Interview with Isabel Coixet

Kristina Zorita
Kristina Zorita

EWA Interviews: Isabel Coixet, director of "The Bookshop"

After opening the Valladolid International Film Week – Seminci-, Isabel Coixet’s latest film, “The Bookshop” is at cinemas. The Catalan filmmaker is well-known for women-centred films. For this feature, she has adapted a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald about a woman who decides to open a bookshop in a costal town against local opposition. Starring British Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy and US actress Patricia Clarkson, “The Bookshop” won the Prize for Best International Literary Adaptation at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

What interested you in this story?

Being myself a book lover, I have always cherished the idea of opening a bookshop. I also loved that universal parabola in a small and isolated microcosm. And I loved Fitzgerald’s tone, a little bit unsentimental although the bullying matter is loaded with emotion.

And that bullying because some members of the local society wants the building where she has opened the bookshop

It’s totally arbitrary. The bullying is not a matter of what they do, but that there are people who like to make life difficult to someone. I have always been fascinated by the banality of evil. Why someone wants to ruin somebody’s life. In the film, it’s not only the character played by Patricia Clarkson, it’s also a journalist who seems to like the bookseller but who finally takes the last stab at her.

How important is the value of friendship in the film?

It’s a friendship based on the love for the books. It’s a friendship with the girl who helps her to run the bookshop and with the shy book reader played by Bill Nighy. It’s true that without their support she would have left the town sooner. But the ruin and banal conspiracy undermines her dreams and hopes little by little. 

How do you define the main character, Florence?

She’s someone naïf, humble, good, wiling, and overprotected. Someone who has lived since her husband’s death wandering, mourning him, dreaming about him. She starts living the present when she decides to open the bookshop and then she’s not prepared at all.

Is your third film with Patricia Clarkson? How was working with her and with the two other main actors?

I and Patricia understand each other very well. We are close friends. We have made “Elegy” together. But since “Learning to Drive” where she was the main character we have become closer. I am thankful to her because she gave the script to Emily Mortimer. I always wondered why Emily doesn’t play more main characters. She has such a special light. And working with Billy has been very nice because he’s a generous and cheerful man, easy to work with.

Isabel Coixet is one the founders of CIMA (Spanish network of women filmmakers) and president of EWA. What would you say to those who criticise the need of those organisations?

We are in a world where half of the population, the women, are not considered when taking decisions or narrating the world. I welcome any initiative to close the inequality gap is welcomed. This inequality is totally unjust and makes the world poorer. I am in favour of quotas. I want the women do the things as good or as bad as men. I want the same opportunities for both sexes. I want that half of the film directors be women.

Women have directed some of the most successful Spanish films this year. It seems to be a new generation of women filmmakers. Is it a symbol of a change or rather an illusion?

Let’s hope it’s not an illusion. I think that if Carla Simon (“Summer 1993) wins the Oscar award, and she might do it, that could bring a change. But I really believe that the voices of those young women are being listened.

Is said that women can easily make a first film but the second one is more difficult ….

That’s a fact. I made my first film 25 years ago. There was also a boom of women filmmakers at that time. From that generation, just three of us are still directing. Releasing a second feature is always more difficult for a woman. I spent seven years from my first feature. But a young filmmaker should be stubborn and perseverant. The things that matter in life cost effort.