It’s interesting to see what makes people squeamish. Despite a number of midnighters at SXSW featuring vomit or decapitation, or massive quantities of spilling guts, the film I heard from most people as being shocking was THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ. This Spanish film, clocking in at just a little over 70 minutes, is the perfect example of doing a simple story well, and leaving nothing behind. Centering on three friends, one of whom works in a hospital morgue, ANNA FRITZ, is a delightful contained thriller about the night the most famous actress (and most beautiful) dies. These three man-children have the ‘non-argumentative’ glamour star all to themselves for the night. When Pau admits this is not his first time taking advantage of a captive cutie, they decide to take turns. At least two of them do, Javi, who just wants to get to the party, refuses. So the battle lines are drawn, until it gets much more complicated. In the midst of Pau turn, Anna wakes up, apparently not as dead as previously thought. However, now that they’ve gang-raped her, Ivan realizes very quickly things were better off with her dead. To complicate the situation, Anna is suffering from complete muscular paralysis so she can barely fight back, let alone escape. She begins to rely on her skills as an actress to turn the boys against each other.
ANNA FRITZ is a shockingly effective film from a first time director. After setting up characters (and their varying levels of sleaze), the film tightens into a tension-filled drama, where every bad decision leads to another disaster. The fear is very primal, without resorting to anything bloody. And best of all, there is not a moment wasted. If the film is simplistic, that’s one of its greatest strengths. There is no need for a modern shades of grey character analysis. The bad guys are bad, Anna Fritz is the victim, and we want to see her escape. Maybe morality is a bit more cut and dry for these filmmakers, and that’s fine. Not every film has to look at it from the killer’s perspective. Horror films used to be moral indictments of bad judgment, not pseudo psycho excuse making. I had a chance to speak with Bernat Saumell, executive producer and lead actor (Javi) after the film’s world premiere at SXSW. English is not Saumell’s first language, and his passion for the project often eclipsed his words, but we made it through nonetheless.
“The director is my friend,” Saumell says, “I know him [from]shooting another project.” The director Hèctor Hernández Vicens knew Saumell had a production company and that he was looking for films to shoot on a low budget. “And he said to me ‘I have a little project in only one localization for actors, very easy for shooting, I like you [for one of the]characters.” He also suggested Saumell see if his friend Cristian Valencia was interested as well. “The director said to me ‘if you want, you and he read the script and if you like it you come here and do the project,’ retells Saumell. He and Valencia had to fly to London and on the plane read the script (out loud!) “For me, and for Cristian my friend it’s a very interesting film. The script is non-stop and its very interesting for actors to do this film because its a lot of very difficult situations.”
Saumell and Valencia worked with intensely with Vicens and with an acting coach and the producer feels THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ, his fifth film, is his best acting ever. Saumell saw the film in three very distinct phases. The first, he says is a normal condition “normal three guys, normal situation.” The second part is very much not a normal situation, but his reaction is normal, or at least the most normal of the three men, he tries to stop the depravity. Where the first part is full of comedy, the second part takes on a much more ominous tone. “The third part is very difficult,” he says, “for the public to laugh.” His role, Javi, gets the widest range of emotion, and become’s the audience’s surrogate for the shocking film; in comparison to Ivan, “I’m an angel,” he says.
If Saumell and Valencia were sold on the script on the first read, the actress who plays Anna Fritz, Alba Rivas, took a little more convincing. “When I explain it to her, ‘the Director Hector wants you in the film,’ I talked with the manager of Alba Rivas and wow,” Saumell says, “how [are]you shooting the film, if the shooting is not good… and the manager wants to talk a lot with Hector because he needs to respect Alba a lot. It’s a little strong film.” The film really gains momentum when Anna returns to the living. As an actress, the character of Anna Fritz must use her skills to appeal to the men who have her captive, turning them against each other. For Saumell though, this is just Javi’s common response in a bizarre situation. “For me the reaction is a normal reaction,” he says, “I help her, I give water. And I talk to my friends ‘what are you doing now?’ I don’t understand my friends’ reactions. I have a lot of questions but my only proposal is help.”
Although shooting essentially in one location is very helpful for a production, when that location is a morgue, sometimes changing the energy on the set is difficult. “It’s difficult because the space is everyday,” says Saumell, “everyday we need to shoot a lot of scenes because I don’t have a lot of budget. I need to shoot in 4 weeks.” As a producer acting on set, Saumell had to be especially aware of his crew. “I’m shooting on Friday the last day of the week 7 o’clock,” he remembers, “the [most]difficult the scene for me in the film, at a quarter past seven the team wants to go out on the weekend. It’s the [most]difficult to my film and I’m thinking ‘wow, if I’m not really good, the people are very tired, it’s difficult.’ And in these moments It’s very important to come [prepared]and act well. And the first take is better. The people applaud and it relaxes me.”
Saumell’s next film is a romantic comedy, which he says are quite popular in Spain, and one that maybe his mother and his grandmother can go see. THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ, not so much. “For me, it’s important that people see the trailer before,” he says, “if you don’t like the trailer, and you’re disgusted, it’s better that you don’t go and see the film.” Consider yourself warned.
THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ made its World Premiere at SXSW, upcoming screenings have not been announced but should follow with a film of this caliber.