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It’s safe to say that Kirsten Dunst’s latest indie project, Upside Down, is a feast for the eyes. The romantic-fantasy-drama follows a young man’s search for the long-lost girl of his dreams. Helming the project is Argentinian director Juan Solanas, who gives this forbidden love tale a new twist by setting the two lovebirds (Jim Sturgess and Dunst) in twinned planets with opposite gravities: he lives on poverty-stricken “Down,” while she lives on the wealthy and exploitative “Up”—where people from “Down” are strictly forbidden.
In a recent phone interview, Solanas told us the film was inspired by a single image that came in a dream. The former photographer recalls seeing a man on top of a mountain looking up and seeing a woman on top of another mountain, but upside down. It took him seven years to write the film, but translating this dual-gravity image to screen proved to be Solana’s biggest challenge.
The design process involved two parallel tracks of activity that fed into each other. The two gravities had to be shot independently of one another and then precisely stitched together. Dunst and Sturgess were shot separately in their respective half using green screen as background.
“We knew we couldn’t shoot this movie the normal way,” said Solanas. “Once a week we had one of those end of the world problems to solve. Every morning when I would get on set I would think to myself, ‘Well, Juan, you don’t know if you’re going to succeed or not. Maybe tonight you’re dead.’ It was just super stressful but at the end you get used to it. The producer and I knew it would be tough but the truth is that halfway into production we realized we had no idea what ‘tough’ really meant–we do now.”
Solanas was only 10 years-old when his father, a renowned filmmaker during the 1970s who spearheaded the Grupo Cine Liberación movement, took his family to Paris from Argentina to avoid political persecution by the Argentinian government.
“When Kirsten gets detained that’s exactly how people in Argentina were taken away by the military,” explained Solana. “They killed about 70,000 people. They would also use a specific car, so I made the art department go crazy looking for a Ford Falcon [like] the one they used during the ’70s to kidnap people. The movie has a lot of layers from things that I care about and my experiences.”
Early in the film, Dunst asks Sturgess to imagine being able to go anywhere he wanted. When posed with the same question Solanas was at a loss for words.
“I don’t know. I’m Argentinian, my wife is Argentinian, and we have two little children. I live in France but I don’t feel like I belong to France. I don’t know where I belong. I’m somewhere in the middle of the top and the bottom. “
Despite being from Argentina, Solanas confesses he’s no tango dancer but was excited to add a few tango scenes in the film.
“I found one of the best professional dancers to teach Kirsten how to tango. She is a very good dancer. I didn’t know that! What you see is all Kirsten,” said Solanas. “I don’t tango. I try. I’m sorry to say. I’m a bad dancer. I have two left feet. You can’t just try to pretend you know how to tango. You really need to study it. It’s on my to-do list.”
So what romantic movie does Solanas pop in his DVD player?
“One of my favorite movies of all time is Pandora and the Flying Dutchman with Ava Gardner. My little daughter is named Ava because of Pandora. The movie is so epic,” said Solanas. “I’m romantic, yes. I believe in love.” [Laughs]
But that’s not his only movie obsession. Solanas admits to owning dozens of copies of La Dolce Vita.
“If for some reason I’m left on an island and I only have one movie to watch it would be La Dolce Vita,” he said. “Whenever I travel if I find a different language version of Dolce Vita I buy it. I have a huge collection from different countries.”
Upside Down opens in theaters Friday, March 15.
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