“It is undoubtedly the best debut in Spanish cinema for years,” Pedro Almodóvar announced of Alauda Ruíz de Azua’s movie “Lullaby,” as it began to prove one of Spain’s liveliest sleepers of 2022, going on to score a Spanish Academy Goya Award for new director.
Having made such an illustrious first feature, what kind of TV debut could Ruíz de Azua make directing her first series? Some large inkling was given on Wednesday as Movistar Plus+ opened up the set of miniseries “Querer” to a select delegation of Spanish press.
In short, if on-set interviews are anything to go by, in her TV debut Ruíz de Azua returns to an eye-opening intimate family drama set in her lush native Basque Country, a story which delivers once more some uncomfortable truths about women’s role in traditional family structures.
One large question which the series may pose is whether the most prevalent and dangerous kind of machismo is that practised by people who are never conscious of being machista at all. It’s no small matter. Like “Lullaby,” many viewers may ask if they, or their parents, say, have been guilty or victim of the same behaviour pictured in the series.
Set in the current day, and laced by genre drive as both courtroom drama and psychological thriller, “Querer” begins when Miren, after more than 30 years of marriage and two sons, abandons the family home and goes to a police station with her lawyer. She arraigns husband Iñigo for continuous rape during a marriage which everyone thought perfect.
As his sense of self threatens to crumble, Iñigo, a prominent, well-respected Basque businessman, counters he’s done nothing wrong, feels outraged and wronged.
Centring on a mother-daughter relationship, “Lullaby” suggested that husbands’ protestations of romantic love in a marriage are not enough: They have to born out in practice by daily co-care of children.
“Querer” returns to marriage in a fully contemporary world. “There’s an intention to talk about [marriage] in a way that’s not been talked about before,” Ruíz de Azua told Variety on set, at a large house in a verdant valley half an hour from central Bilbao that plays proxy for the family home.
“The series is distinctive in that the crime scenario is a rape scenario which we talk about in a family context in an intimate way,” she added.
“What attracted me to the series is that it talks about sexual abuse, which is often a taboo, and it does so in the context of a stable relationship of many years,” concurred Nagore Aranburu (“Flowers”), who plays Miren.
By way of research, Ruíz de Azua and co-screenwriters talked to legal experts in marital rape and attended court cases. Tightening tension, viewers do not have that expertise. One question is whether the family friends and a judge will see the case as rape. Another is the burden of evidence. In many cases, it’s his word against hers, Ruíz de Azua noted.
“Taking place in a highly intimate family context, viewers get the information and have to decide what happened, becoming a jury in a way,” she added.
After the denunciation, one son sides with the father, the other with the mother. Their motives may in part be self-serving, however, in a drama where, as in “Lullaby,” behaviour is acutely observed and is inflected by multiple drivers, some of which characters can not articulate to themselves, and are observed in a mixture of hard-nosed truth and compassion by Ruíz de Azua.
“The series is never black and white, Alauda takes it to a greyer area between,” said Miguel Bernardeau – star of early “Elite” and El Zorro in the Prime Video upcoming series – who plays “Querer’s” older son.
Set over three years and told over four episodes, the narrative allows for more modulated family character arcs in response by to the central explosive drama.
“What I like most about my role is the journey the character makes, and how that impacts how he wants to bring up his own young son,” Bernardeau observed on set.
“Lullaby” and “Querer” both paint a portrait of men who are so busy being men or bringing home the pay check that they lack the emotional empathy to put themselves in the position of their wives.
For Iñigo, his wife’s legal action comes as a total shock. “The great thing about my character is that wanting to love, he was causing pain, and he hadn’t realized,” commented Pedro Casablanc, recently seen in Almodovar’s “Strange Way of Life,” who is cast as Iñigo.
“The series is about learning how to love,” added Iván Pellicer (“Paraíso”), who plays Jon, the younger son.
Co-written by Eduard Sola (“Burning Body”) and Júlia de Paz (“Ama”), “Querer,” a Movistar Plus+ Original, will be brought onto the international market by Movistar Plus+ International. Produced with San Sebastian’s Kowalski Films (“La Zona”) and Madrid’s Feelgood Media (“Maixabel”), moving into production on Oct. 23, “Querer” will shoot in the Basque province Bizkaia for 11 weeks through to January.
It joins seven other series and movies shooting in Bizkaia this last quarter, making for a historical record of shoots in Bilbao-Bizkaia in 2023, said Bilbao-Bizkaia film commissioner Agustín Atxa.
“Querer” is fully-financed by Movistar Plus+. Many shoots are attracted to the territory by up-to-70% tax incentives, launched in 2023, observed Kowalski Films producer Koldo Zuazua.
Bilbao-Bizkaia is also riding the wave of a drive into shoots set outside Madrid and Barcelona as major players in Spain – Netflix, Movistar Plus+, RTVE – seek to satisfy audiences who warm ever more to localized scripted series.
Beyond “Querer,” among series, “Angela” and “Romi” will shoot in Bizkaia. Movies take in “No puedo vivir sin tí,” starring Paz Vega and Adrián Star, “Marco,” with Aitor Arregi and Jon Garaño, and Helena Taberna’s “Nosotros.”
The Bizkaia setting lends another wrinkle to “Querer” and few directors of late have known how to immerse viewers in a Basque world better than Ruíz de Azua.