Dominga Sotomayor’s debut feature Thursday Till Sunday (De jueves a domingo) tells the story of a confined adult world from a child’s perspective. Together with their parents, ten-year-old Lucia (Santi Ahumada) and seven-year-old Manuel (Emiliano Freifeld) embark on a four-day road trip from Santiago to the north of Chile. Viewed primarily from inside their Mazda car, their journey shifts from the deserted windmill landscapes of Chile’s coast to the mute tensions of adult affiliations that end up being worlds apart.
Winner of a Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and most recently a recipient of the Grand Prix at the New Horizons International Film Festival in Poland, Sotomayor’s previous work include the short films Videojuego (2008), Debajo (2007) and Cessna (2005). Thursday Till Sunday has caught people’s attention as a beautiful and delicate film and is screening at this year’s BFI London Film Festival as part of the Journey strand. The writer-director talked to us about capturing memories and sudden changes in childhood.
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Can you explain your decision to shoot Thursday Till Sunday on film?
From the beginning I was very convinced this project was about capturing childhood. For me the materiality was something connected with the feeling you get when you look at an old picture, like the memories we have as kids or a unique moment that can’t be repeated. I used Arri super 16mm film and I was very clear about what I wanted to shoot. So I didn’t need too much material. It was something very concrete. While I was writing the script I had the precise images in my mind. My method of realising these images was through making a film on film.
The light is incredible. Did you film at a specific time during the day?
Yes, it was in the afternoon when the sun is low. But when I was thinking of this project, I was really thinking about the car, this light inside, the bodies in their seats, and the feeling when the temperature gets hot. Working with cinematographer Bárbara Álvarez (The Headless Woman, Whisky, 25 Watts) was also great because we had the same ideas for the film from the beginning. It was important to capture how the car transforms itself because of the family transforming itself too. The car becomes another character suffering this integration of the found.
Manuel is like a playful reminder of youth to the adult world, with his mad handstand in the car’s backseat. What was it like to work with non-professional actors?
It was really challenging because the camera was very close to the kids. I didn’t want to film from outside the car so we were always inside. It was scary because Manuel is very hyperkinetic, like most kids, and I was creating a challenge for [Freifeld] to approach the character by playing, not acting. I was interested in casting kids without acting experience, and the character of Manuel made the scenes more challenging. Of course it’s difficult, it’s a road movie, it’s summer and I was planning to make it a nice trip for them.
The film is not just about childhood. The upside-down image of the parents from the top of the car is like an isolated world without oxygen versus the freedom of the air Lucia and Manuel breathe outside the car.
Actually this image was the starting point of the project. I had this picture of my cousin and myself on the top of the car, travelling. I imagined my parents in their confined, terrible situation. I saw that on this road trip there were two very different worlds: the freedom outside and the confinement inside. So it was the starting point and the fiction grew from there.
You also play with the idea of sudden loss in many parts such as when Lucia loses her family at the petrol station and the mother’s no-show in the middle of the desert.
I think I was really scared of the sudden changes in my childhood. It’s something that scares kids because they can’t control some situations and then things happen like their parents get separated and they don’t have any control over it. It has to do with the fear of death. I’m interested in the idea of these little moments, when you are a kid and you lose your family and you don’t have this projection of them possibly being somewhere. When the mother is lost maybe the mother is dead. This feeling, this direct situation when you’re a kid being forced to get ahead with life from then on… it’s a second big challenge for the child.
Did you have any problems finding the right car for the trip?
I had a very clear image of the car in my head when writing the script. It was something big and blue and grey. It wasn’t easy to find because we needed two identical cars, one to shoot from the back and one to shoot from the front in order to make the shooting faster. I didn’t want to cut the scenes and we worked chronologically for almost all of the script. I was really obsessed with a specific type of car but no one could find it. But I was driving somewhere and I saw one outside a store in Santiago. I stopped and asked the owner, “Can I buy your car?”
How did you choose the music?
I’m really interested in finding a place for popular music. It is one of my motivations to write. I like the lyrics and with the people that surround me we always play the guitar. We really like – and it’s not a joke – popular Spanish music because it’s emotional. All my work is less emotional, it’s clean, nobody says “I love you”, it’s really contained, without much said. So for me it was a way of saying what the characters don’t. I’m interested in finding a new place for this kind of music, what people hear on the radio for example.
Films in Chile used to be quite political but since the fall of the dictatorship they are more diverse. Is there an interest in experimenting with the moving image in Chile right now?
I think during the political situation we had filmmakers taking to the streets. Everything was interesting out there. And now we’ve come back to see ourselves, more personal things. Production work is less separated, there’s not a Chilean style but everything is getting more personal. With [my short film] Debajo my plan was to project it on the floor and try to keep the fiction outside the cinema. I had found an old VHS player and I made an installation of these videos. For me it was something like painted video. It was my first approach to a project called Fire. I’m just writing a new script and it’s a continuation of this in light of a community surprised by a fire.
Like Debajo, your films have an experimental take on end credits.
They’re connected with the story. In Debajo for example the credits are not beautiful but the idea was that you can be in whatever position you want because they were on the floor. So you can see the film from any side, like the information can be found from anywhere. There’s no right position of the frame. The credits are the goodbye of the film so they must be effective.
What is the most vibrant memory you have from childhood and did you always want to become a filmmaker?
No, not really. I had a long childhood and looking back at this time it was great because my friends were kind of alternative and I was living in different places. It was really a Marxist way of living, I was influenced by my space in a community outside Santiago and I connected with people of different ages. I have different images: for example the street of the place where I lived. I think all my work comes from my childhood not just because I like kids but also because of the way I was thinking when I was little. I was really complex and very shy, so I was observing the people around me. My films are about these observations and something that took place long before but not so long. I can remember what it was but I feel it’s my past, not something that I’m living now, so I have this distance that makes me able to write.
When do you stop being a kid?
I don’t know. I’m 26 now and sometimes I still feel like a kid but I was always really independent. Probably I felt like an adult since I was 12. I always had these feelings when I was little but I’m now changing, this was long time ago.