LR: I'm interested to hear, in the creator's words, a summation of the film.
DT: It's the story of a generational encounter between a student of journalism (Ángela) in Madrid in 1987 -- where I was at the same time starting my university studies -- and a very famous and acclaimed journalist (Miguel) at the end of his life. There is a character that said that "we are like two trains, one in the direction of going and the other is coming back and we are stuck in a tunnel for two days." So this is what I wrote about.
José Sacristán and María Valverde in "Madrid 1987"
LR: While I was watching the movie, I couldn't escape the feeling that one might easily change the sex of the student to a male who looks to the old journalist as a mentor. Is it an autobiographical work?
DT: Yeah, could be. It is in a lot of senses-at least probably the encounter. Well it was always different. Not the sexual tension. But at the same time I wanted it to be something for my characters to deal with. It forced them to have a superficial relationship and in the moment once locked in the bathroom it all changes; there's a necessity to understand each other because they are forced. I wanted to play with this idea also that sexual encounters always are like, "Okay, let's do it." And we forget about each other. But this one was the opposite. This one was, 'We are gonna be forced to talk. We're gonna be forced to explain and relate', and that was the tension for me.
LR: The main character, Miguel, is played by José Sacristán. He is a beautifully complex man who grapples with self-contempt and yet has a rather elevated ego. Who is Miguel based on, if anyone you've known?
DT: It was based on these type of characters that happened to exist in Spain in the late 70's and 80's-people who were fighting against the dictatorship and were writing and they were very talented. And at the same time they'd become a little bit cynical and fatalistic and a little bit sad. But they were very clear minded too and very brilliant. I happened to have met some of them. I had this argument with them that they didn't allow young people space. You know they were so brilliant that you were just there thinking, 'Well I can't say anything because it's going to sound so stupid in contrast with this brilliance.' So these characters...there were five or six of them; I took things from each of them and predictions even about myself. I'm in the middle of my road now. I'm not anymore the young student so I can see things with more clarity.
LR: There's a significant age disparity between Angela, who is played by María Valverde, and Miguel. Some viewers may object to the relationship and be even quite put-off by the film, despite Angela's definitive power. Have you had any backlash over it?
DT: There is another thing even more difficult than that. There are a lot of references to Spain's politics at the time. Even the title. It has a declaration of contextuality. It says, 'I'm not doing something universal. I'm doing Madrid 1987.' But that is something that was inside me when I made the movie. I didn't want to have the characters as contemporary characters. I wanted to be faithful to what they were. I saw a lot of movies and period pieces where characters had contemporary behavior in the 19th or 16th century and I don't like that. People always portray that a young woman is very liberated or a man is generous but it wasn't like that back then. People were behaving as the characters of their time. We are slaves of the time in which we live. And so I don't care about this manipulation of history. I wanted to be careful about portraying the characters as we were in the 80's.
LR: So as an artist you're always more concerned with maintaining the virtue of honesty, even at a great commercial risk?
DT: You always have to create your film knowing that others might feel angry about your perspective but that's good. If your perspective is good for everyone, then it's not a good perspective. Through fiction you can face real life. It makes you more intelligent, less radical and less politically correct. Filmmakers and writers need to maintain the spirit that has made cinema and literature so important because it's true. The moment that it becomes a cosmetic thing that says that only beautiful women or men have sex... that's not true.
Everyone is into this thing called sex. But power is an important thing in interpersonal relationships. In this movie we discuss power; Miguel has intellectual power and Ángela has sexual power. It's a struggle to get what they want without giving away what they have. To maintain that tension for 1.5 hours in a bathroom with two naked actors, was a challenge.
LR: You've penned three novels, translated into ten languages. You've written and directed six films now. In fact your documentary, "Balseros" was nominated for an Academy award. Most would say that you've risen to many challenges.
DT: When some people said that "Madrid 1987" is not a commercial movie and that I'd never be able to travel with it or nobody will understand it, I thought, "I don't care. I'm going to make the movie anyway." And I'm here because the Sundance committee watched it and understood it. They felt what I was trying to say.