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Cannes: ‘The Summit’s’ Santiago Mitre on Fiction in Politics, Politics in Fiction

Variety logo Variety 5/26/2017 Emilio Mayorga
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CANNES — World premiering in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard, the third feature from Argentine Santiago Mitre (“The Student,” “Paulina”) follows an Argentine President (Ricardo Darín) at a Latin American summit, who is conflicted on a political and personal level. Dolores Fonzi (“Paulina”) plays his daughter, Elena Anaya an Oriana Fallaci-ish journalist, Christian Slater a U.S. diplomat. Sold internationally by Film Factory Ent., “The Summit” is produced by  K & S (Pablo Trapero’s “The Clan”), La Union de los Rios (“Paulina,” “The Student”) Spain’s MOD Producciones (Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful”) and France’s Maneki Films (Pablo Trapero’s “White Elephant”).  “The Summit” marks a step-up into a far higher-profile production from the Cannes 2015 Critics’ Week winner and co-writer of “White Elephant”. “The Summit” will be released in the U.S. in August via Warner Bros. Pictures.

What drive you to make “The Summit,” a political thriller-drama, what interests you about politics?

As an individual living in a society, I am definitively interested in politics. I can talk more about politics than about soccer. “Summit” tells the story of a president who is believed to be a weak leader. But I wanted to explore the personal side to politics. It was like entering a political arena, but sneaking in the back door.

TV series have been been walking the corridors with some regularity, in shoes such as “Boss,” “Veep” and “House of Cards.” What’s the reason for this interest?

Well, the tradition dates back to a long long time ago. Think about Shakespeare. I would say that “House of Cards” is Shakespearian and tragic. I am an Argentine filmmaker linked to Latin America politics and I was interested in how I could introduce a fantastic element into the movie. There’s an important fantasy tradition in Argentine literature. When I found this element in “The Summit’s” story, its interest grew for me. It could seem that there’s something mysterious, enigmatic in the Argentinean politics: The whole truth is never said; somebody is always hiding things. Fantastic elements fit perfectly in the plot. The fantastic touches carry a risk, that the movie could open up to metaphoric readings. But they also opens the door to moral considerations.

And how can this feature be understood in Argentina, for example, due to recent political changes?

I learnt long time ago that politics in Argentina is such a volatile thing that nobody can know what’s going to happen next. However, what is wonderful in cinema is that this movie will be seen by somebody in ten years and they’ll understanding it in a different way. Fiction survives circumstances. Something that always attracts my attention is how politicians build an image about their families and personal lives, how they benefit politically from this fiction. This is where the daughter’s character makes sense in “The Summit.”

Some critics have felt baffled about the combination of a political thriller and a family drama.

[Mitre laughs] What I like most about the film is how it progressively changes from a realistic cast to another close to suspense. That said, it’s impossible to predict how audiences are going to react.

“Blanco is a man like you” a slogan runs about Darin’s character. Sometimes the feature nears black comedy.

This is part of politicians’ character construction. Could an ordinary man be a politician? I honestly do not believe that. Blanco seems an ordinary man. But there’s a moment when a politician is forced to take control of so many elements that he or she irretrievably changes.

What will be your next change in your career?

I am working on a new feature, a historical movie to be shot in Argentina.

Will it be another upscale production feature –like “Summit”– or like your previous films? Could you at least suggest what kind of movie it will be?

It won’t be an easy feature to make. I will make it in Buenos Aires with Argentine actors. It will be a court case film, set in Argentina in 1985 when the heads of Argentina’s Junta was put on trial [for human rights abuse].

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