Spanish director Juanjo Gimenez’s “Out of Sync” (“Tres”) – his first outing since the Oscar-nominated short “Timecode,” winner of Cannes’ Palme d’Or for best short film – came into this year’s Official Selection at the Venice Film Festival buzzing ahead of its world premiere.
In the film, sound designer C – played by Marta Nieto, the lead in Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s Oscar-nominated short “Madre” and its eponymous feature follow-up – spends countless hours alone recording sound effects, editing and mixing. There, she finds refuge from the pains of the world outside, like broken relationships and a growing distance with her mother. That is, until her own hearing drops out of sync, forcing the workaholic to take time off and reevaluate much of her life.
Featuring elements borrowed from fantasy and thriller films, “Out of Sync” is an intense, first person experience of questioning one’s own identity. Although Gimenez asks the audience to make concessions when establishing the rules of C’s world, once established, the film never deviates from them.
“Out of Sync” was produced by Frida Films and co-produced by Nadir Films, M-Films and Manny Films. Le Pacte is handling international sales.
On the occasion of the film’s world premiere, Gimenez spoke with Variety about crossing genres, worldbuilding and working with one of Spain’s hottest actors.
There aren’t many bigger actors in Spain right now than Marta Nieto. Can you talk about casting her for this film, and what she brought to the role?
Marta knew about the project well in advance. In May 2019 I traveled to the Festival de Cans (not Cannes) in Galicia to present the project in a kind of “pitching forum” there. I didn’t know, but she was in the audience. She heard my presentation and saw a teaser we had made for the occasion. At the end she approached me, and told me that she found the project fascinating, and that if we did casting, we would please keep her in mind. When we started pre-production, I stuck to my word and called her to audition in Barcelona. From that moment it was very clear that she was going to be our protagonist. Marta took the character to a complexity and depth that the script only pointed towards. Despite being a film that needed very strict planning, we got to improvise new sequences together which came about during rehearsals and even shooting.
What inspired this story? The setting, the world of sound engineering for film, seems like an obvious place for a filmmaker to set a movie, but where did C’s story come from?
I really like the world of sound post-production. I’m not a professional in that area, but I’ve done the sound design for some shorts and even some feature films. When you spend 10 or 12 hours in a studio and go outside, you get to process real-life sound like a soundtrack. You come to doubt if the voice of your friends reaches you out of sync. At some point I thought about what would happen if that really happened, if the world was really out of sync. From that “what if” comes the whole movie. The first versions of the script took the story down another path, an apocalyptic world where the “delay” swept away humanity. Later with Pere Altimira, the co-writer, we decided to incorporate that desynchrony to the character of C and turn it into the engine of a more intimate, self-conscious and more complex narrative. Of course, I was very clear from the beginning that the supernatural or fantastic component should be maintained.
In fantasy and genre films that bend the laws of our own world it’s important to establish the rules of the film’s universe. How did you decide on the physical and almost supernatural rules for sound and time in “Out of Sync,” and what did you do to ensure that everything that happened in the film adhered to those rules?
I usually set rules every time I board a film. Here we had rules for everything. C is the “latent woman.” We defined very clearly what this “latency” temporal space consisted of and the way it should evolve as the narrative progressed. The “delay” is the antagonist of the film that had its own character card, like the rest of the cast. There were also rules regarding the staging. With Javi Arrontes, the PDO, we established two different and very strict visual codes, one for synchronous scenes and one for desynchronous ones. Another rule is that there should be no incidental music or traditional score. To superimpose synchronous music on this film seemed to me to betray completely in the spirit of the project.
There is a suspense and anxiety in many scenes of this film that feel distinctly like those of a thriller. What was the sequence of cause and effect in that regard? Did you want to create a story with elements of thriller, or were the genre elements of the film a result of C’s own experiences?
The film acquired its own personality from the beginning, and I decided to know how to listen to it. I consciously tried to make room for all the collaborators to bring something of themselves to the film. The starting point is very powerful and suggestive, and each member of the creative team lived and understood it personally, adding new angles to the ideas that existed in the script. I think the film doesn’t clearly ascribe to any particular genre, we absolutely try to avoid clichés as much as possible. The anguish and restlessness were something intrinsic to the strange disability we imagined for C, and we tried to convey that directly to the viewer.