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Our dirty questions to Jaione Camborda

Live from the Mediterranean Film Festival: DMovies' editor Victor Fraga interviews the Spanish director of The Rye Horn, the dark and visceral sorority tale that won the latest edition of San Sebastian

Just last September, 41-year-old Jaione Camborda won the much-coveted Golden Shell for Best Film at the prestigious San Sebastian International Film Festival. The Rye Horn is a very dry and bleak drama set in rural Galicia (the deeply rural Northwestern region of Spain) during the 1970s, when the country was still under the iron fist of fascism. It’s a movie about the physical and psychological pains that only women have to endure, particularly if they live under an authoritarian regime. Despite its sullen mood, the film also offers viewers an empowering message of sorority.

Meeting face-to-face during the second edition of the 2nd Mediterrane Film Festival of Malta (The Rye Horn is in the event’s Official Competition, alongside another 14 movies from countries surrounding the Mediterranean). They talked about Galician cinema, Galician identity, Basque identity, the importance of regional languages, giving birth, lactation, the scars that Franco left on Spanish women, and much more.

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Victor Fraga – Could you please tell us about your personal journey, and also about your film’s journey, from San Sebastian all the way to Malta?

Jaione Camborda – I was born and I grew up in San Sebastian. The San Sebastian Film Festival was the place where I first discovered cinema. It was very important in my life. But my father is Peruvian, and my mother is Catalonian. When I was 18, I studied visual communication in the Film School of Prague, and then in the Film School of Munich. Then I arrived in Galicia because of love. I fell in love with that place. It took a long time to finance my first feature film Arima [2019]. This film, which was rather small in terms of production, allowed me to make The Rye Horn, in a more ambitious way.

VF – What is it that attracted you to Galicia, and how long have you lived there?

JC – I have been there for 15 years. I think Galicia is very similar to the Basque Country because of the landscape, and the fact that the people are very connected to the land, to the earth, with nature. The weather is also rainy and windy.

VF – So you moved to Galicia because it’s rainy and windy?

JC – I went there because I felt at home! And then I started to pursue and develop my work there. I created a cinematic family around me!

VF – Where in Galicia do you live?

JC – In the capital, Santiago de Compostela.

VF – You were born in the 1980s, after the Francoist era ended. Could you please tell us a little bit about the scars that fascism left on Spanish women?

JC – It’s very beautiful that you chose the word “scars”. The main character in my film [The Rye Horn] has a physical scar. For me, that’s the symbol of a historical wound. The prohibition of abortion. There are lot of other scars still visible. And fascism isn’t extinct yet…

VF – What other scars did fascism leave on women?

JC – No freedom of expression, women were not allowed to own property, a lot of assassinations, no political representation, etc. Just so many things!

VF – Your film begins with the loud and excruciating screams of woman, something I haven’t heard since Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers [1978]. Except that she’s giving birth instead of succumbing to cancer. Could you please tell us this punch-in-the-face opening, and the reasons for this creative choice?

JC – Cinema has a huge debt towards childbirth. That’s because men were historically in control, and they showed it in a beautiful and marvellous way. We wanted to show it in a more experienced way. In first person, as women!

VF – Are you saying that male filmmakers tend to romanticise childbirth?

JC – Yes, male filmmakers. But not necessarily romanticise, but simply look from a different perspective.

VF – Are you a mother?

JC – Yes, I experienced childbirth during the process of writing the film!

VF – Your film also her a very powerful breastfeeding scene. Please tell us a little more about the importance of lactation in your movie?

JC – I proposed this breast in a triptych around the film. First, we see a baby… do you mind if we continue in Spanish?

VF – [Swaps to Spanish] Sure, I just hope that I can do you justice with my translation of your words into English!

JC – [In Spanish] I’m sure you’ll do just fine. In this triptych, firstly first I propose the baby breastfeeding, and that the breasts are the fountain of life, and something very mammalian. Secondly, it’s also a place a pleasure, something erotic for the woman. Thirdly, I propose a viable breast and a paying man who seeks to drink from this fountain of life. He does that through the patriarchy, by paying someone who needs that money, and exploiting that someone, forcing them to do something they don’t want.

VF – You cast a Black actress with an Irish name, Siobhan Fernandes. Ireland is a Celtic nation, just life Galicia. Was that a coincidence?

JC – In the film, her fictitious name is Anabela, and in real life she comes from the Congo, and lived in Portugal most of her life.

VF – So there is no Celtic connection with Ireland?

JC – Not at all.

VF – Would you agree with me if I said that your film is about female solidarity?

JC – Solidarity – in particular sorority – is very important in my film. The women are mirrors and they see each other reflected on one another. This empathy leads them to help each other.

VF – Could we please return to the topic of Galicia and the Basque Country, and now talk about their differences. For example, they have their own language each.

JC – The reflection around borders is another central topic of my movie. Geographic, political and ideological. It was very important to me to grasp the local language, called Galician, which is very close to Portuguese. They understand each other perfectly well. That border [between Galicia and Portugal] is neither cultural nor human, but instead imposed upon people. These borders also extend to our own body.

VF – Do you speak Gallician?

JC – Yes, I do!

VF – There has been a mini explosion of Galician cinema, with films such as Fire Will Come [Olivier Laxe, 2019], Elisa and Marcela [Isabel Coixet, 2019], The Beasts [Rodrigo Sorogoyen, 2022], and even The Rim [Alberto Gracia], which premiered this year in Rotterdam. What is the relevance of Galician cinema to Galician people and culture nowadays. And will the rural people of Galicia, the ones portrayed in your film, get to see it?

JC – They are films that connected very well with Galician audiences, as well as many other audiences. There have been formulas to take these films to the little towns and hamlets. there are companies specialised in summer cinema, and they take big screens around the countryside. That’s something that’s growing. My film has toured Galicia in that way, as well as in the cinema screens. They have reclaimed the trust of film-goers, including the spectators not used to auteur cinema. This worked very well with my film, as well as the films that you named. Fire Will Come in particular opened many doors for Galician cinema.

VF – All of these films, except for Elisa and Marcela, are entirely spoken in Galician. Is the language an integral part of Galician cinema?

JC – Galician is a very beautiful language. And we must look after it because it’s an endangered language. We should not allow it to become colonised. I firmly believe that linguistic wealth is synonymous with human wealth. It allows for more ways of seeing the world. The policies are very important. In the Basque Country, people speak a lot more Euskera nowadays than in the past. That’s thanks to subsidies. We need to see the same happen in Galicia!

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Jaione Camborda is pictured at the 2nd Mediterrane Film Festival at the top of this article; the other image is a still from The Rye Horn.


By Victor Fraga - 29-06-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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