Meet the stars of Costa Rica romance 'Viaje'

ScreenerBlog

The Aruba International Film Festival ended last Sunday, but the memories of the lovely people I met there live on. And among the loveliest (and certainly among the best-looking) were the stars of the closing-night attraction, Viaje. Paz Fábrega’s gorgeous black-and-white film was one of the highlights of last April’s Tribeca Film Festival, a simple tale from Costa Rica of a young man and woman who meet at a party and go on an impromptu camping trip to the forest. Apart from a few moments with a contentious taxi driver we never see, the focus is squarely on the duo as they flirt, converse, and explore both the forest and their growing attraction. They seem made for each other, but there’s a poignant, Brief Encounter-style twist late in the film.

I jumped at the opportunity to meet the two stars, Kattia González (also credited as a producer) and Fernando Bolaños, who seemed thrilled to be at the festival and were as engaging and down-to-earth as the people they play onscreen.

González explained that she did the casting on Fabrega’s first movie and the two stayed in touch. “She said, ‘I want to do something with you, let’s think about something interesting to do,’ and she told me this story she was working on. And when Fernando joined the project, the story changed.”

Initially, “Paz had the idea to have several people play the same two characters, but that fell away pretty fast,” Bolaños explains. “She did do a little filming with other people to try out things. But I had seen Paz’s first movie and I really, really loved it, so I wrote to her and said, ‘I really love your film and if you ever want to do a project, I’m so up for it.’ Maybe she remembered that when she saw me.”

“When we met with you,” González recalls, “she said, ‘Oh, I think that could be the guy!’ It was decided at that moment.”

González and Bolaños had previously met “once, maybe ten, twelve years before at the beach—I knew her friend. But it was like meeting for the first time,” when he came onboard the film, Bolaños says.

So did they sense their chemistry right away? “No, not at all,” Bolaños quickly responds.

“Really?!” González exclaims in shock, before they both explode with laughter.

“I guess I couldn’t imagine that it would be so great,” she surmises. “But when we first met, I felt very comfy with you. My background is modern dance, and he’s a yoga teacher, so we are very comfy in a physical way.”

Unlike the somewhat similar Richard Linklater movies with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, which are tightly scripted, Viaje was largely improvised.

“There was a lot of improv,” Bolaños confirms. “We also filmed a lot of other scenes that we also improvised that are not in the movie.”

“Paz tells us the information she wants from us, and then we try one, two, three, four takes till we get it right,” González explains.

“There was a little bit of structure of where it was going,” her co-star adds.

“But we never memorized a text,” she clarifies.

Though both stars say the shoot was a lot of fun, there were a few down sides. Bolaños spends several early scenes in a bear costume that he admits became “so stinky they had to throw it away.” And a milky pond in which the two stars bathe had “a very particular smell” that stayed with them for weeks.

The decision to shoot the lush forest in black-and-white came in part because co-cinematographer Esteban Chinchila had done a lot of still photography. “The place is so beautiful, it becomes like the main character,” Gonzalez says.

“So black-and-white was to make it more about the characters,” Bolaños explains.

Also, black-and-white is very beautiful,” González adds.

González estimates that Costa Rica has produced around six features per year in the last six years. “Before that it was one every two years,” she notes.

“And before that it was like one every 30 years,” Bolanõs interjects.

Viaje has been making the film festival rounds: It’s played at Karoly Vary, Rio and Calgary, and director Fábrega was at the London Film Festival while her stars were representing the movie in Aruba. My personal hope is that all this festival attention gets the film the American distribution it deserves. (It’s already been highly praised by The Hollywood Reporter and Stephen Holden of The New York Times.)

González and Bolaños, with their star quality, certainly deserve more film roles, and they hope Viaje leads to work in other countries, with other directors. Or, as González cheerfully shouted during the interview: “Many more movies. Let’s do it!”