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‘Saturn Return’ Director Isaki Lacuesta Discusses the Rock ‘n’ Roll Myth of Los Planetas, ’90s Aesthetics, Ambitious Flamenco Project

Isaki Lacuesta has returned to the Malaga Film Festival with his highly anticipated rock band drama “Saturn Return” (“Segundo Premio”), a fabled account of iconic Spanish group Los Planetas and their struggle to make their legendary third album,“Una semana en un motor de un autobús.”

The film, which the award-winning filmmaker directed with Pol Rodríguez and wrote with Fernando Navarro, stars Daniel Ibáñez, Stéphanie Magnin and musician-turned-actor Cristalino.

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“Saturn Returns” screened in competition in Malaga, where Lacuesta and Isa Campo, double San Sebastian Golden Shell winners, won the best director Silver Biznaga for their 2016 mystery drama “The Next Skin.”

Speaking to Variety, Lacuesta explains how the film is not about Los Planetas but rather about the legend of the band and the mystique they themselves have cultivated over the years. Indeed, the story of “Saturn Return” is largely based on the band’s songs.

“It is not a journalistic documentary,” he stresses. “And I liked being able to play with different points of view because it is something that Los Planetas have done throughout their career and their discography. They have always fostered legend about themselves. The lyrics of the songs have often led us to believe that they have done things that are not true. And there’s this sort of mystery about Los Planetas.

“So it seemed to me that it was a form that was appropriate for the film and that gave us a lot of play in their real story. … We also had fun being able to play with form and content. Sometimes saying that it’s a legend can also be a way of telling the truth.”

Mythology is one important aspect, but so is the band’s body of work, he adds. “They are still playing today, 30 years later. How do they continue to reinvent themselves? That is one thing that I value a lot and that I admire about them. When other bands are doing mostly their own tribute concerts, Los Planetas continue to compose new songs and make incredible albums.”

“Zona temporalmente autónoma,” one of the band’s most recent albums, is fantastic, he points out.

Despite impressively capturing a seminal moment in the band’s evolution, Lacuesta admits he wasn’t a fan of the band during their heyday in the 1990s and listened more to another group from Granada, from where Los Planetas also hail – Lagartija Nick, in particular its collaboration with flamenco singer Enrique Morente that produced the album “Omega,” which adapted the poems of Federico García Lorca, and which also features in a key scene in “Saturn Return.”

“The ‘Omega’ album was incredible,” Lacuesta says. “That’s what I listened to the most in the ’90s. And from 2000 or so, when Los Planetas began mixing flamenco with rock, is when I discovered them, started listening to their previous albums and discovered how good they are.”

Indeed, for many people growing up in Spain in the ’90s, Los Planetas defined a generation. To a large extent, it was the band’s Spanish-language lyrics to music that sounded more like British and American indie rock — inspired by the likes of Joy Division, Spacemen 3 and Mercury Rev — that set them apart.

“Seen from today it’s almost laughable and difficult to understand, but when they were playing their songs in Spanish, there was debate, people found it strange that they sang in Spanish and some even thought it was controversial. It’s something very strange now and I think that’s a differentiating element.”

“[The lead singer Juan Rodríguez, known as J or Jota] as a lyricist is great at recounting very sensorial experiences in which many people recognize themselves.”

The explosive mix of Spanish lyrics that captured common experiences and noisy guitars and distortion that characterized new music from abroad made a huge impact in Spain compared to that of other bands of their generation, “creating strong emotional bonds that have left them indelibly linked to us,” Lacuesta explains.

Lacuesta and cinematographer Takuro Takeuchi, shooting his first feature film after two decades of experience in music videos and commercial work, took the iconography of Los Planetas to the next level with an aesthetic reminiscent of ’90s-era music magazine photo shoots and classic album covers tinged with comic book art.

“We thought of comic strip vignettes. We were very interested in this sensation of having a lot of space above the characters, of being able to see partial faces and reframe them from below and above — this kind of sensation that appears a lot in comics from the ’90s and also today, which is the feeling that you are being seen from the outside or that you are being seen from another time, which may be that of memory. For me it is different to frame someone at eye level and without leaving space above them, as I have done in other, more realistic films, or play with this 4:3 framing that is like the photographs on album covers.”

As a filmmaker, Lacuesta can identify somewhat with the struggles the members of Los Planetas went through in making their groundbreaking third album, which they recorded in New York City.

“When you have a band or when you make films like the one we have made here, you work as a team, and that’s where I find the identifying element. This band is like a family and there is a balance of trying to take advantage of each other’s strengths, of putting up with each other’s defects, of trying to work together. And this always happens through personal relationships that are full of pleasure and conflict.”

Lacuesta also saw other parallels, particularly in taking his production to New York City.

“I think that my team and I completely identified and saw ourselves very reflected in the struggle Los Planetas had trying to get to New York. We were already shooting and still didn’t know if we could actually film in New York.”

The production was initially scheduled to lens in New York in February of last year but it wasn’t until June that they finally got there.

“It was really wonderful when our lead actors finally managed to arrive in New York, just as the members of Los Planetas somehow arrived in ’98.”

In showcasing the stratospheric acclaim achieved by Los Planetas, Lacuesta and his team appear poised to reach similar stellar exaltation with their cinematic work. “Saturn Return” figures as one of Malaga’s main competition frontrunners for festival prizes which will be announced on Saturday.

Produced by La Terraza Films in co-production with Áralan Films, Ikiru Films, Capricci Films, Bteam Pictures, Sideral Cinema and Toxicosmos AIE, “Saturn Returns” is handled internationally by Latido Films.

Looking forward, Lacuesta is developing a number of projects, including a narrative feature set in 1980s Banyoles, the northeastern lakeside town where Lacuesta grew up – “a very magical place when you’re a child.”

“It’s a film that will mix autobiography and fantastic cinema.”

He is also working on a feature-length documentary about the history of flamenco and its relation to modernity.

“It’s like a kind of ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’ a story that explains tales, tales of flamenco. For example, what do Edison, Hitler, Leni Riefenstahl, Tarantino and Camarón de la Isla all have in common? They all have stories that have to do with flamenco. Flamenco has always been modern and attached to modern history.”

“These are projects that I have been working on for years and we are making strong progress right now.”

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