Karine Teles and Otavio Muller in Loveling Photo: Bianca Aun
Brazilian writer/director Gustavo Pizzi and writer/actor Karine Teles were a husband and wife team when they began working on their warm-hearted study of family life, Loveling. They split up during the making of the film, which stars Teles – perhaps best known to British audiences from The Second Mother – as a mum of a family trying to come to terms with the fact their eldest son (Konstantinos Sarris) is about to move to Germany while also trying to keep their heads above water financially.
When I catch up with them in Sundance Film Festival, it’s obvious that, marriage or not, theirs is an enduring friendship and working partnership that is unlikely to stop any time soon.
As Pizzi puts it: “We raised our kids together and we have equally shared custody. We’re still friends and we work well together.”
It’s three years since their split but Teles says that drawing on their own experience of raising a family “did help a lot” when it came to writing the script.
She adds: “We know a lot about taking care of children and the day-to-day life and how hard it is and all the small details of parenting and all the challenges you have to face every day. All the subtle and unimportant things. Of course, that helped. The script is a mix of what we saw our mothers do and the way they behaved and what we think we would do when our own kids leave.”
The film – which will have its UK premiere at Edinburgh Film Festival this week - is a real family affair, with Teles and Pizzi’s sons Artur and Francisco playing young twins in the family and Tele’s nephew Luis Teles taking on the role of their characters’ tuba-playing second son. Pizzi says they went to considerable lengths ahead of the film to ensure that the youngsters felt like a family unit.
“We didn’t know Konstantinos, but we brought him to play with the kids and spend a lot of time with them and it helped us to have that feeling of a real family,” says Pizzi “Even Luis, Karine’s nephew used to live in the north of Brazil, and until that moment he didn’t spend so much time with our kids. When we were preparing the movie, we tried to keep them always together to become a big family.”
Pizzi and Teles said they didn’t hand the script to the kids, so much as tell them what they wanted them to do and let them have free rein.
“If you put dialogue in a child’s mouth, it’s very hard to make it come out naturally,” says Teles. Pizzi says that it was important to retain a playful aspect to the work with the children, especially in two key scenes involving the youngsters at bathtime and a mealtime.
He says: “We told them, you can have fun. So the water was coming out of the bath and the shampoo and soap. For that scene, we were only there with the camera. We talked to them for a small moment but most of the time I tried to create with the kids this environment of playing.”
Talking about a scene in which the middle son is attempting to get one of the younger ones to eat, Pizzi says: “The idea is you say to one, ‘You can’t eat. However, your brother tries to make you, you can’t.’ And you tell the other one, ‘You must make them eat’. Then that whole stretch of dialogue is invented by them.
Teles adds: The very funny thing about the kids on set is, I don’t know how it is here, but in Brazil they can only work until 10pm and they have to be with their parents. Every time they had to leave the set at around 10, they were crying because they wanted to stay.”
Pizzis own family had a beach house similar to the one in the film, where their extended clan would go and spend holidays, adding that he wanted to create the sensation of “noise and movement” in the film. Gvien that she co-wrote the script – something she says she started doing because “I’m not your typical actress” – it’s not surprising that the central role of Irene is very strong, itself a noticeable trend at Sundance this year. Although there is plenty of life in the script, there are also many moments where we just watch what Irene is thinking and feeling. Teles says creating the character is a finding the emotion inside and hard graft.
“I’m absolutely passionate about acting and I love watching actors work,” she says “I’ve studied a lot – I started working as an actor when I was 14 so I have had this long journey, it’s my 25th anniversary this year. Since I was one of the writers of the script, I feel I know the character very well.
“She came from inside of me somehow, my issues are there, my anger issues, my love and the way I deal with my children. Motherhood is a very important issue for me because I’m a feminist and I’ve been an independent woman since I was very young – I started working when I was 14. So independence is something very important to me and dear to my heart.
“Once you become a mother, you’re not the same person any more, you have your kids and they are the most important thing in your life and you have to struggle with that feeling every day. The feeling to commit to yourself and your children in the same amount because I believe that the best thing a mother can do to a kid is to be a good person and show them how to thrive and how to fight for the things they want. So it’s a mixture of balancing the amount of effort you put into yourself and the amount of effort you put into your kids.
“We worked a lot in preparation, creating bonds with all the other actors, with Konstantinos who plays my eldest son and Adriana, who plays my sister, I didn’t know her prior to shooting. Otavio was already a good friend, we worked together prior to the shooting. But during the preparation, I could find this character because even though she came from inside of me, she’s not me. She’s very different, she lives in a different reality with a different kind of family in a different city. But I think those emotions are inside me and I just need Gustavo’s help to bring them out and the other actors helped me to bring that out in their reactions to me. So, it’s a combination of letting it out and working very hard.”
Beyond the actors, the film also has a strong visual feel, featuring a lot of water and strong colours, in particular, blue.
“The water has a meaning,” explains Pizzi. “In Brazil, it’s related to femininity. There’s a religion, Candomble, an African religion and all of the female goddesses of that religion are related to water, so that was very important to us. We have a combination of primary colours like red, blue and yellow and I really liked that combination. And I also like the blue of the Seventies films from the US, which had strong reds and really strong blues. It fascinates me. It’s a feel that’s not natural but at the same time, natural.
“I wanted to create a world that you could feel that’s not real exactly but it’s also very real. A kind of dislocated thing but at the same time there’s a feeling of belonging.”
The film ultimately has a very positive message about motherhood and families sticking together through thick and thin.
Teles says: “It was important because it’s very much inspired by our mothers. My mother was the first in our family to go to university and Gustavo’s mother had to struggle a lot to finish her studies and comes from a very poor origin. They are very proud of what we were able to achieve – because they loved us. Bottom line the message we wanted to convey was it doesn’t matter if you don’t have enough money, if your house is falling apart, if you don’t have a job, if you keep the love going and you protect the ones around you with love, things are going to improve and arrange themselves somehow.
“That’s why we wanted to keep that feeling that something bad could happen at any moment but it doesn’t because that’s a big part of motherhood. You think something’s going to happen to your kids and you’re there and it doesn’t.
“We wanted to talk about invisible women. Irene is your everyday woman, the one you pass by on the street and you don’t even notice. She’s there, you don’t care. She’s not important to anyone except for herself and her family. So, we wanted to praise that work. We wanted to take that and bring it out and show the poetic and the beautiful side of it and the importance of it. Because everybody has or had a mother and your relationship to your family is somehow the basis of who you are. Sometimes you have a bad relationship with your family and that makes you become a better person, sometimes you have a good relationship with your family and it makes you a better person. But this invisible work of lower middle-class families was very important to us.”
Now the pair of them are working on a new project, Gilda, which will be adapted from a theatre play, The Last Days Of Gilda, a monologue that was specifically written for Teles around 10 years ago.
“We are partners in a film company and we have a new project that we’re going to shoot this year, a script we wrote together,” says Teles. “Gustavo is going to direct and I’m going to play the lead character. We work very well together and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t keep doing it. It’s called Gilda, it’s completely different from this one.
“It’s the story of a woman who lives in the suburbs and takes good care of herself and loves in a very free way. She’s very free and her female neighbours, who are very religious, start to be annoyed by her freedom, and a war starts between them. So she has to find a way to resist, because she loves her house and she doesn’t want to leave and she fights for that. It’s a nice take on moral and religious prejudice.
Pizzi adds: “It’s kind of a trilogy. The first movie we made together is Craft (Riscado), about an actress who struggles for a living, to do what she wants to do. Loveling is the story of Irene and the invisible women and now Gilda – they are completely different but they are a kind of trilogy of heroines. Powerful women in different senses.”
Loveling screens at Edinburgh Film Festival on Friday June 22, Odeon 22, 6pm; Sunday June 24, Vue Omni, 8.30pm.