Nathalie’s five tantalizing answers about the directing and filming Dutch – De Nieuwe Regisseurs, Nov 2012
"To focus on the substance, on the film you have in mind, and not on the red carpets or the status you might gain by making a successful product. That, in my opinion, is where things go wrong. When the ambition to make a film becomes an external display. When a director no longer focuses on developing and deepening his initial inspiration, but is afraid to revise and expose his ideas. One should focus on the soul of the film and not just on the craftsmanship required to express it."
"The greatest thrill for me was to discover that something could happen on a film set that I would never have imagined. Suddenly, something I couldn't have organised came to you like a gift from heaven - provided you were open to it. Capturing those moments is the greatest thrill. Having to fight for those moments to be respected in the context of a film production is the hardest and most difficult thing. As a director, you are always expected to produce something magical, but often you do not have the necessary conditions for that magic to emerge."
Figner, The End of a Silent Century is a film that demands a lot from you while you watch it, and then gives a lot back. It makes the beauty of silence sound like music and gives it a thousand different faces.
"Part of our consciousness consists of memories of what is actually unknown. If everything that is directly or indirectly stored in our brain were linked, not factually but associatively, it would lead to another reality. One that is closely related to that of dreams and cinema."
"One day we wake up and understand that we have been put on this earth because we have a purpose, and that everything that happens around us is meant to move us in that direction. Even if we don't know yet what to express, the first thing we have to do is find our own language in this chaos. A new order. Then create the connection between this new order and the reality as others experience it. This connection will ensure that the reality of others is challenged, while our own order has become the new reality."
Off-screen interview ‘Man looks at Woman Woman looks at Man’, 2000
"The script solely consisted of pictures.
The film was mute and all of the sound was created afterwards by Mr Figner and his son, the last remaining foley artists in St Petersburg. It was an amazing thing to witness. For example, there is the moment when water pours out of a man's stomach. Mr Figner hissed while his son shook his hand in a bowl of water to make it sound like a faucet with a lot of air coming through. They had to do it like that because the water had been cut off at the Lenfilm studios, and they managed to make it sound totally realistic."
"The film is made up of a series of strangely beautiful and captivating moments. But I would advise not to try too hard to decipher and understand it all, as it might get quite confusing. It's probably best to just let yourself experience it."
The final minutes of Memory of the Unknown, the feature film debut of Alonso Casale, who grew up in the Netherlands, are of a rare, enchanting beauty.
One of the passengers on the tourist bus we follow throughout the film, sings a hypnotic song. The words are by the poet Arseni Tarkovsky, the music by Nathalie Alonso Casale. A male figure appears on the side of the road, seen only from behind. He walks a few metres in front of the bus. On his head, he carries a statue of the Virgin Mary, the same one we saw earlier being carried in a procession. The giant, for that is what the figure appears to be, half man, half statue, waddles towards an unknown destination, drunk on music.
The title, Memory of the Unknown, suggests that the film springs directly from the subconscious.
There is no narrative, but rather a series of dreamlike scenes to which each viewer can attach their own meaning, if they feel like it. For as the presentation at the last International Film Festival in Rotterdam showed, not everyone is receptive to the highly intuitive and irrational cinematic language of Alonso Casale, winner of the 1992 Canon Tuschinski Award for her graduation film Memorias sin batallas y otros muertos.
The most exciting moments of the film take place on the border between the bus and the landscape, in the interplay between the inner and outer worlds.
It is hard to deny the talent of Nathalie Alonso Casale, one of the most eccentric and idiosyncratic young Dutch filmmakers, born in Paris to Spanish parents.
Nathalie Alonso Casale Memory of the unknown: ‘Above all do not forget to live’ – de Filmkrant net-version nr 164, Feb 1996
Her first feature film, Memory of the Unknown, will have its world premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival. This surreal, semi-documentary account of a long bus journey is also nominated for a Tiger Award.
In Memorias sin batallas y otros muertos, Alonso Casale went in search of her Spanish ancestry; the effect of the Civil War on her family. She talked to her grandfather and his fellow villagers about one of the most complicated conflicts in world history. Dramatic moments were enhanced by fictional scenes, such as a funeral where the dead grandfather rose from his coffin, an execution and an English writer who observed closely, documenting everything and eagerly pulling bullets out of the wall as historical evidence.
Memory of the unknown is also a mixture of fiction and documentary, with the focus on fiction.
"Memory of the Unknown is a warning to people who are not alive, who hobble around like ghosts and wander around aimlessly. The time leaps are done on purpose, so that you no longer know what time it is you are in. It is no longer about yesterday and today, the past or the present, but about an hour ago or ten minutes into the future. I wanted to create the feeling of wanting to go somewhere, but never physically getting there. The only way you can get anywhere is in your head."
IFFR interview, 1996
A strange film. Magical realism, but without any exuberance. Like the film as a whole, its tone is subdued, haunting, especially through the music and sounds that give substance to the black and white images, enhancing or contrasting them.
Memories of the Unknown is an enigmatic journey in an enigmatic film, which shows that Alonso Casale has a great capacity for evoking associations, for telling something without creating a story.
Memory of the Unknown is proof of an extraordinary talent.
They are locked inside themselves, trapped in a contemporary narrative ship hurtling towards the sun, as hallucinatory images of trees, apartment blocks and cemeteries flash by.
Alonso Casale graduated from the Amsterdam Film Academy in 1992 with Memorias sin Batallas y otros muertos, a poetic and absurdist reconstruction of the shooting of her grandfather during the Spanish Civil War. The film is characterised by its visual power, wrote de Volkskrant. It shows the ability to think in film.
"I can understand why everyone liked it. There were several layers to it, but the film left no doubt."
Now, more than three years later, she has deliberately left more to the imagination.
"I wanted to explain less. In Memorias I went back in time, in this film I stopped time. As if the journey were an endless moment, in the end nothing moves. I also kept saying: It shouldn't look like 1995. If you watch this film in 50 years, it should still tell you something about the people."
She wanted to evoke an atmosphere of almost suffocating loneliness, but also of longing.
"As a viewer, you sit on the bus and you are forced to look for a very long time at people you normally pass by. These are insecure people you see. People who have never done what they wanted to do, for whom every day is different from what they dreamed it would be. They try to communicate with each other, but fail. No one listens. Lonely people cannot listen to each other, I think."
The viewer witnesses this. It's quite an oppressive experience.
Atmosphere and experience: Alonso Casale doesn't think so much in stories. More in images and sounds. She always carries a notebook with her in which she writes down all the banal, flat or beautiful images she sees, and she doesn't understand why the film fund gives money on the basis of a subject alone.
"For me, nothing is really important enough to be filmed. It's how you do it."
It was also a series of images that gave her the idea for Memory of the Unknown. On television she saw footage of forest fires in Spain. She immediately imagined a film in which everything would be smoky and blackened - except for the white snail shells left behind. Much later, she was sitting on the bus to Bratislava and thought:
"A bus is a kind of mini-society. One person is crazy, another doesn't eat, another constantly complains of headaches; everyone is cut off from the outside world and seeks contact with others."
Then there was that other film she couldn't get off the ground: the story of a Russian woman who, after 20 years of waiting in a foreign country, goes back to find her husband who died in a concentration camp. Add it all up and you get: a bus full of people looking for themselves and each other, stranded in Spain, surrounded by smoke and fogg.
Memory of the Unknown is a feature film, but it has the feel of a documentary. There is very little stylisation, the Spanish villagers are themselves, and the actors seem to have been taken straight off the street.
"I've never been in a situation where I saw a professional actor and thought: that's who I need, for this story. For me it works the other way round. First I choose the faces I want to see in the film, faces of people I know or meet and who have something magical about them. Then I make up a story to go with them. It is often their story. They play themselves."
She can sit for hours on a street corner with her camera, waiting for the perfect scene. Like the time in Vilnius when a drunk man collapsed in front of her. It was raining and a death knell was ringing. In the background, a white pram, a black dog and a towing truck with a wrecked car passed by. She filmed the whole thing in a single take that lasted six minutes, and won the prize for best reporting at the Aubagne festival.
TVO interview ‘Memory of the Unknown’, 1995
"My father is Spanish and I grew up with his language and with the Spain of twenty years ago, because that is when he left his country.
I have always been very interested in the history of this country, more than in its current state. In the contrast between what is and what used to be."
"I usually choose a region of Spain and then I see what I can get out of it, working with the locals and their traditions - or anti-traditions."
"The film is meant to confront us with the idea of truth through the confrontation of the characters with their own, possibly ugly, pasts. Truth is something that can be manipulated in many ways. For example, on a global scale, through history, when after a period of fifty years, things are hidden and might as well never have occured. When some people maintain that there have never been concentration camps during the Second World War, and then, because the witnesses have died, or just because nobody wants to talk about it, we end up really believing it.
Truth can also be manipulated on a more personal level, for example when we present ourselves to the outside world as we want to appear. Or when we leave out of our CV the experiences we don't like and wish to forget."
RTL4, Veronique interview, 1989
"At the time, I was very concerned about what was happening. All my peers were actively opposed to cruise missiles. As was my mother. It was the mood then. You were either very much against, or very much in favour."
"I don't think the demonstrations back then  had much impact on politics. It was important for the protesters to make their voices heard. But I don't think they were listened to that much.
Nowadays, I don't think it helps much to take to the streets all together.
I am still interested in world politics, but I am actually waiting until I have accumulated enough knowledge to do something against it on my own, not just by shouting. As I am studying at the film school in Amsterdam I eventually will become a director. Then I will incorporate my ideas about the world and politics into my work."