Paco Plaza explores his fascination with nuns


The Valencian director shoots ‘Sister Death’ for Netflix, a kind of prequel to ‘Veronica’ in the monastery of San Jerónimo de Cotalba

Netflix couldn’t avoid the spoiler this time. He also did not know how to stop the theories and assumptions that, already far-reaching, were forged on social networks of the most fanatic. But it’s the toll that comes when a master of horror cinema the size of Paco Plaza heads to the distributor to direct his next film. A visit to the set and everything is under suspicion. And no, it’s not the Vallecas of the 90s, but it’s hot. This time it is in a nature reserve in Valencia, close to Gandía but where you can’t even see the sea, between two mountains is the monastery of Cotalba and “silence!”

It is set in a post-war Spain, where the real monastery in fiction turns into a monastery and the monks into nuns. ‘Sister Death’ is the new film from the director of ‘[REC]’, ‘Veronica’ or ‘Who kills with iron’ and spoiler: no, it’s not another horror story of nuns, even the title of the film gives clues. ‘Sister Death’ is the nickname of one of Veronica’s characters. The director is implying that this new fiction is a prequel, which will “help us better understand the things that happened there” and restore that universe through “a few characters and there will be several surprises connecting both films.”

And for now here. The story begins with Narcisa, played by actress Aria Bedmar, a young novice turned teacher in a convent, which ceases to be a convent because the nuns turn it into a school for orphaned girls. His supernatural powers lead him to secrets that surround this monastery.

Despite the visits, the team has continued to work, even despite the weddings and events organized by the Monastery of San Jerónimo de Cotalba, and there are quite a few. Even the guides have become accustomed to explaining a monument declared a Site of Cultural Interest (BIC) between the “cut” and the “action” after almost two months of filming. Finding the location for the film’s art and production teams wasn’t easy, but it suited Plaza, who later invented it; he had never recorded in his country before.

Among orange trees, watered by the sun and with a Mediterranean aroma, this is what Paco Plaza has been looking for, a place where a fictional film could seem like a true story. “Our aesthetic commitment was to try to avoid the images we all have in our heads of horror movies in a monastery. We wanted to give it a very own and very local identity, because that’s what later becomes universal, I think that’s what seduces, when the cinema opens a window to the world, and reality doesn’t force it, it’s a place that we love, that somehow gives the film a personality,” says the director.

At the entrance of the monastery there is a catering service and when you go to the monastery, the corridors are filled with cables, extension cords, spotlights, panels… The construction that housed the austere monks now seems to welcome a different type of congregation with another custom: they dress in black, but they could also practice the vow of silence. Nothing is heard. The producer, Enrique López Lavinge, and the production director, Alberto Álvarez, act as guides on the route through the rooms in which it is shot and where the plot takes place.

The nuns that Paco Plaza created for ‘Hermana Muerte’ make candy. The kitchen is an important space in fiction. They have finished shooting all the scenes that take place there, but the team’s passage through each room leaves a trail. There were three interventions at the Cotalba Monastery, now owned by the Trenor family, but the guide to this space of cultural significance likes to joke that the fourth intervention was that of the film crew.

The setting by art director Laia Ateca is barely noticeable, it even seems to be just another part of the building. “Last week on one of the visits, a lady told me that the tiles on the kitchen wall were beautiful and asked me what time they were from. I barely knew what to say because they laid them,” says the guide.

The kitchen wall is lined with these blue tiles, which end at eye level. Among them, the director leaves his own wink to the viewer, a dedication to music and the horror genre. Almost everything is measured in figuration. The art team’s work has left nothing to the imagination and takes care of every millimeter. His intent is to push the button of the viewer’s collective memory.

“Everything seems familiar, whether we’ve seen it in pictures of our grandparents and our parents or we associate it with childhood, it’s very recognizable, it’s part of the history we’ve been told, of the post-war period and no one would to doubt it because of the obsession It was to create fear of what we all know, of things that are close and to prevent spaces from seeming to come from other places, from other countries that are far away, but to to make it real,” explains producer Enrique López Lavinge.

Lots of light comes through the small windows and the walls are painted white. Plague epidemics are to blame, in each of them the walls were covered with lime. But neither the light nor the white were a problem for the filming of ‘Sister Death’ because the director was looking for the most real fear, the one in what cannot be seen in broad daylight.

“It’s a gamble of horror cinema that doesn’t shy away from daylight or money laundering, it’s a challenge for the director of photography and also for the viewer themselves because it’s not what you initially expect from a scary movie and that rather because it is an inconvenience, it becomes an incentive”, acknowledges Paco Plaza.

White crochet bedspreads cover the small beds, the crosses on the wall above the headboards and on the bedside table a small brush, a tin box and a bible. The small cells of the monks of Cotalba are transformed into rooms for the girls of the school in the fiction and in that of Sor Narciso, the protagonist, even the cracks in the wall have been used.

It was between these passes that some of the key sequences were shot for their spectacular nature. They report it to the team. The film’s most intense scenes emerged from those two weeks of confinement in the cramped rooms. “There’s a sense of living something that only real spaces give you that exists, it’s something that’s hard to achieve with sets. We spent six weeks in the rain and this feeling was very powerful. It’s going to be a really complicated and intense shoot,” admits art director Laia Ateca.

White is still latent in the wardrobe, fleeing the idea of ​​the nuns’ black uniform. The bet is all on white. “It’s something that all departments have had to do, because this film chooses white, for light, and from there we had to reinvent the habits of our nuns, which has a real historical base from the 50s but also some of the fantasy and imagination of some nuns that don’t exist”, explains the winner of a Goya for the costumes of ‘Las Leyes de la Frontera’, Vinyet Escobar. The costumes are part of the characterization and are 90% made by Escobar’s team, which he says is rare. “You don’t always have the freedom to design whatever you want, and there’s no limit here.”

Locked up in those rooms for two weeks and it is there, in those corridors that connect the cells of the nuns, where the most intense sequences were shot, especially the one starring Sor Narcisa. Bearing in mind that it is a scary movie, the team could have been imagined, but what happened in one of the rooms is something that the organization of the Cotalba Monastery keeps secret and usually doesn’t reveal to anyone under any circumstances. visits. “It’s like hanging up some television show with this for three seasons,” the guide jokes.

What they say is there was a poltergeist, but the team could have changed it themselves. The problem was in one of the large heavy doors of a room at the end of the hall. “I’m a skeptical person, but it’s true there’s a door that we close before we leave and the next morning when you arrive it’s open, we didn’t tell anyone from the film team about this, but when they started asking us we had to admit it,” says the guide.

The producer admits that none of the filmmakers knew anything, but they all asked for that door. “It wasn’t an anecdote, it’s that on the fifth day the same thing kept happening, nobody dared to enter that room. We removed the door and used it for a different room, we may have changed this phenomenon,” says Lavigne. And the guide admits that this is the only inexplicable thing that happens in the monastery.

The story of ‘Hermana Muerte’ stems from a secondary character in ‘Verónica’ because Paco Plaza thought ‘it had a movie in itself’. That’s where it all started, in a mysterious character about whom little is known: a blind nun, with wounds in her face who at one point explains to one of the girls that it was she herself who was injured.

“If I had been that girl, I would have asked her why,” says Plaza. And that’s exactly where his new movie comes from. His fascination with nuns makes him come a long way. “I’ve always liked them,” he explains that it’s the uniform that generates the greatest intrigue to meet the person underneath. “It seems that nuns are born and are fifty years old, but there is a person behind it, a woman who has a life, and that is reflected in one of the protagonists because the uniforms of the nuns have something of destruction of individuality that i like fate. , destroy yourself in the service of something else. Each uniform carries its servitude,” explains the director.

To him they are a mystery and have something mysterious and true at the same time. What also happened in ‘Verónica’ is the mix between the real and the fantastic. This film is allowed to play with that intrigue of camouflaging a fictional story framed by a location that radiates the truth from all angles. The director admits that despite the complexity of the shoot, the challenge motivated him even more. And again spoiler: “It’s all fiction.”

Source: La Verdad


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