Loveling (known as Benzinho in Brazil) is the tale of a mother preparing to say goodbye to her oldest son leaving home at the end of the summer. The lead actress, Karine Teles, and the director, Gustavo Pizzi, were married when they started to write the script. Through divorce, they discovered the highs and lows of love and family breakdown, and these hard-learned lessons wove themselves into the film.

From impressionistic visuals that use color and framing to explore the characters' inner emotions to an extensive dedication to the naturalism of the cast, their collaboration creates a poignant rumination on letting go. 

Pizzi and Teles first sat down with No Film School on the eve of their film's premiere at Sundance to talk about writing separately post-divorce, rehearsing to prepare for the distracting experience on set, and how through thick and thin, they never gave up on the film.

No Film School: Loveling feels very impressionistic. At the same time, characters and their relationships seem incredibly natural. What was the process of writing the script? Was this naturalism something that was not scripted?

Gustavo Pizzi: Most of the things that are in the film are scripted. The lines in the film (or close to the lines in the film) are all written. What you said about the naturalism is in part because we worked a lot for that in the rehearsals. We had a lot of work to make that really feel natural. Of course, in film, there's a lot of work involving in creating the sensation of natural! The process of writing is first. We find a way where we work together and write together, but we never do this side-by-side. One writes and then gives to the other, and adds the things or not, and gives them back.

Karine Teles: I don't know who wrote what.

Pizzi: Every week or so, we got together and discussed and talked about what needs changing. We then decided on who's going to change what. That's how it goes. We make it sound much easier than it is, but it works. That's how we work. This was our third script together and the second one is still going to be produced, so it's been working thus far.

Loveling_0A family outing to the beach in this still from 'Loveling' starring Karine Teles and directed by Gustavo Pizzi.Credit: Loveling

NFS: It's funny, of course, about how things that look natural require so much work to get to there. Did rehearsal play an important part in this film?

Teles: Yes, we rehearsed two months prior to shooting with the actors. We would get the scenes, read the scenes, and improvise over them and talk about the characters. We’d do improvisations on stuff that's not in the script, so that when we are on the set, we were ready, because it's so hard being on a set. Everything is so distracting: the lights, the camera...everything. It’s important as an actor to own the character, so you can be there just for the scene. You can have no other worries, only to be with your fellow actors.

Pizzi: As a director, I am trying always to protect that first, to create an environment on set with nobody shouting and saying, "Oh no!"

Teles: Yes, there's no shouting.

Pizzi: Especially with the scenes with more intimacy, we try to say, "Okay, here on this set, the only people we need today are who really needs to be here." So the third guy of the gaffer --

NFS: The gaffer's assistant's assistant...

Pizzi: Yes! We’ll say, “We just need one today, okay? So you can go sleep, enjoy yourself for a little bit, do whatever you want. When we need you, we will call you back.” You don't need everyone the whole time. When you do, they are there. We had the luck of having a really good crew, and everyone was really passionate about the project and doing their best in all of the departments. It was really great.

Benzinho_house_stillA still that shows the thoughtful use of color in 'Loveling' starring Karine Teles and directed by Gustavo Pizzi.Credit: Loveling

NFS: When it comes to actors and casting ahead of time, did you, Karine, know while writing the script that you would play the part of Irene?

Teles: I was going to play Irene. I wrote it knowing I was going to play her, and we already knew that [Otávio Müller] was going to play Klaus, the husband. All the rest was decided closer to the shooting because dates and things like that and for the kids, we had a huge auditioning process.

Pizzi: Karine was the casting director.

Teles: I love doing that. As an actor, I really love actors and Gustavo likes it too. I like to cast the opposite of what someone plays or who someone is. For example, if the character is a very rude and a bad person, I'm going to cast the sweetest person I know.

NFS: So if the character is a really sweet person?

Teles: I would cast the nastiest person I know! Or someone really strong.

Pizzi: Because you create layers.

Teles: It's about creating layers. The guy who plays the team coach, he is an asshole in the film and he's the sweetest guy in real life. [Mateus Solano] is a huge star in Brazil. He's really famous there because he's a popular actor who is the sweetest guy ever. We asked Mateus, "Come on, come play an asshole for us!"

Pizzi: And he loved doing it.

NFS: Why do you think casting for the opposite creates these layers?

Teles: I think in cinema, the camera sees through the actor. So the actor must be there, and if you are very different from your character while you're playing it, that's something you can't hide. It's us. It's our soul, our experience, our history in our face. There's nothing else to work with. If you're playing someone who is very different from you, the combining of the two things makes the character bigger and fuller and more interesting. There's always a mystery to it. It makes it much more interesting.

Pizzi: One thing about the process of writing that you asked about is that our personal lives came a little bit through the script. When we started writing, we were married. And, then in the middle of the process, we got divorced. We kept working together. I think that moment in the whole process of writing, in some versions of the scripts, they were really hard, you know? The first versions after the break-up ...

Teles: Oh boy…

Pizzi: They were very bad! We would reach a point, "This part could be a little sweeter."  We discovered some good things for Karine and me at that moment. All of those moments that defined the family made it into the script. We didn’t have the experience of a son growing up and letting go. But, the feeling of something almost breaking, of almost losing everything, were moments we had experienced. Karine played with that during the whole movie.

"When we started writing, we were married. And, then in the middle of the process, we got divorced. But we kept working together."

NFS: That’s incredible that you were able to create something so beautiful out of your journey. How did the style and look of the film enhance all of these moments that you found? When I watched the film, I kept thinking about the visuals and different use of color that lent itself to the emotional impressions.

Pizzi: I've had a lot of conversations with my DP, Pedro Faerstein, and my art director, Dina Salem Levy. To my art director, I said, "Look, let's work with these pallets of colors." She then brought a lot of possibilities and new ideas to the film. To my DP, I said, "We are not dealing with reality, exactly. Sometimes you can use the lighting to create a question about what will happen to the main character.”

There is then the search for the cinematic. You search for the most cinematic way to bring out the emotions and things that are all inside of Irene’s head, to the screen. I made the blocking in a way that the DP would shoot through things and find different things that were difficult to find.  I said to him, "Look, you must find, really, really difficult things." I can't believe that the best photographers know how to do that. He really succeeded.

Our crew worked as much as possible as a group. They were always thinking about the characters and the story that we are trying to bring to the screen. They are all great artists and they bring ideas to you, just like the cast. From that point that you start thinking together, you tend to discover new things. That's the beauty of creating something with a lot of artists who are giving their very best to the film.

Benzinho_still_ireneKarine Teles as the character Irene in this still of 'Loveling' directed by Gustavo Pizzi.Credit: Loveling

NFS: This is your second narrative feature which premiered at Sundance. It’s a very difficult point to reach.Do you have advice for others on getting to this point?

Pizzi: It's always hard to make a film. To make our first one, we had nothing, nothing, nothing, and yet we still made it. To make the second, we needed a really big budget compared to the first one. Because for the second one, you couldn't come back to every person and ask for favors again. You can’t say, "Oh look! I don't have any money again..."

For the second film, we found a lot of partners. We needed more resources. We needed more support, partners, and foreign partners, for us: the international labs, Cinemart, etc. It was a long way. You have to be persistent. For this film, the last year was really hard for us because we were editing and trying to understand and trying to bring the last partners, like sales and programmers, on board. If you have good partners around you, you can find more people and help to make the project come to the world.

"From that point that you start thinking together, you tend to discover new things. That's the beauty of creating something with a lot of artists who are giving their best to the film."

Teles: We were really worried because nothing was going on. Nothing was happening with the film and we were like, "Oh my God! We like the film, but what if nobody else does?” But, then, it happened. We got into Sundance and other pieces subsequently started to fall in.  

Pizzi: Of course, Sundance is a dream. It's so hard to get in. We’ve spent 20 years working and working, and, some moments you feel, "This is great!” But, a lot of times, without money, there are possibilities. Many filmmakers cannot reach certain possibilities as middle, lower, or lower-middle class families. Not everyone has the possibility to just say "Oh, you have to do that, you have to do this to become a successful filmmaker."

One thing that I learned is to listen to other directors. I will always listen and read, and that's why I'm a great fan of No Film School. Really! After you listen, you have to make films and show them to people. You will then find the means to make your film if you really want and really have to do it.

Loveling comes out in select theaters Friday, August 23rd. Follow the official Facebook page to find out when and where you can see it.

Featured header image is a still from 'Loveling' directed by Gustavo Pizzi and starring Karine Teles.