One of the 15 features competing at this year’s ARCA, the multi-award-winning Spanish documentation feature “The Visit and A Secret Garden” plays a poignant contradiction.
In the two-part film, the first half hour follows the once-famous Spanish painter Isabel Santaro, who lives completely anonymously in a cramped apartment somewhere in Madrid’s unremarkable outskirts. It captures old age.
Directed by the artist’s niece, Irene M. Borrego, a graduate of the London Film School and acclaimed director of short films, the film was trained in Madrid’s art school and brought to life on the Madrid art scene. This captures Santaro nearly 50 years after it disappeared from the US radar. The Louvre Museum in Paris and her MoMa in New York participated in exhibitions in Paris, Milan, Stockholm and Miami, and from the 1950s to the 1970s she was one of Spain’s foremost female painters and art restorers. was known as one.
Half a century later, Santaro was first seen in her bedroom and filmed from outside the door. shuffling down the hallway, sitting in a large armchair, and trembling his right hand to cover his face.
Meanwhile, a narration interview takes place between the director and Antonio Lopez. Antonio López is probably Spain’s most revered living painter, and was the subject of Victor Erice’s 1992 Cannes Jury Prize winner ‘Dream of Light’, and he is remembered in Spain. He is believed to be one of the only people Santaro Yes.
As a painter, Santaro was “very well known” during her time, Lopez says, looking at a shot of Santaro’s almost completely closed bedroom door. It was a simple shape, but it wasn’t geometric,” he says. “Like her, a little harsh, very honest, very genuine, very secretive,” Lopez continues, capturing Santaro sitting on his bed surrounded by the bedroom door. “She reminded me of a secret garden, and I think if you step into it, you’ll find something very attractive and beautiful, even if it doesn’t seem like she wants to see it.
But one time she disappeared. “For years, no one talks about her,” says Lopez. “Now erases everything”
However, at the 30 minute mark, “The Visit and A Secret Garden” opens as Santaro. Borrego belligerently questioned her thoughts on what had happened to her paintings and her importance as an artist, and began speaking her mind, leaving her own—surprisingly full-throated. Na-voice.
“I hate our family,” she admits. “The way they treated me was like working in a brothel.”
What do you need to make art? Borrego asks. “There are no rules.” You are alone, an “orphan.”
why didn’t she get married? “Because I didn’t like the life of a servant. Servant, do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Isabel was respectful,” recalls Lopez. Fifty years later, despite her advanced infirmity, that demeanor remains. rescues her from oblivion.
Produced by Borrego’s Madrid-based label (This Film is About Me, El mar nos mira de lejos) and Lisbon’s Cedro Platano, La visita y un jardín secreto is Borrego’s debut feature film. , won the Silver Biznaga of the 2022 Málaga Festival. Winner of Best Director and Audience Award for Documentary. Also, he won the HBO Max Award for Best Portuguese Competition Film for his DocLisboa of the year.
Distributed in Spain by Begin Again Films. Les Films de la Resistance handles international rights. variety Spoke to Borrego the night before ARCA.
One of the key decisions that gives the film great originality is to show Isabelle’s apartment, how she lived, but not her paintings. Could you briefly explain that decision?
This decision was related to Isabel’s approach of showing and focusing on the present, initiating questions and reflections on the creative process, art and life. I had no intention of making a biopic or inviting people to judge Isabel as an artist by showing her paintings. The evocative nature of the empty wall, Antonio’s voice, and the stark truths shared by Isabel seemed like a more interesting approach to opening the film to me.
When filming Isabelle in the first stretch of the film, she is often seen half-hidden in a doorway or her own hand, or seen from behind. This seems to be a formal representation of her status as a lesser-known artist at present. Could you please comment again?
Indeed, cinematography plays with the concept of visibility and invisibility. I think this formal approach is also reflected in the idea of framing Isabelle from a certain cinematic distance, in this case the distance between the director and the subject for fear. Formally, this gap gradually narrows as the film progresses. The intention is to invite the audience on a journey where truths, discoveries and ideas are slowly revealed.
When Isabel speaks, she still seems powerful, compelling and passionate about her art. Did she surprise you with her intellectual vigor?
I felt Isabelle’s strength, sharpness, and vividness during the research stage, but fully understood and embraced it during the editing stage. Her strength of mind contrasts with the frailty and frailty of her body and condition. Rather, it was intended to give Isabelle the floor and space to truly express her presence.
In the movie, you speak to Isabel in voiceover and say, “I saw you through my parents’ eyes.” When did your attitude towards Isabelle begin to change? And are you still afraid to be like her?
I often say that making this film was the most difficult thing in my life. I believe that fear is how and why I started this project, and realization and appreciation is how I ended the film. It was mainly during the lengthy editing process after filming that not only Isabel changed her attitude towards herself and her own shadow. And today, I can say that like Isabel, I’m really trying to keep her consistent and brave.
Do you think this film will lead to renewed interest in exhibiting Isabel Santaro’s paintings?
We’re already seeing some ramifications, especially after staging “The Visit and A Secret Garden” with Antonio Lopez at the Reina Sofia Art Center. Various media have shown interest in Isabel Santaro. Meanwhile, several art institutions are seeking further information, looking for her work, and hopefully reopening her case. Most recently, a page dedicated to Isabelle appeared on Wikipedia. She actively liaises with various critics and historians to provide all the investigative material she has collected during the film’s preparation.