The frame of the dead (2011) 

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Samuel Sebastian

THE FRAME OF THE DEAD is a documentary in which art plays a fundamental role: the eternal and imperdurable art, is opposed to the ephemeral, the representation of life to a non-existent audience. It is true that we make art and enjoy it in order to forget the brevity of our existence, but it is also true that only through him we can think lucidly about life.


What happens when we lose a loved one? The road we travel is so dark that once we raise our head again we do not want to remember it. The emptiness, the sense of betrayal that we feel ... betrayal of life to continue as if nothing had happened when in fact we become mere automatons who are pretending to live only by inertia. We are the shadows on a cloudy day of our true self because one of the pillars that holds us is gone. How can we return to what we were? We can't. We can't go back. But we can go forward.

Samuel Sebastian shows us the dark path he travelled during and after the death of his mother, Ester Rodríguez-Ro, painter, in an outpouring of affection and nostalgia. Divided into two parts that run in parallel, the filmmaker takes us through his memories and roots while showing us her last conversations with his mother. The film is full of little details of the daily life and they become so present after the void that leaves a loved one who passes: the sounds of the house like a washing machine or a clock, ... He gives us tour of Valencia, the city that has seen him grow, and leaves us a sour taste by the completely empty spaces we find.

The clearest division, visually speaking, is the chromatic one. The color is only present in his memories and scenes with his mother, the rest is is in black and white. The way to accept the absence, the black and white part, is the most beautiful part of the film. And perhaps it's the most beautiful because of the nostalgia that Samuel Sebastian gives to them.

The slow pace of the film, as its name suggests, helps us to be witnesses of this familiar journey. We try to avoid it but it is necessary to do in order to close the cycle, the stage and continue living. Because after that, all that people always will be with us, in our factions that are theirs, in our eyes that memorized them, in our hands that touched them and in our memories that will perpetuate them forever.


Making THE FRAME OF THE DEAD took more than four years in which has been a lot of scripts, editings and discarded material. In addition, there has been a personal evolution and an obsession to express deep emotions in every sequence. It is more or less easy to transmit them when you are facing the abyss of death, because its attractive - repulsive form makes that you want to blindfold but at the same time you don't want to stop watching it, and it's even harder when you open your past and uncover the miseries of your life.


In The frame of the dead, the scenes with your mother, where you leave the camera and talk with her, these scenes are very natural when you look after her. The conversations, everything ... Many people who can not conceive of the film like you would not choose this moment to remember a loved one. Rather, they'd reflect the person in the prime of life, not when she is so sick.

There is great complexity in this film. There are many issues within it, but the main one is the absence of the beloved ones. You're absolutely right ...

It is not what I think. I thought about this when I saw it.
Yes. On one hand, about this absence of the oved ones, there is a path. To feel the absence, first you have to feel the presence. I wanted to have a respect toward the figure of my mother, not only for being my mother, but as a person, and I found that inside this tragedy are many life lessons. And this is something we have discussed in the screenings we have made, even at the most tragic moment, you can joke. When I was editing the film, I asked myself: "How people will take it? Will they laugh or they will think, how can someone joke about this? "

It is a tender smile ...

Sure. Seeing it, I thought, "This film contains life." There were many editings during 4 years. It was a necessary process, I wanted to get somewhere, but I did not know exactly how. Several of these editings ended with the death of my mother. But I realized that was not exactly the issue. I did not want to explain the death, I wanted to reflect the pain of absence and how it remains something within us when someone so so beloved dies. She is still within you. Memories remains. So my decision was to divide the movie in two parts with the same duration. When I saw both separately -a very hard experience for me- I connected some dots of my family life that have been very unpleasant, and this is even more painful still. And finally I thought everything was closed ... Or not, because life goes on.

So if you want to explain what you produce the absence of a loved one, you have to explain how this pain slowly recedes, but still exists in the background. And this was my decision, to divide the film in two parts were to look like a mirror because they are really parallels.

It's story about life, a life lesson. There is a memory of my mother in her good moments, and it is very sad that many times at the end we think that we have the memory of the worst moments, but it is not. What remains is a compendium of many things that have been lost, but as far as possible we retain them.

It paid my attention that color is only present in the sequences of your mother. The rest is in black and white. In fact they are the most beautiful images for me. The empty factory, but with many graffiti in its walls. And in the Ulysses' monologue performed by Angel Figols is a climactic end. What was your chocie about color or black and white?
Visually, it is a very elaborate film. There is color and black and white. And its not the same type of color in the sequences I am researching my family memories that when I am with my mother. Different formats are also used. I knew that "present time" would be in black and white. And, indeed, was a decision that surprised the cinematographer. He suggested to shoot in color if I regretted at the time of the editing, which had enough sense, knowing that I changed the script constantly. But I said "No. we will shoot in black and white because I want to visualize it black and white. And the color will appear very subtly." In fact, my only concession was that the final monologue. It was filmed in color, because as some of the older versions of the script, that moment was the culmination of one stage in the life and that is why the color reappeared. But I considered it as a treason. It was not visually consistent with the sense of the film. So I kept the black and white until the end.
I thought it was a fundamental aesthetic choice and that it helped very well to follow a story that has three levels: the mis en scène a bit wild of the scenes between my mother and I, in which the camera is static, and there are long discussions starting with an issue and end with an entirely different one. Then there is the images of the memory, such empty sequences of the family past, so contrasted because they were carefully calculated. Shots were repeated even 20 times. There is also the choice of spaces. We filmed in desolate and abandoned spaces to be able to represent the mind of a person who feels completely empty. It was like walking into my mind at that time. When you lose someone so dear, your mind stands in these ruined landscapes. Finally I realized that everything had to be very concise, so there are actually very few sequences in the film and I deleted a lot of sequences and subplots.

Why is the Ulysses' monologue at the end?

It was one of the possible endings. In the different editings and versions of the script, one of the possibilities was to close the circle like this. For me, the best way to close a circle or a stage, it was assuming this absence and that always will be, but in any case must be closed. The scene of the demolished factory reinforced this idea, with graffiti, it shows that has been a past, it was life at some point, and draws a parallel with the paintings of my mother. A factory also shows you that there was an activity, but then there was a drop and other things that have been superimposed in the memory. At the end I liked the idea of an empty play. As if it everything just had passed in my memory or in a dream. Significantly, the factory was demolished shortly after filming.
We shot the monologue with and without spectators. The first end -because for me there are three end- is this a dramatic monologue. When I explained it to the actor, as in the movie, he told me that it had some things related to the death of my mother and I must admit that was true and that I had not noticed it. I thought it was a possible end because I like the stories that have more than just one end because in life nothing is never done completely. So the layers of memory are closing gradually, but not entirely because, after all, life goes on.

This is not an entertaining film, but a reflecting one. It is about who we are, who are our ancestors, what are our aims in life. Making this kind of films is so difficult for filmmakers like us, so we will appreciate very much your comments about it. With THE FRAME OF THE DEAD I have talked with a lot of people from different countries and I saw that this film transmitted them lots of feelings, they smiled, they cried, they reflected about their lives. I hope it will be the same for you.

Samuel Sebastian

Samuel Sebastian is a Spanish writer and filmmaker. Son of the painter Ester Rodríguez Ro. History of Art graduate, he got the Extraordinary Award Bachelor and then he started his thesis about documentaries of the Spanish Civil War and made a Screenplay Master in the UIMP - Valencia. His work as a filmmaker began in 2005 with his experimental long feature film El primer silencio/ First silence (2006). Since then, he alternates fiction films with social documentaries, videocreations and videoclips. His films have been screened in festivals from all around the world, amongst others: Cusco (Peru); San Diego (USA); La Paz (Bolivia); Rosario and Buenos Aires (Argentina); Lisbon (Portugal); Bilbao, Madrid, Seville, Cordoba, Barcelona and Valencia (Spain); Bolonia, Milano y Tonie (Italy); Paris (France); Johannesbourg (South Africa); Melbourne (Australia) or Daklah (Morocco). He won a few awards like the Best Spanish Documentary in Madrid Film Festival 2008 for La Moma (2007) or Best Valencian Documentary for Las migrantes/ Migrant Women (2009). Most of his works have been screened on Spanish and international channels: El primer silencio, La Moma, Las migrantes and his videocreations. Now, his long feature documentary The frame of the dead (2011) is screening in different international festivals and he is working in an international co-production for a long feature film: SandWoman. As a writer, he was awarded by his short stories The city of light (2005), A winter without Vera and Lilith's Letters (2011). He won the October Theatre Prize by his play The Closed Rooms (2008). Filmography. First Silence/ El primer silencio (2006). 76 min. Mur Viu (2007). 63 min. Documentary. La Moma (2007). 10 min. Històries trobades i trens perduts (2008). 3 min. The end of the beginning/ La fi del principi (2008). 24 min. Documentary. Everybody's guilty/ Tots tenen la culpa (2008). 17 min. Lovesick diaries/ Diari d'un malalt d'amor (2009). 96 min. Migrant Women/ Las migrantes (2009). 22 min. Documentary. God is white/ Déu és blanc (2009). 30 min. Documentary. The Endless Way/ El camino sin fin (2010). 84 min. Documentary. The Frame of the Dead (2011). 108 min. Documentary. SandWoman. On production.

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