A Queer ‘Fish’

An Interview with ‘The Fish Child’ star Ines Efron and director Lucia Puenzo

Androgynous Argentine actress Ines Efron nabbed multiple Best Actress Awards for her mesmerizing performance in Argentine director Lucia Puenzo’s acclaimed 2007 drama, XXY. Teaming up with Puenzo again, Efron is back with another exceptional performance in the dynamic and magical lesbian thriller, The Fish Child (out now on DVD from Wolfe Video).

Efron stars as Lala, a Buenos Aires teenager smitten with her family’s 20-year-old Paraguayan maid Guayi (played by Argentine pop star turned actress, Mariela Vitale, aka Emme). The girls hatch a plan to rob Lala’s family to fund their dream of living together in Paraguay at the shores of Lake Ypoá.

After premiering at such prestigious film festivals as the Berlinale and Tribeca, The Fish Child was nominated for nine Argentine Academy Awards — and went on to tour the LGBT film festival circuit earning yet more acclaim and awards (including Best Feature Film from the 2010 Turin Lesbian & Gay Film Festival). GO Magazine recently spoke with Efron and director Puenzo as they celebrate the DVD release.

GO: First of all, thanks to both of you for doing this interview. And congratulations on your enormous success with XXY. Ines, I’m curious to hear about your influences as an actress. The San Francisco LGBT Film Festival compared your performance to “the early film roles of both Sissy Spacek and Chloe Sevigny.” Do you have other performers who inspire you?

Ines Efron: I studied theatre with a teacher who makes you feel that you are playing like a little girl (her name is Nora Moseinco). I never studied with theoretical texts. My approach to acting was always about the freshness of it, like a game, so I never had a rational analysis of my work. I think that the real school for an actor is the self-knowledge and the insight one develops. I feel inspired by those actresses who are really artists, and who make you feel that they are channeling a powerful creative force. For example: Meryl Streep, Emily Watson, Miranda July, Kate Winslet, and Vanessa Redgrave.

GO: What made you decide to make this film, Lucia?

Lucia Puenzo: I wrote my first novel, El Niño Pez, when I was 23, with the freedom (I’d dare say impunity) of not having published anything yet. I sent it to a small publishing house who offered to publish it right away. Five years later, after shooting XXY, I asked myself what was next and knew right away it was The Fish Child.

GO: Was it difficult adapting the book into a film?

LP: The adaptation was a challenge. I’d heard a thousand times that making an adaptation of your own novel was the most difficult of all… and was sure it was a lie… Who could know better the story, the tone, the world of El Niño Pez than me? But it came out to be the toughest adaptation I’ve done; so difficult I kept making changes in the editing room, which is something that other directors who work with my scripts don’t usually do. The narrator of El Niño Pez is Serafín, the dog. The story is told through his voice, filled with humor. The second he became a character, but not the narrator, the story lost its humor and become a genre film.

Writing and editing are the areas where I feel most happy. Especially writing, there are no limits there, you can go where your imagination takes you, and everything is so cheap! When I’m writing literature I can write a super production from Bollywood and I’ll have no producer tapping over my shoulder. Nevertheless, the shooting weeks are big fun also. Team work, being used to long periods of silence and solitude, are a lot of fun.

GO: Ines, you’ve worked with many of Argentina’s top directors including Alexis Dos Santos (Glue), Daniel Burman (Empty Nest) and Lucrecia Martel (The Headless Woman). What’s the difference between working with female directors versus working with male directors? And Lucia, what made you decide to cast Ines in your film?

IE: I didn’t feel a notable difference between working with a woman director or with a man. So I will speak about Lucia. She is a very, very special person — incredibly sensitive, creativity flows through her. She has always been a writer, so her scripts are very literary and very solid. It is a pleasure to work with her because she tells archetypal stories, with heroic characters who go through much pain. And for me as an actress it is a mysterious journey to portray Lucia´s stories, so I always let myself be guided by her.

LP: With Inés we have a very close friendship today. When she made the casting for XXY I was amazed to meet a girl that could look 15 being 23, which allowed me to work with a woman, with the head and understanding of a woman, in the body of a girl. That was a big help for such a complex character as Alex, from XXY. Inés has these eyes that look so young and so old at the same time. She can talk and move like a child, but can be sexual and powerful and the same time. She creates combinations which would seem impossible. I’d been casting for eight months, seen hundreds of girls, before I found her. I ended doing a casting with her and Emme (Mariela Vitale). The second I saw them together I knew they were dynamite.

I was completely certain Guayi had to be a Paraguayan girl. She was the first character I started looking for, because she is the heart of the film. I didn’t want to find any other role until I knew who would play la Guayi. Emme is Argentine, and couldn’t speak Guaraní, which is an impossible language to learn and speak to perfection. She told me she could do it. The day of the first casting a Paraguayan friend came to listen to her accent. She was Guayi from the second she crossed the door. I had three more castings with her that month, making her train with a Paraguayan coach… A few weeks later her Guaraní was perfect.

GO: The Fish Child has played at major international festivals from Amsterdam to Zagreb — and, of course, the Berlinale. It also had very prominent programming slots at all the LGBT film festivals including being the International Dramatic Centerpiece at Outfest. Could you tell us a bit about these audiences and the film’s reception?

IE: The Fish Child always generated much discussion and analysis with the audience because Lucia´s films deal with complex social and moral issues. People generally feel empathy with the characters of Lala and Guayi. It is very interesting to see how people react to the movie in different parts of the world.

GO: What’s next for each of you?

IE: I have a new movie, a romantic comedy called “All You Need is Love”, and I also have some theatre projects, and I am now beginning to teach theater as a personal project.

LP: Right now I’m trying to shoot my third film (and fifth novel) Wakolda… and making a film possible doesn’t really get any easier from the production point of view. It always takes about a year to make it happen. I’m always thinking in what’s next. By the time a film is released, I’ve usually been working for a year in a new project, and that’s all I care about in the present, to make it possible. Being a director is no short race… it’s more like a marathon.


The Fish Child is out now on DVD from Wolfe Video.

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