Half of Oscar

Fiction Feature Film – 2010
Directed by Manuel Martín Cuenca

Óscar is a security guard in a semi-abandoned saline. She’s 30 years old and lives alone. His life is to go to work every day, put on the uniform, hang the gun and sit and look at the remains of the Salt mountains. At noon it is often visited by Miguel, a former retired guard. Miguel arrives by bicycle and always brings food for lunch with Oscar.

Every day, when the shift ends, Oscar changes his clothes, takes the bus and comes home. The first thing you do is look at the mailbox and check your answering machine, but there are never letters or messages… or, at least, the ones he expects.

One day the routine breaks. Oscar arrives at the nursing home where his only family, his grandfather, is suffering from Alzheimer’s. He’s gotten worse and moved him to the hospital. The principal tells her that she has warned her sister… Oscar remains petrified; She hasn’t heard from her in two years and she didn’t even know that they had her phone in the dorm.

Two days later Maria appears in Almería. She is accompanied by her boyfriend, Jean, a Frenchman I had never heard of Oscar. The relationship between the two brothers seems tense, something happened in the past that has definitely marked them. Mary pretends to turn the page, but he is not willing to.

Cast:
Verónica Echegui
Rodrigo Sáenz de Heredia
Denis Eyriey
Antonio de la Torre
Manuel Martínez Roca
Salvador Gavilan Ramos

Director:
Manuel Martín Cuenca

Screenwriter:
Alejandro Hernández
Manuel Martín Cuenca

Executive Producer:
Manuel Martín Cuenca
Camilo Vives
Joan Borrell

Production Manager:
Bárbara Díez

Director of Photography:
Rafael de la Uz

Editor:
Ángel Hernández Zoido

Sound:
Eva Valiño
Pelayo Gutiérrez
Nacho Royo-Villanova

Art Director:
Alexandra Fernandez

Costumes:
Anuschka Braun

Makeup and Hairdressing:
Raquel Rodríguez

Technical data
Filming format: 35 mm.
Projection format: 2.35:1
Screen format: 16/9
Color/B & N: Color
Runtime: 89 ‘
Language: Spanish

  • Director´s Comments

    (Silence)

    I believe the soul is best conveyed through silence. What is left unsaid, or mere talk that aims to say nothing, hides what really matters. I am committed to films that express things through silence, using it to portray characters and their secrets. I like to explore the signs of the soul in the body, the eyes, and space. I like to believe in emotions and their traces instead of words or ideas. And I learned from documentaries that I also like working with uncertainty. The conscious desire to tell a story hides something unconscious that is beyond our control.

    Cinema is a physical form of expression. Photography and sound are physical, and that is why I believe the intellectual must yield to the corporal, to a portrayal of what is embodied. The pace of cinematic expression is slow, a sea in the background. I don’t believe in doing things in a rush or that timing is synonymous with acceleration. Instead, I believe things must be narrated with precision.

    Making a film like this is motivated by an approach to cinema where style and the main subject converge. There are two choices: a story about taboos and telling it in a way that is not melodramatic. In this film, we do not run away from feelings, but we avoid their excess. We have aimed at transmitting warmth through our work with the actors, in the intimacy of their performances, while portraying it from a certain distance, with transparency and simplicity, not showiness. This simplicity is created to talk about a taboo from a perspective that does not denounce anything or make judgements, dissolving instead into the observer’s view on events. The morbid, the spectacular and the dramatic have no place in this story. However, there is something tragic here, because Óscar and María experience things they don’t want to, and act with a lack of awareness.

    Each has chosen a different way to escape from the tragic dimension they seem condemned to suffer: in their lives, love has become impossible. And that impossibility and its effects are the real subject of the film.

    In my previous films, I looked as deeply as possible into the chinks in the plot, to carefully observe the characters, but perhaps in this film, that effort is more explicit. It is a process of uncovering, a search for a style that does not result in a style, or if so, in a very simple one. I would rather not exist behind the camera, dissolving instead of the Post-Modern, contemporary effort to make the author’s presence stand out clearly.

    I consider a filmmaker like John Ford of great importance. What his films have shown me goes beyond the stories he tells. He taught me to look at the landscape and, within it, the characters that inhabit it. His films linger on apparently minor details that are actually where his films greatness lies. He is able to be very intimate in an epic setting. No other filmmaker portrays the trace of life than he does, making us see its signs, like an expert explorer. I owe the entire scene where María loses her companions (Óscar and Jean) heading toward the beach to him and his Westerns. The essence of the film lies in the communion among her, the landscape and the wind… as well as Maria’s need for freedom and the resulting fear, that has her in its grip. Moreover, in shooting the scene, I understood that we were at the heart of the story and she was showing us something that is latent throughout the film and that interests me increasingly as a filmmaker: first of all, there is the landscape, then the characters, and finally, the story. This film aims to take the obverse route Ford showed us, moving from landscape to story.

    LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) takes place in Almería, in a small city on the seashore in the south of Europe, across from the coast of Africa. Its winter light brings to mind the setting where myths unfold. In this space along the European border, there are echoes of a tragedy, because the stories that interest me most always take place at the border. It also had to be a small, intimate film, made with great attention to form. We shot it in 35mm to capture quality in the light and the best possible sound. One must work equally hard at looking and listening. In fact, at times, the sound pointed out where the camera needed to look and how the scene should be set up.

    Another important component is that there is no music. I don’t think the film needs it. We wanted to avoid anything melodramatic or sentimental. Our approach to the contents of the story is a raw one, with no sweeteners. Sound and silence are the true music.

    Perhaps, because of all this, LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) is a fragile film, an outline of a shadow, barely perceptible, aiming to leave a trace without imposing, working through silence.

    Manuel Martín Cuenca

  • About the Script

    (The Debt)

    I never wanted to direct films. I’ve written films for fourteen years and that job seems exciting and hard enough to spend the rest of my life learning how to do it better. However, at one time, I had doubts. Not because I was tempted to direct, but because the films I had in mind were too abstract to capture in a screenplay. Andrei Tarkovsky is to blame. In the summer of 1995 I saw all of his

    work and I was surprised by the way he told stories, with barely any plot, with barely any music,a strange kind of cinema that is easy to hate, but I didn’t hate it. That must be due to the Russian cartoons I grew up with, that gave me a completely different view on things than Mickey Mouse. With Tarkovsky I learned to enjoy films in a different way, to bury rationality and give myself over

    to emotions both wonderful and disturbing, but that were mine alone. More than a movie, they were a visual experience that connected with something that was at times inexplicable but I found it fulfilled me. They were stories without plot twists or acts (and if there were any, I didn’t care). It was a complex world that made no concessions, intimate and devastating. A world that required a perspective that went beyond paper. It demanded a director, and I’m not a director.

    That is why, when Manuel Martín Cuenca suggested we write LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) together, I viewed it as a chance to take the path I left unexplored fifteen years ago. The path of narration based on perception, on little things. With no concern for time. With no plot twists or outlines. A nude film, with few needs.

    Very few.

    I do not feel that this was a leap in the dark. It is very personal, and surely selfish, but when I think of LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar), the first thing that comes to mind is that I settled a debt to myself. I’ve made the kind of film that made me love films.

    Alejandro Hernández

  • About the Cinematography

    When I read the final draft of the screenplay for the first time, I called Manuel and told him that it read more like a song than a drama. He said, “That’s good”. That was the starting point for the visual construction of our film. The images were the narrative, not a vehicle for telling a written story.

    Our first decision was how to portray the space; I found it very appealing to frame an absence, because Óscar is a character whose life is based on what he lost, on what he does not have. Finding the solution to this is how we decided to work in scope (2.35/1), to have lots of space around the characters, centring them in the frame (practically a mortal sin in previous collaborations between Manuel and me) and virtually not moving the camera. That was a very radical idea, for we treated the camera like a still photo device, with no re-framing, which greatly influenced how we set up the scenes and actors’ movements.

    We decided that the texture of the narration should evoke tragedy, with large spaces in black and saturated colours, though they were represented with delicacy and a wide range of nuances. Also important was an intense reproduction of details, an image that bursts off the screen, something I haven’t seen in digital formats. That led us to agree to shoot with negative film, with the most saturated negative I know, Fuji Vivid, and print in Fuji as well. In my experience, Fuji negative film portrays faces with a very special texture, with affection, and the prints give very deep, clean, solid blacks, in contrast to other positive films that, for my taste, see too much in dim lighting.

    We had to turn any possible deficits into virtues. As we often lit with just one source or used very small sources, I never felt I was lacking the means to build the image I had in mind. We managed to shoot with a small crew, almost like a documentary, with complete freedom and focusing on what we were telling, not on what was missing. LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) is a film where what does not happen is as important as what the audience sees happening, and that was the spirit I tried to translate into photography. An image that is close to the audience, but constantly referring to a reality lurking on the other side of the frame.

    Rafael de la Uz

    (Director of Photography)

  • About the Sound

    (Filming Sound)

    I cannot begin to write about LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) without mentioning a fact that I consider fundamental and marvellous. Witnessing the work of a director who films sound means serving a creative intention and, therefore, an ongoing search. It is not a soft, comfortable position but it is enriching for the sound crew and each and every person involved with the graphic, narrative and visual components of the film, bringing everyone together in a common mystery, where they are accomplices as well as craftsmen.

    Technical matters yield to serving the director’s spirit, and that is exactly what happened here. In breaking with the usual formula of “seeing to hear”, something happens that changes everything, something distinctive that disembowels the way audiences approach a story told to them and how the crew approaches the story being portrayed. Through listening, what is audible is transformed into a body, a mood, or even a soul, and we hear the characters’ unspeakable truth in their silence

    and the space that contains it. And that is how the sound universe, more than being a functional or decorative component, turns into a meaningful whole that belongs to itself and does not insist on seeming like anything else, for it simply is. Writing about sound in LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) means writing about the overlapping of sound and pictures in making a living, crafted, audiovisual fabric, that knows and weights the amount each element adds and subtracts, enabling the gestation and birth of a state of listening. In this state, audiences can see with their ears and listen with their eyes. The search for unity starts before shooting and of course while it is happening; sound is present in writing the screenplay, shoosing locations, the actors and their voices, the length of shots. With each camera angle, the director also sought a specific position for hearing and vice versa: with each possibility for hearing, the director considered the camera position, with the aim of maintaining a unique tone that is less a reflection of him than of the film itself. Sometimes I think that by fostering the collective participation of those who were part of making the film, the director managed to protect it from himself.

    LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) refers to the Other. To an absence that makes wholeness impossible. Likewise, in this film, it is impossible to isolate any one sound from its picture, and it is precisely thanks to their well-balanced combination that a new sense was attained which, since then, is no longer purely light or purely sound.

    We all worked to make the most of the logistical challenges of the shoot, when they had to do with spirit of the story; the wind in Almería, for example, portrayed the characters’ inner tension in one of the film’s pivotal scenes. Without saying a word, the wind is the only thing hitting the ear with an unpleasant noise, perhaps a metaphor for what remains unresolved, an unceasing passion that is painful, impossible to control.

    …And the sea. From inside the cemetery, we hear the sea in the distance, because that is how the sea sounded at that location, allowing us to hear not only the content but also the space that contained it. At the white cemetery, we heard the grey sound of that far-away, distant sea. A living sea that, from inside the cemetery, takes on a strange dimension. The sound of what cannot be extinguished. I’ve had the privilege of participating in filming the pictures and filming the sound for a film based on unity, losing the decorative aspect of sound and reclaiming its function in capturing blocks of reality, its ability to be a subtle being that is both invisible and expressive.

    Eva Valiño

    (Sound Mixer)

Synopsis

Óscar is a security guard in a semi-abandoned saline. She’s 30 years old and lives alone. His life is to go to work every day, put on the uniform, hang the gun and sit and look at the remains of the Salt mountains. At noon it is often visited by Miguel, a former retired guard. Miguel arrives by bicycle and always brings food for lunch with Oscar.

Every day, when the shift ends, Oscar changes his clothes, takes the bus and comes home. The first thing you do is look at the mailbox and check your answering machine, but there are never letters or messages… or, at least, the ones he expects.

One day the routine breaks. Oscar arrives at the nursing home where his only family, his grandfather, is suffering from Alzheimer’s. He’s gotten worse and moved him to the hospital. The principal tells her that she has warned her sister… Oscar remains petrified; She hasn’t heard from her in two years and she didn’t even know that they had her phone in the dorm.

Two days later Maria appears in Almería. She is accompanied by her boyfriend, Jean, a Frenchman I had never heard of Oscar. The relationship between the two brothers seems tense, something happened in the past that has definitely marked them. Mary pretends to turn the page, but he is not willing to.

Technical Data

Cast:
Verónica Echegui
Rodrigo Sáenz de Heredia
Denis Eyriey
Antonio de la Torre
Manuel Martínez Roca
Salvador Gavilan Ramos

Director:
Manuel Martín Cuenca

Screenwriter:
Alejandro Hernández
Manuel Martín Cuenca

Executive Producer:
Manuel Martín Cuenca
Camilo Vives
Joan Borrell

Production Manager:
Bárbara Díez

Director of Photography:
Rafael de la Uz

Editor:
Ángel Hernández Zoido

Sound:
Eva Valiño
Pelayo Gutiérrez
Nacho Royo-Villanova

Art Director:
Alexandra Fernandez

Costumes:
Anuschka Braun

Makeup and Hairdressing:
Raquel Rodríguez

Technical data
Filming format: 35 mm.
Projection format: 2.35:1
Screen format: 16/9
Color/B & N: Color
Runtime: 89 ‘
Language: Spanish

Notes
  • Director´s Comments

    (Silence)

    I believe the soul is best conveyed through silence. What is left unsaid, or mere talk that aims to say nothing, hides what really matters. I am committed to films that express things through silence, using it to portray characters and their secrets. I like to explore the signs of the soul in the body, the eyes, and space. I like to believe in emotions and their traces instead of words or ideas. And I learned from documentaries that I also like working with uncertainty. The conscious desire to tell a story hides something unconscious that is beyond our control.

    Cinema is a physical form of expression. Photography and sound are physical, and that is why I believe the intellectual must yield to the corporal, to a portrayal of what is embodied. The pace of cinematic expression is slow, a sea in the background. I don’t believe in doing things in a rush or that timing is synonymous with acceleration. Instead, I believe things must be narrated with precision.

    Making a film like this is motivated by an approach to cinema where style and the main subject converge. There are two choices: a story about taboos and telling it in a way that is not melodramatic. In this film, we do not run away from feelings, but we avoid their excess. We have aimed at transmitting warmth through our work with the actors, in the intimacy of their performances, while portraying it from a certain distance, with transparency and simplicity, not showiness. This simplicity is created to talk about a taboo from a perspective that does not denounce anything or make judgements, dissolving instead into the observer’s view on events. The morbid, the spectacular and the dramatic have no place in this story. However, there is something tragic here, because Óscar and María experience things they don’t want to, and act with a lack of awareness.

    Each has chosen a different way to escape from the tragic dimension they seem condemned to suffer: in their lives, love has become impossible. And that impossibility and its effects are the real subject of the film.

    In my previous films, I looked as deeply as possible into the chinks in the plot, to carefully observe the characters, but perhaps in this film, that effort is more explicit. It is a process of uncovering, a search for a style that does not result in a style, or if so, in a very simple one. I would rather not exist behind the camera, dissolving instead of the Post-Modern, contemporary effort to make the author’s presence stand out clearly.

    I consider a filmmaker like John Ford of great importance. What his films have shown me goes beyond the stories he tells. He taught me to look at the landscape and, within it, the characters that inhabit it. His films linger on apparently minor details that are actually where his films greatness lies. He is able to be very intimate in an epic setting. No other filmmaker portrays the trace of life than he does, making us see its signs, like an expert explorer. I owe the entire scene where María loses her companions (Óscar and Jean) heading toward the beach to him and his Westerns. The essence of the film lies in the communion among her, the landscape and the wind… as well as Maria’s need for freedom and the resulting fear, that has her in its grip. Moreover, in shooting the scene, I understood that we were at the heart of the story and she was showing us something that is latent throughout the film and that interests me increasingly as a filmmaker: first of all, there is the landscape, then the characters, and finally, the story. This film aims to take the obverse route Ford showed us, moving from landscape to story.

    LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) takes place in Almería, in a small city on the seashore in the south of Europe, across from the coast of Africa. Its winter light brings to mind the setting where myths unfold. In this space along the European border, there are echoes of a tragedy, because the stories that interest me most always take place at the border. It also had to be a small, intimate film, made with great attention to form. We shot it in 35mm to capture quality in the light and the best possible sound. One must work equally hard at looking and listening. In fact, at times, the sound pointed out where the camera needed to look and how the scene should be set up.

    Another important component is that there is no music. I don’t think the film needs it. We wanted to avoid anything melodramatic or sentimental. Our approach to the contents of the story is a raw one, with no sweeteners. Sound and silence are the true music.

    Perhaps, because of all this, LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) is a fragile film, an outline of a shadow, barely perceptible, aiming to leave a trace without imposing, working through silence.

    Manuel Martín Cuenca

  • About the Script

    (The Debt)

    I never wanted to direct films. I’ve written films for fourteen years and that job seems exciting and hard enough to spend the rest of my life learning how to do it better. However, at one time, I had doubts. Not because I was tempted to direct, but because the films I had in mind were too abstract to capture in a screenplay. Andrei Tarkovsky is to blame. In the summer of 1995 I saw all of his

    work and I was surprised by the way he told stories, with barely any plot, with barely any music,a strange kind of cinema that is easy to hate, but I didn’t hate it. That must be due to the Russian cartoons I grew up with, that gave me a completely different view on things than Mickey Mouse. With Tarkovsky I learned to enjoy films in a different way, to bury rationality and give myself over

    to emotions both wonderful and disturbing, but that were mine alone. More than a movie, they were a visual experience that connected with something that was at times inexplicable but I found it fulfilled me. They were stories without plot twists or acts (and if there were any, I didn’t care). It was a complex world that made no concessions, intimate and devastating. A world that required a perspective that went beyond paper. It demanded a director, and I’m not a director.

    That is why, when Manuel Martín Cuenca suggested we write LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) together, I viewed it as a chance to take the path I left unexplored fifteen years ago. The path of narration based on perception, on little things. With no concern for time. With no plot twists or outlines. A nude film, with few needs.

    Very few.

    I do not feel that this was a leap in the dark. It is very personal, and surely selfish, but when I think of LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar), the first thing that comes to mind is that I settled a debt to myself. I’ve made the kind of film that made me love films.

    Alejandro Hernández

  • About the Cinematography

    When I read the final draft of the screenplay for the first time, I called Manuel and told him that it read more like a song than a drama. He said, “That’s good”. That was the starting point for the visual construction of our film. The images were the narrative, not a vehicle for telling a written story.

    Our first decision was how to portray the space; I found it very appealing to frame an absence, because Óscar is a character whose life is based on what he lost, on what he does not have. Finding the solution to this is how we decided to work in scope (2.35/1), to have lots of space around the characters, centring them in the frame (practically a mortal sin in previous collaborations between Manuel and me) and virtually not moving the camera. That was a very radical idea, for we treated the camera like a still photo device, with no re-framing, which greatly influenced how we set up the scenes and actors’ movements.

    We decided that the texture of the narration should evoke tragedy, with large spaces in black and saturated colours, though they were represented with delicacy and a wide range of nuances. Also important was an intense reproduction of details, an image that bursts off the screen, something I haven’t seen in digital formats. That led us to agree to shoot with negative film, with the most saturated negative I know, Fuji Vivid, and print in Fuji as well. In my experience, Fuji negative film portrays faces with a very special texture, with affection, and the prints give very deep, clean, solid blacks, in contrast to other positive films that, for my taste, see too much in dim lighting.

    We had to turn any possible deficits into virtues. As we often lit with just one source or used very small sources, I never felt I was lacking the means to build the image I had in mind. We managed to shoot with a small crew, almost like a documentary, with complete freedom and focusing on what we were telling, not on what was missing. LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) is a film where what does not happen is as important as what the audience sees happening, and that was the spirit I tried to translate into photography. An image that is close to the audience, but constantly referring to a reality lurking on the other side of the frame.

    Rafael de la Uz

    (Director of Photography)

  • About the Sound

    (Filming Sound)

    I cannot begin to write about LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) without mentioning a fact that I consider fundamental and marvellous. Witnessing the work of a director who films sound means serving a creative intention and, therefore, an ongoing search. It is not a soft, comfortable position but it is enriching for the sound crew and each and every person involved with the graphic, narrative and visual components of the film, bringing everyone together in a common mystery, where they are accomplices as well as craftsmen.

    Technical matters yield to serving the director’s spirit, and that is exactly what happened here. In breaking with the usual formula of “seeing to hear”, something happens that changes everything, something distinctive that disembowels the way audiences approach a story told to them and how the crew approaches the story being portrayed. Through listening, what is audible is transformed into a body, a mood, or even a soul, and we hear the characters’ unspeakable truth in their silence

    and the space that contains it. And that is how the sound universe, more than being a functional or decorative component, turns into a meaningful whole that belongs to itself and does not insist on seeming like anything else, for it simply is. Writing about sound in LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) means writing about the overlapping of sound and pictures in making a living, crafted, audiovisual fabric, that knows and weights the amount each element adds and subtracts, enabling the gestation and birth of a state of listening. In this state, audiences can see with their ears and listen with their eyes. The search for unity starts before shooting and of course while it is happening; sound is present in writing the screenplay, shoosing locations, the actors and their voices, the length of shots. With each camera angle, the director also sought a specific position for hearing and vice versa: with each possibility for hearing, the director considered the camera position, with the aim of maintaining a unique tone that is less a reflection of him than of the film itself. Sometimes I think that by fostering the collective participation of those who were part of making the film, the director managed to protect it from himself.

    LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (Half of Óscar) refers to the Other. To an absence that makes wholeness impossible. Likewise, in this film, it is impossible to isolate any one sound from its picture, and it is precisely thanks to their well-balanced combination that a new sense was attained which, since then, is no longer purely light or purely sound.

    We all worked to make the most of the logistical challenges of the shoot, when they had to do with spirit of the story; the wind in Almería, for example, portrayed the characters’ inner tension in one of the film’s pivotal scenes. Without saying a word, the wind is the only thing hitting the ear with an unpleasant noise, perhaps a metaphor for what remains unresolved, an unceasing passion that is painful, impossible to control.

    …And the sea. From inside the cemetery, we hear the sea in the distance, because that is how the sea sounded at that location, allowing us to hear not only the content but also the space that contained it. At the white cemetery, we heard the grey sound of that far-away, distant sea. A living sea that, from inside the cemetery, takes on a strange dimension. The sound of what cannot be extinguished. I’ve had the privilege of participating in filming the pictures and filming the sound for a film based on unity, losing the decorative aspect of sound and reclaiming its function in capturing blocks of reality, its ability to be a subtle being that is both invisible and expressive.

    Eva Valiño

    (Sound Mixer)

Filmography

Filmografía Productora
Filmografía Director
En Desarrollo