loss of an identity and the difficulties to regain it. The cinematography tries to delineate this line.
We tried to create a naturalistic atmosphere in which the characters could move with ease. The ups and downs that the main character goes through while he tracks down his identity are mirrored in the shadows that appear and disappear around him.
On the locations, the film was shot in Alicante, Murcia and Albacete. Provinces full of harsh light during the day and -per a storytelling decision- feverishly red during the night.
The interiors have a more peaceful touch. They are shelters from the light and the fever. In the bar and in Esteban’s house the light only enters in a diffuse way, so that the characters can talk without any outside pressure.
If you are curious about the technical specs, Barren and Empty the Sea was shot with an Arri Alexa Classic (2K). This camera offered us enough latitude to work with natural light. We also used Uniqoptics lenses, which were created by Kenji Suematsu.
Esteban and Esteban have a couple traits in common: their look and their name.
The first Esteban wakes up at home feeling that everyone else knows something that he doesn’t. Have all his acquaintances colluded against him? What do they want? Just a person supports him… Anyway, his life is upside down. He doesn’t understand what’s going on, but at the same time he has the unusual chance to watch his beloved ones without being seen.
Faced with such hostile circumstances, he must react.
The second Esteban arrives by accident in the village of the first one. He seems to know something the others are unaware of. Is this just a scheme? Maybe even he doesn’t really know it. Anyway, he is walking on the sunny side of the street and he plays his hand wisely. Only a person mistrusts him… What if he dances to another tune for her? He knows what everyone desires and says what they want to hear, but will he give it to them?
Surprised by an open-arms welcome by the villagers, he just acts.
Esteban and Esteban share a third characteristic: their loneliness. Both are surrounded by the same people and, at the same time, they are totally isolated. They stand on the threshold of the door, almost entering the room. The first one can’t do it. The second one doesn’t want to.
Same village, same people, same look and same solitude. What does it take to be the same person?
Not seeing the other laying on the ground in front of oneself?
Does it matter?
Rodrigo García Olza