João Canijo on Berlin Brace ‘Bad Living,’ ‘Living Bad’ Sets ‘Staging’

Portuguese auteur João Canijo (San Sebastián winner “Blood of My Blood”) has a brace of films at the Berlin Film Festival in 2023. “Bad Living” is in competition while its companion piece “Living Bad” is in the Encounters strand.

“Bad Living” follows five conflicted women who are operating an old family-run hotel, trying to save it from going under. The unexpected arrival of a granddaughter to this oppressive space stirs trouble, reviving latent hatred and piled-up resentments. “Living Bad,” which plays out like the reverse shot of “Bad Living,” follows the stories of three groups of guests in the same hotel with glimpses of what transpires in the first film.

The genesis of the films go back to “Blood of My Blood” (2011), where the lives of a family living in the outskirts of Lisbon are disrupted within a short period of time.

“‘Blood of My Blood’ was supposed to be two films — one from the point of view of the mother and the daughter and the other from the point of view of the aunt and the nephew. The scenes inside the house would be exactly the same but shot in two different points of view, but I didn’t have money to do that,” Canijo told Variety. “With this film, because of the pandemic, I had time and when I added clients in the hotel I thought it could be a second film — just peeking in on what’s happening with the family and vice versa.

“The main point was to disturb the main plot or the main story introducing elements of disturbance and participation in the scenes because life happens around it,” Canijo added. “Like when you are in a coffee shop you can choose the conversations you want to listen to from table to table. But the other ones keep happening at the same time.”

While conceptualizing “Bad Living,” Canijo found himself drawn to the works of Ingmar Bergman and his mentor, the playwright August Strindberg. The playwright’s “The Father” (1887), where parents struggle over the future of their child, and “Creditors” (1888), which takes place in a seaside resort hotel, served as inspirations for the film. “Living Bad” is adapted from three Strindberg plays.

The film is shot in a hotel 40 kilometers north of Oporto. When he was a child, Canijo’s parents used to take him on vacations to a hotel. The filmmaker was loath to look at the hotel again when location hunting and left looking at it until the end for fear that “it would not be the same anymore.” The owner of the hotel was an architect as is his son ,and Canijo found the hotel in pristine condition.

The films’ cast includes Anabela Moreira, Rita Blanco, Madalena Almeida, Cleia Almeida, Vera Barreto, Nuno Lopes, Filipa Areosa, Leonor Silveira, Rafael Morais, Lia Carvalho, Beatriz Batarda, Carolina Amaral and Leonor Vasconcelos, many of whom Canijo has worked with repeatedly over the years. The dialogue was improvised during rehearsals and used in the films.

“I get affectionate with them. They understand me I understand them I know perfectly well what they can give me and they know that they can count on me. It’s become a family team,” Canijo said. For example, two of the secondary characters in “Bad Living” have worked with Canijo since they were 15 and 18, respectively.

Next up for Canijo is “Staging.” “It will be about the rehearsals before the staging of a theatrical play, adapted from my personal experiences,” Canijo said.

The project is being financed and will take two years to start production, the filmmaker said.

“Bad Living” and “Living Bad” are produced by Midas Filmes, with Portugal Film handling world sales.

“Bad Living” premieres on Feb. 22 and “Living Bad” on Feb. 23.

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