Interview

TIFF 2019: Surviving the Pit

By Brendan Frye
Published December 16, 2019
TIFF 2019: Surviving the Pit
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Rich in lore and social messaging, The Platform is a film that despite its relatively simple concept is hard to ignore. Recently shown at TIFF 2019, this Spanish film from first-time director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia is a visual spectacle that uses a minimalistic aesthetic to a masterful degree.

Focusing on a prison where inmates are each on different levels and receive food from a sinking platform that must travel downward, filtering through each set of inmates as it makes its journey, it is a story that is easy to grasp but is still dripping in social metaphor and commentary.

As each day starts, a beautifully prepared arrangement of food descends the vertical prison that is The Pit, stopping at each floor for a short amount of time. As people indulge on the upper floors, anyone further down is left to starve. It is a smart concept, and visually outlines the struggles people in society face needing to fight for the scraps as the people above indulge and are wasteful.

TIFF 2019: Surviving the Pit 1
The Platform (2019) – TIFF

Set on the backdrop of a relatively simple set, it is easy to see how this script started its life as a stage play. For most of the film, the audience is treated to a simple concrete room set in a vertical prison known as The Pit. Every room in the prison is the exact same, making it cheaper to film, but also helps to paint the bleak nature of the world the cast must suffer through. It is a masterstroke of budget and design, making a film that looks far more elaborate than the actual set would suggest.

“[The Platform] comes from the script of a stage play that in reality never was never done,” outlined director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia. “They sent this play to the producer and he loved the idea and then passed the script to me and I wanted to make this movie a reality.”

But even with this fantastic setting, it was the actors and style that brought this world to life. Even before they were ready to shoot or the script was finished, the team was looking for the perfect people to make this film come to like.

“At the beginning, when their script was almost ready we thought about Ivan Massagué as the protagonist with Antonia San Juan alongside him,” Director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia explained. “They both integrated into the project very well and they were amazed by the script, and they wanted to shoot this movie. The actors were very, very helpful and were the most important part during the movie because they completely love the project and they wanted to do their best for it.”

Ivan Massagué, who plays Goreng, the idealistic protagonist, gives a level of humanity to the world of The Platform. Thought the film, you get a real sense of the suffering the character must endure, and talking to Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia it becomes clear that the actor suffered along with his character by not eating to give the real sense of what Goreng is going through.

TIFF 2019: Surviving the Pit 2
The Platform (2019) – TIFF

“[Ivan Massagué] lost approximately 12 kilos over six weeks of shooting, so it was hard for him to work.” explained Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia. ”While shooting he was not eating, so he was a working 10 hours a day and without eating.” 

But taking a story that originally started its life as a simple play does lead to challenges for cinema. The play was static and they needed a third act that would give the audience a little more, and provide a resolution to the struggles of the characters.

As the film progresses, the true brutality of the prison is made manifest. While at times it can be pleasant for the people near the top, the horror for the people on the lower levels is shown in all its gritty and heartless realities. With the third act giving a taste of the violence and terror this prison really holds, it acts as a cap on the story, giving the audience a glimpse of what is really going on. This final act gives the film a power the original play never had, offering the audience an idea of what needs to be done to change the system.

“Within the script of the play, they never going to go down, they never arrived at the bottom level. The play finishes when Goreng decides to go down to see and try and change the world of the prison,” Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia remarked. “I  knew that to make this work with cinema viewers, I had to make it more physical, had to add more action.. And of course, the last part of the setup was difficult for us because the actors are not specialists in violence and fighting. We use some doubles but most of the sequences the actors did by themselves. It was obviously very hard but we enjoyed doing it.”

TIFF 2019: Surviving the Pit 3
The Platform (2019) – TIFF

With such a multi-levelled story, the mythology of the universe is also important. The Platform paints a world filled with struggle, but also hope. The director wanted to give a sense of the world, but never too much to take away from the central narrative. It is set in a nebulous place, time, and setting, but it made way for the events of the film. Throughout the film they manage to give hints of the outside, but always bring the audience back to the prison and what the characters are struggling with.

“Wey wanted to make sure that that everything happens inside The Pit,” described Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia. “So that the people watching the movie wouldn’t think about in what society they live in, what year it is,  but to focus all attention on the inside. It is a difficult thing to make an audience believe the universe on-screen while trying to avoid all the questions. We made all the construction of the narrative and escape as the central focus of the film.”

The Platform is a complex movie that is well worth seeing. The director and everyone involved pushed the limits of budget and concept to craft something special. While at first it may seem simple, the work and drive that want into making the film a reality is astounding. If you have a chance to see this small Spanish film, do yourself a favour and give it a go. With striking visuals and a look that outclasses its budget, it is a gem well worth your time.