Director's Note of Intent

‘The Visit and A Secret Garden’ was triggered by the return to my hometown and a pending visit, by my encounter with Isabel Santaló as well as out of fear. Maybe, this is why it took me a long time to edit this film: the time you need to live and, even more importantly, the time required to really understand what you went through.

Without hiding the footprints from its shooting –or even my own process–, The Visit and A Secret Garden reflects on memory and oblivion, Art and the creative process; posing the question of what it means to be an artist and a woman. But this is not a biopic; this film actually challenges that genre by not focusing on the biography or the body of work, and instead delivers an unexpected narrative turn. In the end, this is a film about the gaze and the right distance.

However, I did not want to make an intellectual film, but rather a piece of art using my heart and guts. Along the road I did unveil the freeing power of this film, experiencing a sort of cathartic cleanse. This is not only because of my personal history or because I am the director. It has to do with the fact that the topics and emotions this film tackles, do resonate with the lives, doubts and questions of different people and potential audiences: many of us are searching for light among the shadows.

This is why for me it was so important not to rely on a distracting aesthetic. Quite the contrary: I felt the urge to talk and look with a certain sobriety, without any tricks, avoiding building the film’s strength upon dazzling cinematography and/or sound. This proved to be even more challenging considering the fact the film is shot entirely within Isabel’s apartment. With a few rooms to play with, the key was achieving a ‘complex simplicity’, to get to the real heart of the matter. I also had the feeling that using a somber language, minimalist even, was the fairest way of portraying Isabel: the cinematic form had to adapt to her, to her personality, and even her paintings.

With all due respect, The Visit and A Secret Garden might be considered a sort of B-side of the film El sol del membrillo (Dream of Light) by Víctor Erice. But in our case we do not observe a famous painter, Antonio López, at work; nor do we see any masterpieces. We do listen to Antonio's voice though to focus on the blurred figure of his forgotten fellow painter. It is not by chance that I chose to give visibility to an anonymous woman, leaving out of frame precisely the person who already has a public image and fame.

This is also why I believe that The Visit and A Secret Garden summarizes most of my cinematic compass, the same I have been following since my first short films: the firm belief in the expressiveness of what is often dismissed as small and meaningless, as well as the epiphanies we may experience when filming that; framing my films in very concrete spaces, to focus on the people that inhabit them and the human fragility that we all share; and finally, the extensive search for the exact form, unique to each one of my projects.

In the end, this is an invitation to look twice where we rarely would stop. Behind the door of an old flat in Madrid a film was hidden, and with it a secret garden.

Irene M. Borrego

About the Director

A graduate from EICTV, Cuba, she extended her studies at The London Film School and later on became an Abbas Kiarostami’s mentee. She is cofounder and managing director of the production company 59 en Conserva, devoted to arthouse non-fiction cinema, and a Ji.hlava's Emerging Producer. As a director, her filmography includes up to date nine awarded short films (Muebles Aldeguer, Vekne Hleba i Riba, California, to name a few). Beside her own projects, she also produces feature films by other fellow filmmakers (This Film is About Me, Dos Islas, El mar nos mira de lejos). She researches the interdependencies between cinema and other art forms –among others as a Prado Museum fellow– and has worked as a screenwriter, assistant director and economist before making a career switch to filmmaking. The Visit and A Secret Garden is her debut feature as a director.
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