Interview by Sean Boelman
After a successful debut at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival in the midnight section, Carlota Pereda’s Piggy has had a successful festival run, with stops along the way at such festivals as Fantasia and Fantastic Fest. A bloody coming-of-age tale, the film is an expansion of Pereda’s award-winning short of the same name from 2018.
We at disappointment media got the opportunity to speak with Pereda about her film, discussing things like the film’s themes, complexities, and execution. Check out the full interview here!
On Creating the Short From the Feature
disappointment media: So of course Piggy is an expansion of your short film with the same name. What was it like exploring more of this character's story?
Carlota Pereda: Well, for me, it was a joy because I loved Sara so much. I just had to find out more about her, about who she was as a human being. For me, the main goal behind the whole movie is to find out who she was, and to let people experience life through her eyes for a while.
disappointment: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of my favorite parts of the film is the world you build and getting to expand that from the short to the future was really exciting. How did you build this world?
Pereda: I tried to stay as true to the character as possible. And for that, it's always more interesting when you draw from the things you've seen, and this is all people I know, this is all situations I understand. I did a lot of research about people who have been bullied, I've been bullied all my life. But I wanted to know what it was to be bullied now. And so I did a lot of research about families. And I talked with people in the village and all the villages around it about how life was in a small village. And that let me choose how her life would be, how her parents would be, all drawn from situations and people that I knew from experience.
On the Film's Complexity
disappointment: I think that something that was really unique about this film was that there's kind of like, several different antagonists, but none of them is really a villain, because there's the kidnapper, there's the bullies, there's the mother who's a little abusive, but like I said, no one's really a villain. How did you want to show this complexity?
Pereda: For me, that's what life is about. It's about the grays. You know this is normalized violence. And this is how we deal with it. And everybody's tainted by it. So I didn't want to say this is the good guy, and this is the bad guy. I mean, we have our heroine who is also not morally pure. And for me, that's the complexity of human behavior.
disappointment: I also really liked the atmosphere of the film, you know, it's kind of grimey, and it's set in the Spanish summer, and it's got this kind of retro feel. Can you talk about building that?
Pereda: Yeah, we shot the movie in Panavision, but we turned it into 4:3, because we like the aesthetics of Panavision, but we like the the organicity but we didn't like the aspect ratio because the aspect ratio has to be focused on the human body and to be as claustrophobic as possible. And also for me summer, it makes you think about your childhood, for some reason. But at the same time, summer is when you feel the body most. You cannot escape your body because it's so hot, the body is always present. Gor me the body was obviously very important, and how we're basically all trapped in our body. The fact that it is shot in Extremadura which is a very poor area in Spain, that doesn't have trains to go there, you can only come by a bus that goes only a couple of times a month and by car . It's very poor, and the cars are very old, and people live the life they lived all their lives, but at the same time, you have their mobiles with latest generation models and supermarkets moving in. Things are changing and there's always a violence when in a change, you know, when the tradition smashes with modern world capitalism. So for me that was really interesting. And that really added layers to the claustrophobic atmosphere.
disappointment: And you mentioned this but one of the main themes of the film is obviously body and body image. What made you interested in exploring this topic?
Pereda: I've been interested all my life, I guess because I'm a woman and you know, you're always judged by the way you look from the moment you're born basically. Of course, it happens with men as well, but we women, it’s especially in your face. And I always struggle with that, that we should be judged by our looks before anything else, and it's always something that has enraged me all my life for some reason.
On Subverting Expectations
disappointment: Usually when you think of body horror, you're thinking of stuff like Cronenberg, like grossed out stuff but that's not what this is, this is kind of an unorthodox, unique approach to body horror. Can you kind of talk about Piggy's place in that genre?
Pereda: I don't know. It's an interesting take. It could be body horror because it's from the people's point of view, it’s in the eye of the beholder. You know, because really her body is beautiful, and it counts like her case and then is a weapon, you know, so it's like, making a twist on the body horror, you know, somebody whose body is really very powerful and helps her in when she needs it.
disappointment: And I think the other genre that this kind of subverts expectations with is like, like a coming of age film, because you know, you have a lot of coming of age films that are set in the summer. And this is not that. It's very different. How did you kind of set out to integrate those tropes, but still subvert expectations?
Pereda: Oh, that was a lot of fun. For me, I love Korean movies. And the way they subvert genres all the time. They are such an inspiration, the work of Director Bong is a huge inspiration for me. When I started thinking about expanding the world of Sara, for me, it was always going to be a coming of age, where she decides who she wants to be, where she's gonna have a love interest which may not be the best for her. But yeah, that's one of the reasons behind the color palette — we chose the color palette of the coming of age story. I thought it was fun to have that contrast with the genre.
disappointment: And like you mentioned, this is a film of contrasts, creating those juxtapositions. Do you want to talk about your use of juxtaposition in the film?
Pereda: For me, the audience is one of the main protagonists of this film. Because we, as an audience, always bring our spin or experience into everything of fiction that we see or we read. I wanted to subvert the audience's expectations and prejudices against Sara, against genre, and against the whole theme of the movie, and to really make them involved in the moral decisions. And for that I had to play with all those things.
disappointment: Something else I really liked about this film was its structure. You have this high intensity first act. It's kind of like the recreation of what was done in the short film. And then you have this more character driven second act that's a bit quieter, and then everything kind of goes unhinged in the third act. Do you kind of want to talk about building that unique structure?
Pereda: First, I always thought that I'm gonna make a movie where the horror is in the real things, in the real people. And in the genre, that's not the scarier spot. Second, I had to figure out how we normalize violence. You know, something happens, and then life goes on. And there's comedy and there's levity. And there's love and there's sex, and there's everything. And then the third part is reality, it blows you in the face, and this is the consequence of everything we've seen.
disappointment: Something that you mentioned that I kind of really enjoyed about the film was kind of the dark sense of humor that the film almost has, especially in the third act where it kind of is kind of twisted. Do you kind of want to talk about the incorporation of humor into the film?
Pereda: I don't understand life without humor. I think there's humor in everything, and there's absurdity in everything. And for me, it's just part of the human experience. Without that, I don't feel there's realness to anything.
disappointment: Something that happens throughout the film is this idea of catharsis, what do you think the role of catharsis in the film is?
Pereda: Catharsis is important if you want to forgive, you want to move on. I wanted the movie to be cathartic for Sara, the character, and also for the audience and to really make them be part of the experience and come out later thinking, "What would I have done in her place, would I have done the same thing, and if not, why?" So for me, the idea of a bit of catharsis is just to kind of explore that circle of violence that we see through the whole movie and in the village, their behavior towards her and everything that goes on, you know, Sara goes on from having no voice to screaming.
disappointment: I think that the ending of the film, you know, it's not a traditional happy ending, but it's also not necessarily a depressing ending, either. It's kind of somewhere in the middle. Is this always how you envision the ending of the film being?
Pereda: I kind of toyed with the idea of going a bit longer, not different, but having a bit of a coda, so to speak. But you know, the movie ends when it ends, and I never shot it. I mean, I didn't even write it as a play form, but kind of outlined it. Because, you know, it had to be there. It had to be that way with that image. I'm a very visual writer, I write what you see. And for me, it just had to end with that. It just kind of rounded everything visually.
On Finding an Intricate Balance
disappointment: I think there are some really exceptional images in the film. I mean, obviously, the image that was used for the poster here in the States was of her, kind of walking down the road kind of bloodied. Did you have a favorite image in the film?
Pereda: Well, for me, my favorite scene in the movie is the washing machine scene. And I think that would be my favorite image.
disappointment: And why do you think that is?
Pereda: I don't know. I think because she's just great in that scene on camera. And I like the idea of making a comedy, and that the moment that the movie turns into a real thriller is about a washing machine. But at the same time, it's a comedy. And I'm just glad that it worked out.
disappointment: You mentioned how great Laura Galan's performance in the film is absolutely fantastic. How did you discover her?
Pereda: It took me two years to discover her for the short. I didn't have a casting agency then, so I just went on by myself. I watched every single Spanish movie, I went to theater schools, I went to high schools, I even approached people on the street. And then one day, I was losing hope that I was gonna make this short, because I didn't find the actors that I wanted. Because the ones I found were teenagers that didn't have the arms to really go through what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, because I didn't want it to be a bad experience for them. And I didn't want to have to shoot it differently. Then I went to see this play where she was on stage only for a couple of minutes. And she was great, but she was a bit older, and I had my doubts. I didn't want it to be like Grease, you know, where everybody is very old in high school, even though I love Grease. But I asked my producer, and they saw her in something else a long time ago and she was great. So I met her, and she arrived and she was like a 14 year old. She was lovely. And I asked her to see if she could try the last look on the short. And she nailed it. And she completely understood the character. And it was so freeing that she was older because we could really talk bluntly and like good friends like how we would do it, and especially why and what is she feeling and all those complexities that I would have had to do it in a roundabout way directing a teenager.
disappointment: And you mentioned the complexities of the character several times. Obviously there's the part of the character that obviously were supposed to empathize with her for her struggles, like her being bullied. And then there are some things that she does that are morally gray. What do you think were the challenges, both for you, as a writer to write this and as a director to guide Laura through this performance?
Pereda: You know, guiding Laura is just a joy. Basically, you just have to hold her hand, which is what I did, literally most of the scenes. Before I said action, we would be together holding hands and embracing and then we said, "Okay, let's go now." And it was a joy. I mean, we did work a lot with the screenplay. We rehearsed some of the scenes, but also we rehearsed the relationships with the other actors and the other characters. And the screenplay was said as voice. You know, normally, you just write the actions and that's it. And you're not supposed to say what the characters are thinking, but I did that. So there was always this guiding voice she was feeling through in every single scene. So we discussed that a lot to try to create a clear character arc, because she doesn't talk that much. So it's just a testament of her amazing acting job that you can really feel what she's thinking without saying a word.
disappointment: Something else that you mentioned earlier that I want to circle back to is that this film is very disturbing in several ways. I mean, obviously, you have the traditional horror imagery, you have the kidnapper, the killer, who's doing all of these gory, violent things. And then you have these horror images that are more related to bullying and body shaming. How do you kind of go about building horror in these two very distinct separate ways, but bring them together?
Pereda: For me, the first part has to be more horrific that the last part, you know, and it had to be real, and we couldn't hold back. And it had to be told from her point of view to really make the audience be in her place in her shoes while that was happening without cutting from it. The other part, when we are bullying the girls, that was different. I knew I didn't want to glamorize violence. You know, I want it to feel real and raw. There are bad things happening to girls and I didn't want that to be glamorized. You know. And the last thing is that I think that reality is what brings them together, the fact that we're not making a joke of it, it's something that happens. There can be some humor, but we're not laughing at them.
disappointment: Something that is common in a lot of depictions of plus sized individuals is that they are the butt of the joke. But Sara, in this film, was very much not the butt of the joke. Do you want to talk about the unique responsibility of having this plus size heroine?
Pereda: There's always a political statement or a moral statement when you shoot. Always. And if you don't do it, it's because you haven't thought about it. And for me, it was very important that this is Sarah. And we shouldn't tell her about the way she is, and you think that she's brave because she's wearing a bikini. It makes you think why you think she's brave. You've seen a lot of girls wearing a bikini, and then you think she's brave, why? For me, it was important to show her, like the error of this and stop thinking of her as a victim, stop thinking of her as a plus size girl, and think of the heroine she is. Of the girl and who's becoming a woman. It was important to show the complexity and the beauty of her as a character. We don't see it. And it's also kind of kind of a bit upsetting that we don't see that more often.
disappointment: Obviously, you know, the film is very disturbing. But it's also very sensitive and the way it approaches this topic, because it is a very complex, touchy topic for many people. What was it like finding this balance between being disturbing enough to hammer the point home, but being sensitive enough to where it was tasteful?
Pereda: We did talk with a lot of victims of bullying. It's also the screenplay, but the camera work, the way you move the camera, the way you depict the body is always going to comment on something. And we didn't want to comment on anything. So we were always very watchful that was not going to be the issue because that would be absolutely against the point of the movie and against the point of us as filmmakers.
Piggy is now in theaters and on VOD.