Julia’s Eyes – Guillem Morales interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
GUILLEM Morales talks about his psychological thriller Julia’s Eyes, about a woman (played by Belen Rueda) who is investigating the mysterious death of her twin sister while going blind.
He explains how he became obsessed with making the audience as blind as the central character and how working with producer Guillermo del Toro enhanced the creative process.
Q. Where did the idea for Julia’s Eyes first come from?
Guillem Morales: Well, if you’ve seen the image on the poster of the woman with the bandage around her eyes, that was my first image. That image came into mind. I didn’t know everything at that moment, the only thing I knew was that she was Julia, she’d had an operation on her eyes and the doctors had told her not to remove the bandage, otherwise all the fruits of the operation would be ruined. So, I then had to create a plot and some characters and establish a direction.
Q. How long did it take to come together after that?
Guillem Morales: Oh my God! A year and a half, in terms of the script.
Q. Did it change much over that time?
Guillem Morales: Yeah, not the beginning and not the ending and not some of the set pieces. But I think that the script is alive and it’s not just a locked thing.
Q. The opening scene of the film sets it up as though it could be a ghost story or something supernatural. But this is more of a human monster. Is it fair to say it’s early evidence of your playful style, toying with expectation?
Guillem Morales: Exactly! I’m more interested in human monsters than ghosts because they look like us, but you know they are monsters. I was also very fascinated about the invisible man and trying to bring my own adaptation of the image of a man who, from a psychological point of view, was invisible.
Q. Did you research the criminal mind at all? Did you look at any real-life killers?
Guillem Morales: No, I didn’t do that. I don’t know why. But there’s no tradition in Spain. When you go to a library or a bookshop here there is a section of true crime. It doesn’t exist in Spain. There’s no tradition. People love crime, even if they’re real. So, this was just a character. It was always very clear to us who he was. The actor playing him may have done some research, as that’s part of his job, but for me he was always the invisible man.
Q. He remains invisible for three quarters of the film and yet he has a distinct presence throughout. How difficult was that to achieve?
Guillem Morales: It was difficult. If you think about the script, the character is invisible for most of the film so you haven’t got enough time to explain him properly. So, we decided to explain a lot of things about this character through other characters in the film. Hence, the old man who is also invisible as well. But he’s not angry with the world for being invisible. So, we have that character explain how it feels to be invisible to other people in the world.
Q. It’s also a love story…
Guillem Morales: Of course it is because in my opinion fear, which is a universal feeling, is also very related to love. To me, fear is the absence of love and love is the absence of fear. So, those feelings are very well connected and when I think of fear I think of love as well.
Q. But it’s the big surprise of the film, especially from the marketing…
Guillem Morales: The love story? Oh yeah, because it’s a film about perception: how to look, how to be seen and the feelings that are related to that. It’s a thriller with some horror scenes but, to me, it’s all the same – it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a sci-fi, thriller, horror or comedy, my work as a director and my actors as well is looking for the truth in every scene. You know, where is the human truth? What is happening? Where is the story? And of course I think that there is a very emotional and very moving part to this love. I think the ending is beautiful.
Q. When it comes to the blindness, you make the audience as blind as Julia at certain points, seeing things from her perspective in key scenes. So, did you do anything to yourself to impair your vision in preparation for it, in order to try and work out camera tricks, etc?
Guillem Morales: No, but I was obsessed about sharing this feeling with the audience. So, I decided to hide the faces of all the actors around Julia as she was wearing the bandage around her eyes. It was quite a risky decision. But my objective was to enable the audience to share that kind of frustration at not being able to see anything. There’s about 30 or so minutes of the film where you can’t see the eyes of an actor. So, it was quite interesting to shoot it because the actors have instincts and they often look at the camera. It’s a natural instinct. So, they had to work against their instincts and hide all the time. It was very precise work. It sounded a bit crazy. But I had very precise storyboards to help them. And I like to work that way.
Q. Did distributors and financiers take some persuading when it came to adopting that approach?
Guillem Morales: Fortunately, nobody understood it [laughs]! Or they were pretending! But the concept was interesting. It’s like a kind of joke and the decision was not only conceptual and visual, but also emotional. I think there is a weird atmosphere that you can feel because you are not able to see faces.
Q. How did Guillermo del Toro became involved and how collaborative was he?
Guillem Morales: He loved the story and we met and he became involved quickly. It was a meeting of two creative spirits, for me, because he’s so generous and so clever. You feel very safe. If a problem emerges, you know he’s over there. And the communication and the dialogue between him and me was amazing. It was very creative, but at the same time as a director himself he knew that he needed to respect my decisions, even if he didn’t agree. But the creative dialogue was amazing and he was so generous.
Q. A lot of European films such as this tend to get remade by Hollywood pretty quickly. Is that something you’d like to see happen?
Guillem Morales: I don’t mind. I would be flattered.
Q. You recently moved to London from Barcelona. Has that changed your creative process at all? I mean, I read that you did a lot of writing in coffee shops in Barcelona. Are you doing that here?
Guillem Morales: I’ve been living in London since January, which is great. And I still use that approach. I like coffee and it’s like a discipline. If you need to write every day at home, you need discipline. So, I go and have a coffee every morning and it feels like going to work. And then I go back home and continue writing. It’s a good question… but when I’m in the coffee shop it’s often correcting that I do.
Q. Are you working on something at the moment?
Guillem Morales: Yes, myself and Oriol Paulo, my co-writer, are reaching the second draft of another project. It’s another thriller. I love that genre. I think it’s totally flexible and it makes me feel free because it’s the best way to explain your story. I’m always dropping information and that’s the most exciting way to do it, in my opinion. I love all kinds of films but I like making thrillers. As you pointed out, you can have a love story inside a thriller. It’s just a vehicle to explain the story.
Q. What’s the nicest or most surprising response you’ve had to Julia’s Eyes from an audience?
Guillem Morales: The first screenings took place in Toronto and Spain, and I remember being outside waiting for the audience. But when you come across someone and see how moved they are. That’s who I’ve made the film for. It’s amazing to see someone who has been moved by the film. I love sharing interaction with the audience. I like seeing their reaction to it. I’ve seen the film three times with an audience and you can feed off their reactions. It’s fun to see the game between you and the audience unfold. But it’s important to treat them with intelligence.