Alex Burunova: Creating Authentic Love
In Lonely Planet, Alex Burunova and co-writer Ignacio F. Rodo explore the concept of living a full life enhanced by love in the very romantic city of Barcelona. The film provokes the audience to examine their self and questions whether they are living their life to their ideal of fullest. The script and the direction play a crucial part in creating this world, but it is not the singular reason, for the city itself became an integral part of the tale.
European cinema, generally speaking, has more of an emotional center to their films. The focus becomes more about the character and situations than it is about the spectacle. There is an energy present in these films that connect with the audience on a deeper, more personal level. Burunova used this aspect when making Lonely Planet, incorporating the inherent energy free flowing from her Spanish crew. When incredible energy surrounds you off camera, it’s only natural that it would translate to the screen.
“The way they (European filmmakers) approach a story is first and foremost from an emotional point of view, with extreme care and sensitivity to nuances and details,” Burunova says. “It was very inspiring and informed a lot of the storytelling in Lonely Planet, and coming from Eastern Europe myself, I felt this approach to be close to my sensibilities as well.”
This might be why a love story set in Spain was so effortless. Just as energy music helps you get through your exercises, the love floating around one of the most romanic cities in the world was going to envelop itself around the film.
“Barcelona played one of the characters in the film. The film was my love letter to the city and the Spanish way of life and incorporating it into the love story came naturally,” Burunova adds. “And as with all real love stories-–they always have their challenges.”
A small guerrilla indie crew will always have challenges to work through, but the ones these filmmakers faced were a testament and a burden to an amazing city. The crew had to deal with crowds, working around the tourists to tell their own tourist story, without getting lost in the crowds. How do you tell an intertwining love story between two people while being surrounded? One way is by casting two glorious actors who could get lost in each other.
The surprising aspect of the casting of Julia and Pau is that they were cast separately. Casting can be a tricky process, using various means and locations to find the perfect person for the part. There is by no means a “normal” way to go about that now, there are elements that are frequently used. One being the “chemistry” test between two leads, however, that opportunity was not afforded to this production. As serendipity would have it, the chemistry was present.
“Julia (Nadine Nicole Heimann) completely impressed me with her range and the raw honesty she brings into her performances and her balance of strength and vulnerability. Then the search began for Pau,” Burunova explains. “Nadine was still in the States while I was in Barcelona, trying to cast her ‘soulmate,’ Pau (Roger Batalla), I went completely on my intuition. They only met for the first time during the rehearsals right before the shoot—but the on-screen sparks were there!”
We watch the sparks fly and evolve as the narrative plays out over 3 months, the assigned time that Julia will be in Barcelona. 3 months is an interesting allotment, both long enough to get into accustomed to life yet also short enough to remember the time before. This conundrum was why the particular deadline was explored.
“At first me and my Spanish co-writer (Rodo) thought we’d make it 9 months, but as we worked on the story, we realized that three months is a perfect time frame,” Burunova explains. “It’s long enough to really get to know somebody on a deep level and develop emotions that could potentially change you, but still short to be considered a fleeting romance, leaving the film's ending unpredictable.”
It also leaves the ending with a question of attachment. Is 3 months really enough time to fall deeply in love? The question can be answered in such variety by experiences, the true answer ultimately isn’t important. Love is intensely personal, but affection is universal.
“It feels like it is harder to say goodbye after a longer stay, once we get used to the idea of having that person in our lives,” Burunova says. “But then again, leaving someone at the height of the emotions is also challenging. We had to explore these conflicting ideas to decide on the perfect deadline!”
All of these elements made for a beautiful film about life, love, and direction. Lonely Planet had a great showing at the Newport Beach festival, which is rightly deserved. The film may continue to see life, possibly in new formats, but no matter where the journey takes Julia and Pau from here, the initial connection is lifelong.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images by Sandra Solorzano