Writer/director Klaudia Reynicke has drawn on her own life for her latest film Reinas, which focuses Elena (Jimena Lindo) and her daughters teenager Aurora (Luana Vega) and her younger sister Lucía (Abril Gjurinovic), as they prepare to relocate from early-90s Peru to the US. Their departure relies on the girls’ estranged dad Carlos (Gonazalo Molina) signing the paperwork that allows them to go, which sees him re-enter his daughters’ lives at the 11th hour. Reynicke explores the reconnection that begins to be established with his children, just as he also realises he is about to let them go for good.
Catching up with Reynicke ahead of her film’s premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival she explained to what degree she drew on her own experience of emigrating from Peru.
“I was 10 years old. And it's not exactly my story. But I will say the feelings that I had as a child, about leaving everything that I knew, my family, my cousins, and thinking back on my mum, as an adult, you know, those feelings and the complexity of the intensity of the moment? Those are the same. But I had to create a more elaborate story.”
The turbulent period in Peru emerges strongly but Reynicke admits it was quite tricky to evoke the Nineties in ht represent day.
Klaudia Reynicke: 'It was very emotional, but I didn't know it was going to be this emotional' Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
She says that made the edit tricky as they had to avoid newer cars, although the interiors and the beach were a lot more straightforward. The inside of the women’s home is beautifully detailed and Reynicke says that working with the production designer, Susana Torres, she drew on her own memories of childhood for the set dressing too.
“Those things were important to me,” Reynicke says, “She made many proposals and, and some things I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I remember this’.There's so many details that you don't even see. But it was amazing. And in both of the houses, I mean, the grandma house, you know, and Elena's house, they all had little touches that were very close to what I remember from my childhood from my own grandma's, so that was actually great to be able to recreate the sensation of back then. We thought about it a lot.”
The film is all about the tension between reconnection and separation and Reynicke says: “When I was thinking about this, I truly wanted to tell a story about a family that used to be a family, and that was going to get back together before splitting forever. It’s something that happens a lot and I think the moment of the departure creates this kind of intensity that you wouldn't have if there was not a separation that was coming. It was very important for me to tell the story of how important things become once you think you're leaving forever.
“It was important for me also to have both perspectives, from the kids and from the adults. During the editing, we brought in a lot more of the father. So he became kind of like the heart protagonist, in a way. I truly needed to have both points of view of the adults and the kids.”
After Reynicke left Peru for Switzerland with her family , she says she revisited the country frequently until she was about 15, by which point many of her extended family had left Peru for the US, which resulted in her having a further move, from Switzerland to the States, for eight years.
The director says she was surprised when she went back to shoot the film.
“It was very emotional, but I didn't know it was going to be this emotional. Growing up you know, I thought about other things, I changed country so many times, but once I grew older, nowI'm a mum, I'm settled, I really needed to go back to my roots in a way. But I didn't want to go to Peru like a tourist, it felt just wrong.
“So I think part of the project inside of me, obviously this was not very conscious when I was writing it but I think I just created a project to go back, and to be able to work with Peruvians. To come back and not as a stranger. So it was a very emotional moment. I was scared, actually. I had to leave my two kids here, that’s something that I had never done before. And even though they came, you know, during the shooting at some point, it was very hard as a mum, but then I think I was just very scared of not being able to handle my country. Because I've been living in Europe all these years, I know how it works. I know how my job works here. But there, it was, what do I do? What was I thinking?”
Reynicke said the casting of Reinas was also “a bit challenge” that was interrupted by a year in which the production stopped because of Covid.
“With Abril Gjurinovic, they ended up finding her in a shopping mall.”
Reinas. Klaudia Reynicke: 'It was important for me also to have both perspectives, from the kids and from the adults' Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
The director says she had a good feeling about the young actress but when she asked her team to do a callback for her, they couldn’t find her any more.
It turned out that Gjurinovic was only visiting Peru and, in fact, she now lives in Belgium.
Reynicke adds: “Her story was very close to Lucia’s story, her and her mom actually left Peru and her father was there. So when they found her during the casting, she was visiting her dad. So that was crazy. So she came from Belgium to Switzerland and I could cast her here. That was insane and it was literally a month before shooting.”
The casting of Luana Vega was also unorthodox.
“I was looking for Aurora forever, watching so many castings and I was like, “I can't find her.” I can't find her. At some point my producer from Peru, Daniel Vega, was chatting on Zoom, and I see his daughter going in the back. Now I'm like, ‘Wait, Daniel, how old is your daughter? And he's like, she's 14. I'm like, ‘She's the age of Aurora’. And he's like, ‘Yeah, but she's not interested in acting’ - because he's also a filmmaker with his brother.
“So his daughter is like, ‘Guys, there’s no way I'm ever going in this world.’”
Reynicke got her way by persuading the youngster to go to a casting with her friend, who was already going to be in the film and then persuading her to give the part a go. “Both stories are very crazy”, she adds.
Looking to the future, Reynicke has plenty in the pipeline. “I optioned a book a few months ago about Ernest Hemingway's four wives. It's by Naomi Wood and it's called Mrs Hemingway. I would love to make a series out of it. So that's one project that I started working on. And then I have some kind of comic thriller, I really don't know how to tell about the genre. But it's like a psychological drama with a twist of a thriller, but it's kind of funny. So yeah, I'm working on that too.
“I do want to do something a bit more crazy again, in the sense of this thriller that I'm talking about. It's kind of the story of the minotaur, but from the minotaur’s point of view. And it's and it's not a minotaur. It's a human being.”