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History Of A Secret • Interview with Isabel Otero

What did you think when your sister told you of her wish to make “History of a Secret”?

When she told me that she intended to write this film, I thought it was great that she finally wanted to visit the past. When we were kids, I was the one who wanted to put words to our story. I wanted to understand. I was emotional, whereas Mariana was silent and didn’t want to know. Later, I became an actor and Mariana, in making documentaries, was more interested in other people’s stories. I think this is no accident. We didn’t experience and will never experience this event in the same way. When she said she wanted to appear on camera, I felt implicitly that she was creating a bridge between us. I immediately wanted to read what she had written but Mariana knew that, for the sake of her film, I had to agree to let myself go, to be surprised, to know nothing of the paths she would take us along. From the start, I trusted her completely. Starting with a family secret, she constructed a tale free of any indulgence. She made it bigger and offered it to a wide public, by looking at the existence of another more general secret and a possible reconstruction. She allows something wonderful: bringing our mother, Clotilde, back to life in an almost palpable manner. All these years, in denying her death, we stopped ourselves from letting her exist. Through the puzzle that Mariana constructs, she slowly appears behind her paintings, in her energetic defense of her life and convictions. Suddenly, she takes back her place as a being that exists.

 

You are directed, but the director is your sister and the structure of “History of a Secret” is at the crossover between fiction and documentary. How did you approach this unusual experience?

I never felt like an actress when I embarked on this project. Above all I saw myself as accompanying her and listening to her desire to remember. She didn’t tell me anything about the screenplay but once I told her what I thought was in it. To my surprise, she answered, “Have you read it?” I hadn’t read it but I know my sister! I have a great love and infinite admiration for her. I could only follow her and give myself over to our reunion. Our solidarity has sometimes been built on our respective solitude but it has lasted over the years. Being with her at a time like that could only make me proud. In the film, we sense you have already distanced yourself from your history… It’s true that I’ve distanced myself. The truth revealed in the film is now ten years old. I mourned for my mother earlier, during a necessary analysis. The secret revealed marked the end of my quest and offered me the missing link in my understanding. I’m convinced that we have to know our past to build our future. From there, this story became my mother and father’s, even though I was tragically caught up in it. I could put it behind me to light up the future. Relieved of the weight of many years of silence, I could re-appropriate my life and bring back the “old” Isabel, the one who was full of life and irony. It was like being reborn for me.

 

You are a well-known actress. With this film, you expose a very private part of your life. Was it a liberating experience for you? A political act?

I don’t think I’m someone with a particularly definite image to defend or protect. I started acting because I found an arena for recognition and love, like most actors, I think. Only it’s very difficult to work from within when you don’t know yourself. When I woke up ten years ago, it made me question the future of my career, especially because I had had to put it aside for a while and it was not easy to pick up where I’d left off. It was no longer a question of recognition but of completely re-appropriating my life. It was clear to me that I liked acting and I felt I had a talent for it. I decided to come back to acting and I changed my approach. I became interested in the instrument. Like a craftsman and through the material I was given, I fashioned it. This job is an exploration of the human being and its transformation into energy. But for me, after all those years of feeling nothing, it was also a fantastic way to feel and find myself again. Over time, I’ve become sure of only one thing: you have to act as true to yourself as possible, with the material you’re offered, to find your coherence. Mariana’s film does not break this rule. In it, I am who I am. The political dimension belongs to the film. Today, if it is offered up to the public, it is also to give a voice back to all those women, all those mothers and all those daughters, to all those who have mourning to do and of course I’m with them all the way.

 

Discovered in Aline Isserman’s “L’amant magnifique”, Isabel Otero’s career includes film, theater and television.