Taking a quick break from shooting Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows in Madrid, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz visited the Venice Film Festival this week to promote Loving Pablo, a passion project for Bardem who also serves as producer. The film is told from the point of view of Virginia Vallejo, the Colombian journalist who had a volatile affair with drug cartel king Pablo Escobar. Fernando Leon de Aranoa directs.
Bardem and Cruz spoke with the press ahead of the gala out-of-competition screening and I later sat down with them to discuss the project, why they ultimately made it in English and what it’s like to work together.
While Escobar’s story has been told in myriad forms, including in the current Netflix hit series Narcos, Loving Pablo shines a different light. Bardem told the press this week that as an actor he wants “to understand and get into the head of the people who live on this earth of ours. In this case, it’s a person who was a loving father and created such horror. It’s a terrible contradiction that was very interesting to me.”
Without wanting to sympathize with a monster, Bardem said one of the main reasons to get inside his head was to “explain what happens when, at a personal level, somebody falls in love with this sort of person.”
Cruz, Bardem’s real-life wife said she had to get inside Vallejo “without judging her… She didn’t know where she was going. She was terribly attracted by his magnetism but didn’t know up to what point she was putting her life in danger.”
Given the subject matter and the pedigree of the film, some have questioned why it was shot in English. Bardem told me, “We tried for years, I mean years, to make it in Spanish. We went to many places and they sometimes will say yes, but then you have to put in this and this and this — that’s what we wanted to avoid.”
There comes a time “when you want to do something like this and there has to be scope. There’s a roof there. It happened with Before Night Falls or even Love In The Time Of Cholera and those are in English, or Goya’s Ghosts with Milos Forman. That’s the law of the market which unfortunately hasn’t changed.”
What’s more, Bardem argued, “Having countries like Italy and Spain and Germany that dub every movie doesn’t help because people are not educated to see movies in their original versions. Then you go to a press conference and they ask you why it’s not in Spanish, but at the same time buyers aren’t buying in their native language because people aren’t going to see it. I don’t know what the solution is. It should be what’s the most honest that you can be with the origin of the project.”
Although original language TV series have made headway (Narcos included) and despite the fact that the Hispanic population is a massive movie-going group in the U.S., ultimately, Bardem told me, “We stopped and said, ‘what should we do?’ And I thought about movies I love like Doctor Zhivago. Okay, they were done in English, but they were done in a way that trespassed the language barrier and I thought ‘Wow, what a story, what a performance. I want to do that.’”
He allowed, “Of course there will be people that go, ‘I don’t want to see it because of that,’ but I think that we tell a story in an honest way with the honest tools that we had and I think it’s powerful enough to transmit what we wanted.”
Cruz agreed the decision to shoot in English was an unfortunate byproduct of the law of the market. “If we want to tell this story with this script, it costs that amount. If it costs that amount, it has to be done in English. Does it mean we stop trying for people to see movies in other languages? Do we keep fighting for that or do we have to surrender to what the market dictates?… The market has to follow some rules to save itself, but at the same time, the market has to remain true to the artistic. So why not always have a place for feeding that to the public because the more accessible that is to the public, the more they will demand it I think.”