When ‘Lo que arde’ premiered at the last Cannes Festival, many thought that Benedicta Sánchez was playing herself, that its director Oliver Laxe He had limited himself to planting the camera in front of a woman about to turn 85, who takes care of cows and tends to the fire and the garden. When her arsonist son is released from prison and returns to the remote Lugo village, Benedicta simply asks him if he is hungry. When he tells her that eucalyptus trees extend their roots for kilometers, like the fabric of an old sack of potatoes that prevents other plants from growing, the woman responds: “If they cause suffering, it is because they suffer.”
That Benedicta was someone special was confirmed at the San Sebastián Festival, where the press officer for ‘Lo que arde’ already warned journalists that this small and nervous woman, who sleeps on the floor and eats an avocado and a lemon every day, He had a story to tell: that of his life. And then we discovered that, beyond the geographical proximity to the region where the most praised arthouse film of the year is set, the octogenarian winner of the Goya for revelation actress was far from having consumed her days between orvallo and dung.
“Life gives you surprises and this is a very big one in my entire long existence,” Benedicta thanked when collecting the first statuette of the night. Her nomination beat that of three new actresses who could be her granddaughters: Ainhoa Santamaría, for ‘While the war lasts’, Pilar Gómez, for ‘Adiós’ and her favorite, Carmen Arrufat, star of ‘ Innocence’. The winner remembered her parents, “who allowed me to be here today,” and Oliver Laxe and his team: “I don’t think there is any princess who has been treated so wonderfully.”
“I lack words, family members… Help me, tell me things so that I can say them, because otherwise I will remain silent,” she pleaded from the stage in a ramshackle and exciting speech. «I am Galician and I also want the Goya for Galicia, la miña terra meiga. And I also want to say that I am in love with Spain and I feel very expert,” he continued. Her last dedications were to his grandchildren, “don’t forget your grandmother, who loves you very much,” before asking: “Can I go now?”
You have to be a very good actress to make the viewer believe that you are a village woman who has never left the limits of the council when in reality she has traveled the world and lived several lives. It is enough to ask Benedicta, just as this journalist did in San Sebastián, for the story of her biography to flow for hours. Born in O Corgo (Lugo) in 1935, Benedicta left her village alone to find a life first in Barcelona and then in Brazil. Vegetarian since she was 17, she worked as a wedding, baptism and communion photographer in Rio de Janeiro and ended up running a bookstore specializing in philosophy. Victim of an abusive husband, He traveled to Switzerland in pursuit of Krishnamurti, toured the Middle East and lived for a time in an Israeli kibbutz.
In the 60s Benedicta’s name was changed to Benny and registered her only daughter as a single mother. In 1979, Franco died, he returned to Spain with the idea of setting up a photography laboratory but he failed in his endeavor. He lived in Valencia, did not get along with his Galician family and only returned to his town in 2008, after his brother died, to take charge of the family home. There he has accepted setbacks with the same philosophy as his character in ‘Lo que arde’: that the furniture brought from Valencia that he kept in the hayloft is stolen? For he lets the brambles grow to discourage thieves.
Oliver Laxe specifies that Benedicta acts in the film, she does not play herself. “I invent it as it is, because the term non-professional actor is a word that bothers me,” he argues. Emma Karina Sánchez, Benedicta’s daughter, an Audiovisual student, was the one who found out that They were looking for a woman over 60 years old for a film. His mother had already made the public laugh with her self-confidence in the amateur theater group in which she participates. At the casting, Laxe asked her what she felt and Benedicta responded that she had nothing.
Already during filming, the director showed her a film “by a certain Bresson” and she understood that she had to be less electric in front of the camera and move “in slow motion.” This admirer of Buñuel, ‘Zorba the Greek’ and ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ doesn’t like to see herself on screen because she “gets drunk.” However, is capable of dancing a muñeira at the Cannes Festival photocall, where ‘Lo que arde’ won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section. Last night the film also received the Goya for best photography.
The most beautiful image of the disastrous Goya gala came in the family photograph, when the director who has spoken best about mothers, Pedro Almodóvar, reverentially kissed Benedicta’s hand dressed as Adolfo Domínguez and she did the same with the Manchego. Oliver Laxe told her that she could go to the gala without her teeth, he only suggested that she wear her hair long. In Galicia they have made his triumph their own: the president of the Xunta, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, awarded him a medal and even presented the New Year’s Eve chimes on regional television. When the hurricane of awards and interviews passes, Benedicta will return to living alone in her mansion in San Fiz de Paradela and talking to the trees she climbed as a child to pick cherries. “My mother always said that the world I dreamed of did not exist, and I answered ‘well, I don’t want yours, no way’.”