As a filmmaker, I thoroughly understand how difficult the whole filmmaking process is, and how strenuous it can be trying to get funding, trying to come up with a great concept for a film, and make sure you execute the film in a way that something coherent comes out at the other side of the venture. I also understand what it’s like to share an artistic passion with a significant other, what that entails, and how egos can arise once you’re very deep into a project. So when I found out about this new film by Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada titled A Film About Couples which dealt with couples, love, and the filmmaking process, I knew it’d be up my alley. Thankfully the film delivers on its premise and then some.
A Film About Couples stars Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada as themselves, at a low point in their lives after the screening of their newest film failed to draw much of an audience. While they are grabbing a bite to eat, they muse whether or not they should even keep making films or give up altogether. All of that changes when they get a call from an interested investor who wants to fund their next project. They start to scramble and think about what their next film should be about. They first ponder making a documentary about the rich history of the Dominican Republic. This inadvertently morphs instead into a documentary about the people who live in DR. Then it finally turns into a film exploring different couples in DR. All the while the movie the audience is watching becomes an exploration of Natalia and Oriol’s own relationship and their hardships.
The film’s premise is nothing new, films about films and the meta exploration of directors and artists acting as elevated or exaggerated versions of themselves have been done before, but there’s an inherent charm and wit that makes this film stand on its own merits. The movie plays very well with the meta narrative in a few different ways. The film is aware of its premise and plot, with moments where both our leads muse about the state of independent cinema, about how key moments in their life feel like acts from a movie, and so on. As the film starts to abide by the three-act plot structure, we see Natalia and Oriol talk about what elements their documentary needs, whether it be tension, or a climactic moment, as you see said moment manifest itself on the screen. The movie pokes fun at the filmmaking process, and even cleverly plays with the visual aspect of film to create interesting sequences. Early on in the film itself we see an interview they conducted with one of the couples for their documentary, then the footage abruptly stops as Oriol starts to comment off screen how the interview wasn’t effective, and then he starts to rewind the footage and searching the raw footage through to find the interesting bits for their documentary. Later on, while they examine the B-roll of a marketplace filled with people shot from inside a moving bus to add dynamism to their documentary, Oriol comments on how it feels gritty and real but Natalia counters by saying that it’s nice footage for European critics to go crazy over but doesn’t add anything to the main theme of relationships. But they slowly try to justify the existence of the footage by arguing that it can be portrayed as a visual representation of the search for love and companionship, something many of us filmmakers do when we might want to justify a beauty shot that lacks clear substance. Moments like this add a fresh perspective of how indie filmmakers go through the process of creating something that’s geared to a different audience, and how they’re always in pursuit of finding the truth through their moving images.
The film is also very hilarious, utilizing irony, sarcasm, and visual gags to accentuate the struggle of making a film. Natalia and Oriol are always down on their luck, trying to get what’s needed for the film but always encountering rocks along the way. There’s a hilarious scene dealing with the order of their credits. It seems that generally for their collective films, they credit the director title as Directed by Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada. Oriol decides to switch the names up and Natalia objects, arguing that it’s branding at this point, and it needed to be with her name first. Oriol then counters by saying that it could change, it can be one with Natal;ia first in the credits and then another with him as the first name that shows up. This fight goes on for a few minutes, arguing back and forth on the merits of a title card. It is also a clever joke that has a big blink and you missed its payoff at the end of the film. There are so many moments where I saw myself and fellow filmmakers in this movie, from trying to justify an unnecessary shot, to small ego battles on set, to having to scramble when you won’t be getting the scene you have planned to get that day, so on and so forth.
The film also touches on the gendered dynamics, older age, co-directing, and the struggles of parenthood within the film scene. It doesn’t go too deep into the gender power dynamics, and I do wish that it did but there’s enough meat here that it gets its point across. These are also topics that are not touched upon enough when doing these films about films. There’s a heavy burden of having to divide your parental responsibilities and making a film when you are doing low-budget features. So it’s nice seeing these concepts shown in this film and explored aptly enough to get the message out there.
It’s a film for filmmakers, it makes fun of the altruistic process, of the editing process, and the guerilla-style approach that comes with the indie filmmaking territory. But I believe the film’s central theme about love and relationships is so universal in nature, that it can be opened up to a broader audience who might not connect to something so specific as films about films. It’s also very cinema verite and a docu-drama in nature since a good portion of the film is devoted to actual couple’s interviews and their musings regarding love and relationships. It’s a nice contrast to Natalia and Oriol’s marital and artistic woes and gives you a border spectrum regarding the theme of love.
There’s the purposeful use of Smetana Má Vlast – Vltava (The Moldau) was very interesting. It’s used in specific sequences, to accentuate important moments in the film. It’s also used as a lullaby for their child from time to time. It works well if we go by what the composition is about, two small springs who unite into a single current, as a clear representation of what Natalia and Oriol go through in the film. The editing is apt and amusing as an extra tool to convey some of the self-referential humor that the movie provides. The cinematography feels purposeful, playing with static photography for scenes of the actual movie, and for the film within the film, they employ a different aesthetic, look, and tone to make a clear distinction between them.
Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada have great genuine chemistry and sell you on the idea of being these two sorts of aloof yet intelligent filmmakers trying their best to make the film they want to make. They have great comedic timing and feel very genuine and truthful in their portrayal, even in the more exaggerated moments. The non-actors are also very genuine and add an endearing layer to the overall piece. Their stories of what love is to them and how their relationships came to feel so unique, fresh, and distinctive. A Film About Couples is a gift to all struggling independent filmmakers out there and to all couples who love each other and create art together.
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