For debut filmmaker Ana Piterbarg, preparation was only half the story when it came to getting Viggo Mortensen on board.
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28 Jun 2013 - 3:53 PM  UPDATED 28 Jun 2013 - 3:53 PM

Film noir resonates throughout Argentine filmmaker Ana Piterbarg's slow-burning debut feature, Everybody Has a Plan. The film follows Agustin (Viggo Mortensen), a respected Buenos Aires pediatrician who takes advantage of a rare opportunity to assume an alternate identity. Pretending to be his lowly, recently deceased twin brother, Pedro (also played by Mortensen), Agustin abandons his wife and career to return to his modest family roots on the isles of the Tigre Delta. However, he soon finds himself unwillingly involved in the life of crime that was part of his brother's existence.

My husband joked that I had to approach him to do the movie. But later luck played its part.

“I chose film noir as a starting point to develop the characters and their interactions,” says Piterbarg. “It made it possible to explore the darker side of the world, where the codes are not the same, everyone has their secrets and where life is always on the edge and at risk.”

Piterbarg was also interested in exploring the contradictions within the frustrated life of a seemingly successful man, the existential crisis he subsequently goes through and the difficulties he has in transforming his existence. “The film speaks about the changes one decides to make at certain moments in life that appear to be impossible. In this case, it was instinctive for Agustin; his life needed to go this way. He enters into a deep depression and events allow him to journey elsewhere and to begin a new life.”

This disillusioned character, spending his life living up to what society expects, shares some similarities with the family man desperate to shed his shady past at the centre of David Cronenberg's A History of Violence. It comes as little surprise to learn that the actor who embodied that part was Piterbarg's dream choice to play the twin brothers in her film. “The majority of Viggo Mortensen's performances suggested to me he was the perfect actor and had the ideal personality for this particular story,” says Piterbarg.

Mortensen spent the majority of his childhood in Argentina and speaks fluent Spanish; he has starred in several Spanish language productions, including Jose Luis Acosta's thriller Gimlet and Agustin Diaz Yanes's Alatriste. “My husband joked that I had to approach him to do the movie. But later luck played its part.”

That serendipitous opportunity occurred when Piterbarg took her son swimming at Argentina's San Lorenzo Club and accidentally ran into the actor. Introducing herself, she told Mortensen about the screenplay she was developing and asked him to read it. The actor agreed and several months later contacted the filmmaker to say he was still thinking about her story.

“We got to know one another, talked about the project, and the best part was that I found out that someone who appears so distant from you can have so much in common with you; that the story that I wrote, that has so much to do with my own story, could interest someone that lived on the other side of the world, and that there was something in the story that he was interested in telling,” she says. “He was attracted by the story's unconventional quality and, of course, by the opportunity to play two totally different characters.”

For the filmmaker, this personal story stemmed from a childhood spent losing herself in the island town Tigre Delta, near Buenos Aires, which is surrounded by interconnecting streams and rivers and serves as the film's distinctive setting. “As a little girl, I used to go to the Tigre on weekends with a friend. We went to an island with no electricity and no running water, it was a great adventure. All those weekends are very much alive in my memory and much of what appears in the film has to do with those memories,” she recalls. “From the moment I decided to do this story in the Tigre, I started investigating what the people who live there all year round were like. Certain aspects of this story reflect matters or conflicts that people told me about on my visits there when I was developing the screenplay.”

The Tigre has a reputation as a hiding place for common criminals and therefore serves its purpose for a story where an individual wishes to go unnoticed. But filming there during the long winter weeks posed its own particular challenges for the crew, not least being forced to transport all equipment via the river and having to shoot certain camera positions of the land from the water. “The water level changed throughout the day and it was a very cold winter. Sometimes we spent the entire day on a rocking boat shooting the scene. It was peculiar and perhaps this is the reason why few films are shot there.”

Despite the complications, Lucio Bonelli's desaturated and grainy cinematography successfully captured the personality of the unconventional setting, which is something Piterbarg strived to convey during her location scout. “Bonelli, together with the art director Mariela Ripodas and myself, looked for an uncomfortable, cold place that at the same time was beautiful. It needed to be a cold story, with cold contracts and tones and I think Bonelli did an excellent job conveying that.”

Everybody Has a Plan is in Australian cinemas now.