In 1973, towards the end of the Franco regime, the famous catalan writer Mercè Rodoreda bumped into the literary critic Josep Maria Castellet in Geneva where she lived exiled and she invited him to tea at her house.




In 1973, towards the end of the Franco regime, the famous catalan writer Mercè Rodoreda bumped into the literary critic Josep Maria Castellet in Geneva where she lived exiled and she invited him to tea at her house.

The writer was a most discrete person and maintained everything that concerned her wrapped in secrecy. Indeed she herself had become a secret or perhaps, even a maker of secrets.

However that afternoon, strangely, she opened up and shared many intimacies.





I do not know at what time of her life Mercè Rodoreda wrote: there is nothing worse than being without a country. She is one of the greatest contemporary and most influential writers of the 20th century, as is attested to by references from other authors to her work and by her impressive international impact. Her work has been translated into 40 different languages. I write because I love writing. If it does not seem exaggerated, I would say I write in order to please myself. If as a result, others like my writing, so much the better. Perhaps it is more profound. Perhaps I write for auto-affirmation. To feel that I am... And that’s all. I've talked about myself and essential things in my life, with a certain lack of control. And lack of control has always made me very afraid.


Who was this woman who was hiding so many fears, so many secrets? Our approach is based on using at all times her own words which she constantly repeated to all and sundry and through the relationship that she had with Josep Maria Castellet and the memoirs that he wrote of an afternoon tea in Geneva in 1973. That afternoon, which the respected literary critic and editor subsequently describes in his memoirs as a monologue on her life experience, Rodoreda allowed a glimpse into her universe.


In our fiction, we situate the author in an old television studio, from when television was in black and white, responding with wit to some imaginary questions: the Proust questionnaire, originally published in La Vanguardia. The aesthetic reference is the Spanish Television of the era when the great Joaquín Soler Serrano did one of his wonderful interviews with her.


Then Castellet goes back in time and takes us on a journey to the Muñoz Clinic in Girona. In April 1983 a group of friends, Castellet, his wife Isabel, Carme Arnau and Joaquim Molas learn from Carme Manrubia just how seriously ill Rodoreda is. The author dies a short while after this. All of them, upset by this unexpected loss, attend her funeral in the cemetery of Romanyà de la Selva, along with a gathering of the best of Barcelona society.


When Castellet witnesses the facial expression of Jordi Gurguí, the son who had been hidden by the author and who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, he is moved painfully. This event leads him to commemorate his knowledge acquired later on in the life of Rodoreda, first in Barcelona, then when she had already moved to Romanyà: A friendly woman yet a bit dry and distant. Her attitude towards me marked a certain formality in our dealings that, later, I saw her apply to other people. It was not until a few years later, after I had spent time with her on a more regular basis that I understood, that from then on, I could go to her with friendship and affection and to put it one way, without annoying her, which is what she said people did.


This friendship developed as a result of that afternoon in ’73, when they met up in Geneva. My work centres on the reconstruction of that meeting.


According to Castellet, Rodoreda recounted her usual monologue for quite some time, the version she had learnt off by heart, about her childhood, the war, exile, He calls this simply the monologue, the same old narration, with almost identical wording to what we have heard and/or read repeated in interviews with Montserrat Roig, Dolors Oller, Baltasar Porcel, Mercè Vilaret, or even from Joaquín Soler Serrano, declarations following one after the other, always the same words.


This was the official version that Rodoreda repeated to the whole world, putting up a barrier, hiding her private life, preventing anyone from digging deeper into her life. Admittedly, after her exile, thanks to her correspondence with Carme Arnau or Joan Sales, her editor, we have learnt many more things, but the spoken truth, to the outside world, was certainly repetitive and monolithic. Her life, her emotions, her desires, her loves, her disappointments are to be found in some of her literary characters.


However, Castellet explains that during this afternoon tea, once she had recited the official story, for the first time Rodoreda revealed a different side to herself to the one he had previously encountered. The author ended up confessing her concerns and fears about literary creation, how it felt to work in a persecuted and decimated culture, intimate relationships between man and woman, the absence of a home country, the pointlessness of exile, the cruel scars of civil war... Do you see these four walls? This has been Catalonia to me for many years: Catalonia, an abstraction and nostalgia, i.e. everything that one has lived intensely and has finished.


Paradoxically, one of the most exquisite fables of Hispanic literature emerged from within the four walls, the tiny environment to one of the most important European writers of the 20th century. Therefore, symbolically, as a metaphor, I have situated the central action in her apartment in Geneva.


What if I can say is that after that visit she had more trust in me and our friendship became less formal. The sincerity of that afternoon also made me feel me much closer to her. I think that the presence of Isabel, my wife, was decisive, because the subject of her relationship with Obiols, not so much as described in her words but rather the deep relationship between a woman and a man lasting many years, was easier to talk about in the presence of another woman.


This is what Castellet remembers. I create, finally, a closing narrative dramatic parallelism, which begins with a link that closes the narrative meaning of this film. This resource allows me, via an affectionate reflection, to bring up the dark hidden spots of the life of this woman, who never spoke publicly. A woman who left her child behind in Barcelona and who for so many hellish years of exile followed a hypercritical man, Obiols, for whom she felt so much passion, in spite of all the infidelity that she had to endure; while becoming the most important female author of 20th century Catalan literature.


But did Mercè Rodoreda really allow herself to be known? This proposal seeks to understand an attractive, fascinating character who was very unknown by the public during what were certainly very turbulent years of contemporary history.


An afternoon in Geneva. An exciting story for viewers who will encounter one of the great legends of the history of our country. A kind of absolutely contemporary investigation that, similar to other cinematography both European and American, has meant the exposure of the private lives of public people whether they be kings or queens, presidents, or writers. There are plenty of titles that confirm the public's interest in the private lives of historical figures. The list is long with great performances. The common denominator is the interest and the appeal of entering a world that is unknown yet familiar. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have read the works of Rodoreda, especially The Time of the Doves and many more have seen the series that in its day was produced by TVE. With this An Afternoon in Geneva viewers will learn about a hidden life, bearing the scars and wounds accumulated in the historical European struggles that caused so much pain in the middle of the last century.


We create a situation that goes beyond the anecdote, which we think is universal, a metaphor for an entire society not at all far removed from our own and to which we must return in order to understand ourselves collectively.


But did Rodoreda really allow herself to be known? My proposal seeks to understand this character in what were most certainly turbulent years of contemporary history.


Ventura Pons




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Una merienda


Me avanzo a la mayoría, amparada en el inesperado privilegio de una tarde en Cadaqués. Ventura Pons nos invita a un pase privado de su nueva película y el pequeño espacio que nos acoge se convierte en el escenario de insólitas emociones, que compartimos con pasión. Acaba de dirigir una película única, de las que quedan marcadas en rojo en la biografía de un director, hecha sin otra concesión que la que impone el buen hacer y un profundo sentido de la belleza. Es casi una antipelícula, porque el eje central es un largo diálogo entre tres persona que toman el té. Pero siendo pura palabra, su ritmo es vertiginoso y cautiva la atención con sorprendente magnetismo. Sólo se trata del relato cinematográfico de una merienda en Ginebra y, sin embargo, incluye un universo de recuerdos, memoria, tragedia y esperanza, la vida al completo. No exagero si digo que es una de las películas más deliciosas y emocionantes que he visto en mucho tiempo. Y aunque no está aún en cartelera (parece que la veremos en TV3, esperemos que pronto), he sentido la necesidad de empezar a hacer boca. Por supuesto hay trampa, porque la fuerza del relato no nace del azar, sino de quienes protagonizan la película, cuya profundidad intelectual traspasa la frivolidad del tiempo. Hace años Ventura leyó en Els escenaris de la memòria, de Josep Maria Castellet, un breve apunte de un día en Ginebra conversando con Mercè Rodoreda.


Castellet comentaba que después del relato habitual de la guerra y del exilio, Rodoreda se había abierto más de lo previsible. Y con esa escasa información, resumida en pocas líneas, Ventura decidió bucear por todas las grandes entrevistas hechas a la escriptora, desde Montserrat Roig hasta Maria Aurèlia Capmany, pasando por Luís Permanyer o Joaquín Soler Serrano, buscando qué era ese “relato habitual de su memoria trágica”. Y palabra a palabra fue llenando ese fragmento de vida de la escritora, que Castellet había resumido brevemente. Todo lo que dice la protagonista de la película (encarnada por una Vicky Peña inmensa) lo ha expresado Rodoreda en algún momento, pero nunca nadie lo había convertido en un diálogo completo. Y es así como la pantalla se va llenando de sus amores y desengaños por Armand Obiols, sus sueños quebrados, su infancia feliz, sus días de huida por la Francia bombardeada, escondiéndose de los aviones ávidos de carne humana, su dramático exilio, su Catalunya convertida en las paredes de su casa de Ginebra, su obsesión literaria, sus idioma, la esencia misma de su ser catalán.


No hay una sola palabra que sobre y no hay un solo momento que canse. Es una película redonda porque trata con maestría el intenso volcán que palpitaba en el cuerpo frágil de la gran Rodoreda. Imprescindible para entender su obra, también lo es para disfrutar de la mujer que se escondió detrás de ella. Pura literatura convertida en película pura.

Pilar Rahola


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