15 Years + 1 Day, directed by Gracia Querejeta is Spain’s Oscar Entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Award.
Margo (Maribel Verdú, Belle Époque, Y tu mamá también) is struggling to deal with her son, Jon (Arón Piper) a rebellious and freespirited teenager who runs with a bad crowd. After Jon is expelled from school, Margo sends him to live with his grandfather Max (Tito Valverde, El comisario, Todos los hombre sois iguales), a retired military officer who lives in a small coastal town and believes he can fix his grandson with his own style of discipline. This new home does not equal an attitude change, and when Jon is seriously injured after being involved in a grave crime, both boy and man will learn to face their fears and limitations.
Director Gracia Querejeta (Una estación de paso, Siete mesas de billar francés) drew from experiences with her own son to create this honest and touching film which sensitively illustrates, with superb precision, the difficulties of being both a child and an adult. She has drawn exceptional performances from her cast, with Arón Piper a standout in his first screen appearance, and the always brilliant Maribel Verdú as a mother struggling to make a better life for her child.
Bijan Tehrani: 15 Years + 1 Day is about a child growing up in very difficult circumstance. Is this based on a person that you know or is it mostly fiction?
Gracia Querejeta: It’s nothing to do with my life exactly, but when I finished the film I started thinking about it and I recognized that most of the stories are, in some way or another, real. Maybe it’s not my life, but it is someone’s life.
BT: The character development is interesting; there are some very convincing but drastic changes. How did you effectively portray the character development?
GQ: What we tried is to make a very organic change in the characters, especially with the grandpa and the grandson. What we tried to show is in the beginning with the big crash, throughout the story and by end of the story, it is not only the adolescent who learns from the older character, but the older character learns from the young character. Of course the characters change—if you start with a problem and you don’t solve it during the film then there is no story.
BT: You can actually sense the characteristics of the child in the grandfather’s character.
GQ: Yes, they begin with some similarities, but the important thing is that at the end that they have a new start and a different way of thinking and approaching their relationship.
BT: How did you go about casting 15 Years + 1 Day?
GQ: Well, we starting thinking about Maxs’ role immediately, and the actor who played him, Tito Valverde, came to my mind because I worked with him before in my first feature. I thought he was going to be great and I knew he could do it. And in the case of Maribel Verdu, I knew her and she was a very nice person and, above all of that, she is a marvelous actress. We got lucky with her in so many terms; we knew she was going to be great there.
BT: How did you come up with the visual style of the film?
GQ: I tried to work with everything, trying to fit my style in every part of the film. I tried to put the movie in a way that is the best way to make the film and to make the film relatable to the audience. I used medium shots instead of long shots in many spots, and I wanted to make my own storyboards. It worked for me and it is a way of going through all the stories and screenplays, and after that I talked with the DP and we worked together to go through the storyboards and correct any mistakes. My dedication during directing a film is not just about the actors, but also the camera and how you are going to shoot everything.
BT: What do you think are the chances of 15 Years + 1 Day being nominated—even winning—the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film?
GQ: I know that there are a lot of great films this year, but I think this movie could find an audience because we are talking about universal things. As I said, there are many great films out, so we will have to wait and hope for the best.
BT: What is your next project, and will it be a character based movie like your previous films?
GQ: Yes it will, but it is not a family movie. It is based on a group of friends and dealing with the issues of money; we are supposed to be shooting next June.