Argentine director Teresa Costantini on her latest film, Felicitas

22 Nov

Teresa Costantini

As the director and actress Teresa Costantini leans towards me, asking my opinion of her latest film Felicitas, which received its European debut in the London Latin American Film Festival last week, I almost feel like I’ve become the interviewee. Her warmth, the type you find in so many Latin American people, makes her friendly and inquisitive and when we part I’m quickly aware that a good old British handshake does not suffice.

Brought up in Buenos Aires, Costantini has appeared in numerous popular Latin American films since her career took off in the early 1970s. Among the films she has directed, she won an Argentinean Film Critics Association Award for El Amor y La Ciudad in 2006.

Felicitas is an exquisite, emotionally harrowing film which portrays the story of Felicitas Guerrero de Álzaga who lived among the land-owning classes of Buenos Aires in the mid nineteenth century. The pattern of tragic events in her short life tells us a great deal about women’s position in the early Argentine Republic.

At only 15 years old we see Felicitas married against her will to a wealthy man 40 years her senior. Their only child dies unexpectedly and while Felicitas is still in mourning, her husband dies also. At this time her childhood love, Enrique, returns from the war of La Triple Alianza, and professes his continual love for her. And here lies the rub, for although Felicitas still loves Enrique, and it’s potent for the audience that they share a fierce passion, he does not understand the hardships she has suffered and she becomes engaged to another man. The closing scenes of the film see Enrique and Felicitas run through a forest, pursued by her concerned family until Enrique, in desperation, shoots Felicitas before turning the gun on himself. It is known that Felicitas died aged 26 although who killed her is unclear.

Costantini heard Felicitas’ story many years ago and knew it would make a wonderful film. But it took her some time to fit her vision to the big screen. “I came across this story through a relative of Felicitas. Her great great nephew is a friend of mine from childhood and he gave me the story. It took me more than 20 years to put the film together. Her story is not well-recorded as no-one knew very much about it then. That was one of the things about this high society, only a few people found out. But the land the Guerrero family owned was very well known then and still is now.”

Teresa Costantini (far right) with the cast of Felicitas

Her portrayal of the time period is flawless; the colonial architecture, period dress and contrast of country and city combine to transport the audience to the birth of the Argentine Republic in the 1860s. “Filming something set in this time period was like a dream for me. I really used my imagination. I had to dream to get inside the story, and I think for the audience it is like stepping into a dream watching something from the nineteenth century.”

“I’ve always been very interested in what came before, especially in terms of what women have achieved since. In Felicitas you see a culture where women had very little privileges. I knew something of this as my father was very patriarchal. I can see glimpses of what Felicitas went through but nothing I’ve known comes close to her experience.” Throughout the film there are many indications to highlight women’s lack of independence as Felicitas’ father warns ‘ya tiene dueño’ (she already has a master) and her cousin’s progressive thesis on women’s rights is met with fierce opposition.

Sabrina Garciarena as Felicitas

We see Felicitas in relationships with three different men in the film. The first is Enrique with whom she shares a sensual, romantic love from the opening scenes. The second relationship, with Don Martín de Álzaga is against her will; the sight of Álzaga undressing a tearful Felicitas on their wedding night makes one’s skin crawl. And in her third relationship, when Felicitas finally exercises the right to choose, it is as if she finds an acceptable, perhaps slightly boring balance. Costantini smiles wisely at my suggestion that the audience are gunning for Enrique all along. “There are many types of love in this film. Passion is the love Enrique represents. When you feel that passionately for someone you are able to die for them. But we learn when we are older that that is not love.”

Sabrina Garciarena shines as Felicitas, displaying a youthful quality which brilliantly fits the role of child-mother. Her laughter and tears guide the audience’s emotion as if they were one. “Working with Sabrina was absolutely wonderful. It is like a dream to have an actress who is so giving and so much in love with the film that we can both give our absolute best. She has a beautiful, infectious laugh. She is my best friend. I only met her when we were casting for the film but as soon as I met her it was incredible, we just clicked. I have big hopes for her in the future.” The 27 year old actress is currently starring in a popular TV show in Italy, but Costantini has high hopes she will return to Latin American cinema again soon, perhaps for another collaboration.

Image 1: imdb

Image 2: felicitaslapelicula

Image 3: imdb

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