Pilar Palamero’s second feature film, La Maternal, had its world premiere in the main competition at the San Sebastian Spanish Film Festival on Tuesday. Spanish director who won Goyas for Best Film, Best New Director and Best Original Screenplay with her feature debut Las Niñas, produced like Valerie Delpierre’s La Maternal at Inicia Films, returns to the Basque Country festival with another invigorating work that explores and the joys of girlhood.
“I never made the decision to single-mindedly focus on girlhood” Palomero says. “I think it’s a coincidence that they’re both about young women, but I guess there’s something inside of me that I don’t know that drives me to this subject.”
In La Maternal, sold by El Driver, Palomero draws attention to teenage mothers in Barcelona and the social relations that condemn them. 14-year-old Karla leaves home when she discovers that she is pregnant and ends up in a special shelter for young girls and their children. It is a story based on the real life of many actors, non-professionals who, according to the director, “were very keen to be in the film because they really wanted to explain their stories. They felt the need to say, “Hey, I’ve lived this way, but it’s not what you think.” Although the script isn’t based on their exact experiences, Palamero says she used a mix of her own research and what the actors told her to construct the narrative. Improvisation was also a key aspect of the filmmaking process.
“I realized that I didn’t know anything about this reality, and I was a little ashamed of myself,” says the director. “I knew that a lot of what I knew was based on superstition, and the truth is that when I met these women, I fell in love with them and their life experiences. I could make a movie about every one of them.”
Carla Quiles, a dancer who plays young Carla in her first film role, was invited to audition after being spotted by a casting director on Instagram. “I was surprised when I saw her,” says Palomero. “She is very young, but every time she dances, she becomes a woman. I felt like she had all the energy I was looking for in Carla, who is based on a real girl that isn’t in the movie.” It was important that Carla look really like a young teenager, and not like a “16-year-old girl who could be 20”, so that the audience would better understand how childlike she is and the resulting plight of her.
As a filmmaker, Palamero is thrilled to be able to travel with a film around the festival circuit, so COVID-19 prevented her from doing so with The Schoolgirls. However, the pandemic gave her time to work on the script for “La Maternal”. Finding financing for the project proved to be a smooth process following the success of the first film and her rising status in the Spanish film industry. The director stands alongside other filmmakers such as Carla Simon (“Alcaraz“) and Carlota Perada (“Pig”) as the new leader of the country’s cinema.
Although the film was not made with activist intentions, Palomero hopes that the film will “provoke a reflection in Spain about laws on sexuality education and abortion.” “For me, all the girls I met are heroines. They are brave, it is amazing what they do, but it is very difficult for teenagers to live like this. This is a real problem of our society, that it is a reality.”