‘While you are’ begins with a moment in the filming of ‘The consequences’ (2021), the second film that the Venezuelan director Claudia Pinto made with Carme Elias. In this sequence, Elias cannot continue acting out a scene because he does not remember the dialogue. Actors have the resources to avoid being left blank in situations of these characteristics, which evidently happen in many filmings and theatrical performances.
There we could say that the gestation ‘While it’s you’ beganthis unorthodox documentary that shows the splendid Barcelona actress faced with the disease she has named Al, Alzheimer’s, with whom she now has a different relationship: “We already know each other, we are already friends, I know how he acts and I just have to be careful. He’s lighter, he’s not so bad. “If you say Alzheimer’s, you enter another world.” Acceptance.
When did you decide to make this kind of document and emotional chronicle of the process in which the protagonist of ‘Camino’ begins to immerse herself, whose filming would last for five years? “Carmen was beginning to have suspicions, but the doctors couldn’t see anything,” the director explains to us. “When we filmed ‘The Consequences’, Carmen was very clear about her character and where she had to interpret it on an emotional level, but the text, the words, came out in a very absurd way, and she was not aware of this. When an actress makes a mistake or has stage fright, she behaves in other ways.”
Faced with this then inexplicable situation, Elias told Pinto to replace her with another actress. “I told her of course not, I trusted her and didn’t want to open a rift of frustration within her relationship with work.” The film was finished and nothing special was observed, but shortly after the diagnosis came.
leave a trace
“We had no intention of filming anything. I went by train to Valencia to tell her the diagnosis, and at that moment Claudia asked me if she wanted us to leave a trace of all this, and I told her yes, something done as a family,” Elias recalls. Pinto adds that it is “leaving a trace because you don’t know what this disease is like, how much time you have, what it will steal from you tomorrow or the day after, if there will be a next summer.”
In a moment in the film, very intense as well as intimate, Carme Elias talks about the here and now of the actors, but adds that it is a deception because she can no longer choose her here and now. The feeling is that ‘While you are’ is a film made to capture the present. “It’s a film in the present, it’s alive,” Pinto tells us. “The actors, or depending on which actors, because each one works in their own way, so that we don’t miss the mark we take into account the here and now,” reflects Elias. “I mean that when you are acting you still think about things you have to do tomorrow, because this happens when you have many functions, you disconnect for a moment from the character you are playing but you continue with the character. What must be avoided is this memory that appears at that moment.”
Elias says that acting is purifying, and at one point in the film a doctor assures that making this documentary is beneficial: “Purification means that you give part of yourself to the characters you play. It is purifying in this sense, because it makes you see part of yourself that you have to take care of. And, of course, it is beneficial, I am an actress and the camera gives you life.”
But they started doing it as something very intimate, for the two of them, and suddenly it has gained collective significance. “If they had told us that this movie was going to be in theaters, I don’t know if we would have made it, honestly. It is a very big responsibility,” says Pinto.
The film was made in this way due to the blind trust of the actress in the director: “Carmen is an actress who has always taken great care of her private life, very sure of what to show and not show. And suddenly we make a film that tells what you hold on to when you are fading, how an actress can continue being an actress without memory, the transformative power of art.” It’s not easy, it can’t be. “You can keep everything and at night cover your head with the sheet and cry,” the actress describes very graphically.
To say it or not
In 2021, Elias received the Gaudí of Honor, but had not yet made the decision to publicly announce that he had Alzheimer’s. “I know that I was considering whether to say it or not say it,” he tells us, “but I thought it was like sinking an act that belongs to everyone, putting the personal before a story that was collective, it was not appropriate.” He communicated this at the Brain Film Festival in 2022: “It was difficult to make the decision, and then you have strange fears, you think that they are going to overwhelm me, they can follow me to rob me, you feel helpless. But then you see that this is not going as fast as you thought. At this point I thought I would no longer be here.”
Pinto’s challenge was to make a disease that is invisible visible in images. All improvised, intuitive. “The project is open, but the film is finished. We started filming it as something very much our own, but along the way we decided that it made sense to make it public, following Carmen’s decision to make her situation public,” Pinto observes. And he adds: “Filming is something that helps us both. Therefore we have decided to finish it but without closing ourselves off to the possibility of continuing recording and incorporating or not in the future, if it seems good to us, a new version or an epilogue. We have left the door open, but the film that is being released is perfectly finished.” And, above all, make “a very close, experiential film,” which is also “a story of friendship,” concludes Elias.