Love Gets a Room – Interview with Film Director Rodrigo Cortés

Love Gets A Room may be an unexpected film for fans of director Rodrigo Cortés’ previous work, but it is a welcome surprise. His newest film takes place in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 and centers on Stefcia, a young Jewish actress, who must make a life-changing decision while trying to put on a musical comedy play. Nominated for several Goya Awards and Feroz Awards, including a win for Best Director, this period drama asks big questions about art, escape, and love. Cortés not only directed the film but wrote, executive-produced, edited, and even contributed to the score of Love Gets A Room sat down with Borrowing Tape to discuss what this story means to him.

Watch, listen, or read the transcript below — edited and condensed for clarity:

Thanks for coming. For everybody watching, I'm Sofia Sheehan with Borrowing Tape. We have here today the director, Rodrigo Cortés directed an amazing, incredible wartime romantic drama, Love Gets a Room. I just want to say congratulations on creating such an intimate and powerful movie. It was a great pleasure to watch.

I really appreciate it. Thanks for inviting me.


Thank you. Well, my first question is how did you come across the play 'Love Looks for an Apartment (MIŁOŚĆ SZUKA MIESZKANIA)? And what made you want to recreate it with the added drama behind the scenes?

Well, actually, the writer of the first draft, David Safier, the German writer is who knew about this play. He was doing some research for one of his novels, I guess, and he found out that in the Warsaw ghetto, there was a cultural life. People who tried to do what they knew what to do, musicians that try to keep on playing, maybe on cafes or poets doing readings or even a symphonic orchestra. And he found out this play that was actually performed and represented in the winter of 1942 with huge success. It was a musical play and it was funny, though it described the conditions of the people who lived in the ghetto. So it had jokes and songs, but they were about love — yeah — but also about corruption and about illness and death and the violence of the police Jew or whatever. So it was fascinating. And when I read this first draft, I started to do my own research. I decided to read only things written inside the ghetto from 1939 and 1942 because, in a way, history becomes literature afterward, but in that very moment, everything is confusion and mixed emotions and nobody knows what's going on. When I took over and did all the subsequent rewrites, I felt more and more hypnotized about this group of actors who are not necessarily good or bad, but they are actors who want to do what they do, which is what actors do. Your father dies, but you do the play. You cry for him tomorrow, or you have a fever, but you do the play. And then you go to bed, or the lights go out and you turn and you light a few candles, but you do the play.


Yeah, and it kind of goes with my next question because in a lot of ways, this movie is also about the ways life imitates art and vice versa. What does this juxtaposition of the play and the drama behind the scenes add to the story?

Yeah, that was tough too, because we have these actors and we have their characters, and they share a name, but they are completely different. So when they are on the left wing or at the dressing room, they have these very rough, raw emotions, sometimes dark even. And when they get out, their performance energy changes and they become these expansive actors who sing and dance or whatever. So if you are in the middle of the audience, you hear those lines and you get something, you laugh. But little by little, both levels start to mix. And there's a point in which these actors start to communicate through the lines of characters, so you don't know anymore who's speaking. And in a way, the play becomes the subject of real life. So this is like a Russian Doll's game. In a way, it's a story within [a] story with and story, they are trapped in that state, that's trapped in this theater who's surrounded by the walls of the ghetto.


Yeah, in a lot of ways this movie is a big departure for you because you've done a lot of horror, a lot of thriller, and this is romantic musical drama. What made you want to do this kind of movie? And in what ways is it kind of a natural progression?

Well, I was never interested so much in the genre of anything, but in the story itself. In a way, it has connections with Buried. They are almost invisible. But it's also about trapped characters. But believe it or not, I always love musicals. For instance, I think that this is probably together with Westerns, one of the most cinematic, genres ever things that only can happen in this specific genre. But at the same time, this is not a musical itself. It's more the story of a group of people who represent music. So you have to create a musical and then make a movie around the musical. And I always been interested in challenges in a way and for some reasons. For instance, when I did Buried, I always thought of Hitchcock, I thought that it was one of those challenges that the master would have loved to achieve. When I decided to try to do Love Gets Room, I thought on one hand, of Orson Welles, because I thought that it was a cinematic challenge he would have loved, but also it spoke about this world of theater he knew so much about, and he loved so much from the within. And I also on Billy Wilder because of his pessimistic nature, but also so fun. So fun, and also because no matter how cynical he was or he looked, he was also a romantic, a kind of hidden romantic. Like, he didn't trust mankind at all, but he still trusted love, and probably only love. So I simply couldn't say no to something like this.


Right. That gets to another question. Which films and directors have influenced you in general, and more specifically, Love Gets the Room? You mentioned Orson Welles and Billy Wilder and Hitchcock.

Well, in general, I would say probably Martin Scorsese is the reason why I make movies. I learned from him. I mean, he was my master. He never knew, of course. He never was aware of this, but he was my master in the distance. And I think that with him, I learned that the what is the how, and the how is the what. There are no differences. You have to play with both levels and make them live together and sometimes clash against each other. And for some reason, these editing editors like, of course, again, Hitchcock. And more recently, maybe Oliver Stone, but in the past, I don't know. Buster Keaton, I love the dialogues of Billy Wilder, as I mentioned, or Woody Allen, for instance. And I don't know, we'll have many, many masters, and this would be a few of them. Max Ophuls, for instance, for the use of the camera. Or Kubrick for this energy of trying to do something new every time with real personality and taking risky decisions every time. So I guess that through them I learned to take decisions. Don't be afraid, because you are going to disappoint someone from the very moment you wake up in the morning. So take that for granted and do things the way you think they should be done.

Right? Yeah, I think I definitely see the mark of Wilder's Foreign Affair in this movie.

Yeah, I thought of this specific movie.

It's such a great movie. Which brings me to which themes and subject matter interest you most as a filmmaker?

I don't know. It's hard to tell because many different things can appeal [to] you for very different reasons. But I really love actors. I really love to try to create truthful emotions that are ambivalent and contradicted. For instance, I, as a director, try not to teach lessons, but to focus on the real characters. And if you don't exactly know what to feel, the better to me. If things are in a thin line or on a thin line, the better to me. It's not that I think that I'm intelligent. I don't think that at all. But try to be intelligent and try to consider that your audience is intelligent. Don't take them as dumb and remember that they know that many things are true at the same time. Don't try to create archetypes, for instance, here. Try to remember that they are actors. Above all, they are actors. And also try to remember the predicament they are living. So remember, they want to live for another half an hour. So don't judge them, no matter what decisions they take. So I guess that when I feel this when I feel a bit scared because I'm not sure that I'm going to survive the experience, is when I think that it would be a good idea to try.


Right. And your actors were so brilliant in the movie, and I noticed your early work. You've worked with a lot of big Hollywood stars, a lot of the cast series, a lot of newcomers, a lot of up-and-coming talent. Was this a conscious choice to maybe not distract with a big name?

Yeah, it was, because I thought that Love Gets a Room told an aspect of history that has never, as far as I know, been treated on cinema. So I wanted all these characters to feel real. In a way, it would be a small obstacle to do this with very, very well-known actors. I mean, working with very well-known actors is not better or worse. It's just the right thing to do or not, depending on the project. And no matter how paradoxical this sounds. It was a very tough cast process because they needed to be very great at performing, but also at singing, because we never used playback, we never used back and tracks and we never got them to some studio to take care of every line one by one and then use auto-tune. But everything you hear comes out from the very take, like with any dialogue. So they had to do it again and again and again and again and do it right every time. And also to bring the real emotion of that specific moment to the singing. And also even the physical effort of some jump or whatever. And I really, really enjoyed that. I felt so privileged for having so many young, brilliant actors around, feeling that they were doing something that was worth every morning and feeling them ready to try to give their best every morning.


Right. Where was Love Gets a Room filmed and how long was principal photography?

Well, it's funny because it was mostly shot in Spain, in an old theater close to Barcelona. And of course, we needed also to build the gates of the theater and the dressing room, the hallways. We did that at some Barcelona sound stage, too. And we did the opening, this twelve-minute long take that opens the film, where we show the ghetto, the exterior of the ghetto. We showed that in Berlin, the Babelsberg studios. We didn't have much time because we didn't have much money. So we did the movie in six weeks and a couple of days. So it was a difficult experience.

Tight schedule.

Yeah, tight.


The last question I want to ask. This movie has really interesting commentary on art as escapism versus art as kind of a brutal mirror to society. What do you think, if any, are the responsibilities of artists during times of crises?

I don't think art has any responsibility, frankly. I think that the hugest power of art is the fact that it's useless and also the fact that it's inevitable. And this is so powerful because this is how human beings express themselves. And you can't avoid that because that's what we are. So what's the use of Beethoven's 9th Symphony? It's useless. It's for nothing. It just makes the world better. And that's the real power of art. And I don't trust so much in people who think they have responsibilities and lessons to teach. Do your work, and if you do it right, it's going to resound. But don't try to save the world. Do the best song or the best painting, because that's who you are. And that's it. The art will do its work.

Yes, definitely. Thank you so much for sitting down. I love the movie so much. It definitely felt a little bit of Wilder, some Lubitsch in there. Definitely old-style. Thanks so much for sitting down.

It's been a great pleasure. So thanks again for inviting me.

Watch Love Gets a Room