Rudy Riverón Sánchez is born in Cuba and the director of ‘Is That You?’ (¿Eres Tú, Papá?), his first feature film and one of the rare psychological horror films to be made in Cuba.
'Is That You?' is an evocative, beautiful and strange tale, loaded with voyeurism, sexual and not least incestuous symbols. It starts as a drama about domestic violence and aggressive masculinity, and slowly but confidently glides over into a spiritual and eerie ghost story. Recently, many horror films have made their way out of South and Central America, not least last year's 'Good Manners', and with 'Is That You?' Cuba can also claim its own chilling voice in the horror tradition.
Briefly, what is ‘Is That You?’ about?
The film is about Lili, a thirteen year old girl who is struggling with the loss of her father, and she has a goal to find him again. But when she finds the truth, it isn’t a pleasant truth. It changes her life into a nightmare.
What were your inspirations when you made the film, in terms of genre and in general?
The biggest influence for ‘Is That You?’ was ‘Repulsion’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ by Polanski, and, not in terms of horror films but in terms of structure, I also drew on ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Hamlet’, and ‘Psycho’ from Alfred Hitchcock. I picked up elements from psychological horror, which I felt more connected with. I was also influenced by the experience of living in England because it helped me gain a detached perspective that I didn’t have before when I was living in Cuba.
What was it like returning to Cuba to shoot the film?
Cuba for me is like a time machine. When I came back after having lived in England for a while, I felt something that I never had before. I was looking at Cuba from a different perspective, from a different angle, with an objectivity that I didn’t have before. The style that I created was a product of my journey when I came back to Cuba again, and the film history that I’ve got.
Do you think it was harder to make the film in Cuba, than if you had made it in England?
Because I haven’t done feature films in England (I’ve been working, not as a director, but in other areas), I think it’s just different. In Cuba you have to deal directly with the government and the institutions that belong to the government. In England these are separate institutions, they are individuals and companies. So the process is completely different.
The main actress, who plays Lily, she recently won an award for best actress. Could you speak a bit about that, and your work relationship with her?
Gabriela Ramos is the leading actress of ‘Is That You?’. She won an award for outstanding performance at the Oldenburg Film Festival (as did Victoria Carmen Sonne for 'Holiday'). She is a brilliant actress, very intelligent, works really hard, and soon after I met her she wanted to be in the film and do her character.
You also have a couple of Cuban legends in your film? The actress who plays the old woman and the cinematographer are well known film people in Cuba. Can you speak a bit about how that work relationship came to be, and how you convinced them to be in the film?
Raúl Pérez Ureta is the cinematographer of ‘Is that You?’, he has done more than fifty feature films in his career. He has been working with the biggest directors in Cuba. He has been making film since 1966 or 1967. He is a legend in Cuban cinematography. When I met Raúl Pérez Ureta, I met him through another actor. Very famous in Cuba. And Raúl told me, “I only work with clever directors.” So I was thinking “wow”. What can I do when someone tells me this? So he read the script, he liked it, and we had a few discussions. He wanted to work, get us on the project, and he loved it. And with Eslinda Núñez, who is practically speaking the face of Cuban cinema, I wrote the character thinking about her. I wanted her to do the character. It was quite risky. So when she read the script and she liked it as well, working with her was magnificent. It was really beautiful.