Argentinian director/writer Juan Solanas hasn’t made a feature film since 2005, but you wouldn’t know it while viewing his latest film Upside Down, an ambitious sci fi that explores a modern day version of Romeo and Juliet. The film, which stars Kirsten Dunst (Bachelorette), and Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas), centers on the gravitational force pulling two lovers apart. Much like any forbidden love, Adam and Eden are drawn together despite knowing their planets are forbidden to interact with one another.
Although the story of the lovers itself is cemented with symbolism we’re all familiar with, Solanas spins the idea on its head by offering up a different concept. In turn, the filmmaker builds layers by creating a dystopian cocktail in his visual landscape that sees the lovers pinned to two different planets with polar gravities. Eden, coming from an affluent planet is framed “Up Top” while Adam is pulled “Down Below” to a shanty, dickens-esque working class planet. While the visuals are lush and grandiose, the conflicts derailing these two from being together are universal, dealing in socioeconomic differences, politics, and class.
The idea for Upside Down is so refreshing, and the visuals so striking, The Inquisitr’s Niki Cruz decided to have a chat with director/writer Juan Solanas to find out the inception behind his forbidden love story.
THE INQUSITR: There’s so much to be said about this film. Which thematic element came first for you as a writer?
JUAN SOLANAS: The thing that really seduced me seven years ago was the possibility to speak about the reality of the world in a very metaphorical way. I love to put a very simple story in a very crazy world. There was a lot of technical stuff to discover. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do another movie, so when the idea came I got so excited. I had a vision one morning. I thought of a guy on a mountain, and the girl upside down on the top of another mountain. I started to understand the story, and then I wrote it. For me the idea came as a whole thing; as a bundle. The package was this incredibly double gravity world, a metaphorical world, and also the simple love story that drives the audience.
THE INQUISITR: The visual landscape is stunning. Technically what did you have to do to achieve the look of the two worlds?
SOLANAS: It came from my imagination. I’m really just describing what I see in my brain. I’m very specific. After that I found references. I’m really bad at drawing so it’s a challenge for me to explain exactly what we need to do. I am from Buenos Aires in Argentina, and that was the vision for shooting “Down Below.” I took a lot of pictures from Buenos Aires to find the spirit. After that, for “Up Top” I had romantic paintings for the inspiration. I wanted to be sure that everyone understand what I wanted. A movie like that, if you lose your sensibility you kill the movie.
THE INQUISITR: As a screenwriter did you find yourself sacrificing material to achieve the vision of the film?
SOLANAS: Making a film is always about dealing with reality. When you make a movie, it’s a dream, and then you need to ground it with a reality. Reality is everything. Money is a big reality. When you have unlimited money to shoot, well that’s good, but that did not exist. So you have to ground your script to the reality because we were independent. For me one of my key thoughts was, “I wanted to escape my financial problems with creativity.” I wanted to widen my imagination. It’s normal to take out what’s not necessary. We tend to add sequences that are cool but aren’t vital for the movie. I really made the movie with no confessions. We shot the movie in 54 days and that’s not that much for a movie like that.
THE INQUISITR: You seem to have a very relaxed structure to how you make films. Kirsten [Dunst] and Jim [Sturgess] have such a great chemistry and it felt natural. Did you give them freedom to explore that chemistry?
SOLANAS: One hundred percent. I love to work with actors because I like to give them a lot of freedom to improv. I believe that acting is reacting so I had the tennis ball on the double gravity set, so the actors were playing live together, so they can improvise and have accidents together. Sometimes just before shooting I would speak to Jim and say something in his ear, and when I said action, it came to life.
THE INQUISITR: It’s baiting.
SOLANAS: Yeah, and that’s cool because you catch really good things during that. It’s a bet but it’s a good bet to do.
THE INQUISITR: Were you ever worried about Kirsten and Jim understanding that world? It’s a simple story but there are many layers, like you said.
SOLANAS: For me, when I met Kirsten and Jim I felt the characters were part of myself. When you go to see the actors, you go to see them because you think they match exactly what you’re looking for. The important thing is to make sure they understand the movie the way you understand the movie. If not then you’re in trouble, but we were one hundred percent on the same page with Jim and Kirsten.
THE INQUISITR: What do you hope people walk away with from viewing Upside Down?
SOLANAS: I love to make movies with layers, and layers, and layers. I like generous movies. You pay your ticket and you “get it.” You have a big journey. Myself as an audience, I like to be taken by the hand for a big trip. If we don’t understand that we need this one planet, and we need to live together, and to care together, and to respect each other, these are great opportunities to experience richness. The movie has a lot of open doors for other things. The objectification of people — like getting fired, or for a woman to be “upgraded.” Society is becoming crazy about all of that. It’s insane. My brother runs a big photoshop company, and I can tell you when you watch what the retouching guy is doing to a model, you understand that an adolescent girl looking at a magazine, will feel bad because what she sees in the magazine is not real. It’s ridiculous. All of that is in the movie, but with irony because I prefer to love.
Upside Down is out nationwide today.