Access to food is the most basic representation of wealth in Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia's The Platform, a dystopian allegory of economic inequality in which a vertical prison pushes people to the margins of their humanity.
The vertical self-government center (Centro Vertical de Autogestión) – as the establishment in fiction is officially known – accommodates two people per person, each of whom is allowed to bring a personal item with them. You are given food on a floating platform once a day. Those on the higher floors fill their bellies with disregard for the unfortunate ones below. But once a month, each couple wakes up at a different level, a phrase that shows how quickly the oppressed become victims.
As Goreng (Ivan Massagué), the protagonist of this abandoned social experiment, was explained by his vicious and funny cellmate Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), despair leads to violence and cannibalism. Although the horrors are unspeakable, Goreng is a catalyst for morality and justice – even if force-fed – who makes a radical and dangerous proposal to prove that a more egalitarian microcosm is possible.
Originally designed for the stage by co-authors David Desola, whose credits include the Mexican two-hand dramedy Warehoused, and Pedro Rivero, artist and animator behind the similarly brutal Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, the concept is timeless. The film's Spanish-language title, El hoyo ("the hole"), both addresses the space in the middle of each stacked cell, which allows the lavish dishes to descend through the structure and be in the box down a state of the art Necessity, this place leads into the abyss.
Since its Netflix debut on March 20, in the midst of a global crisis, The Platform has sparked many debates about its ambiguous ending, which refuses to give off a reassuring sense of hope, and the powerful truths it deals with Crisis grapples with a genre context that feels increasingly parallel to our reality. The Spanish director, previously a producer and commercial director, gave the filmmaker a raw insight into the painful rewriting process and the logistical ingenuity that the production brought with it.
Filmmaker: Tell me how the fascinating concept of a vertical prison, especially the set, was implemented with an independent film budget. Was it an elevated construction that gave the illusion of more levels above and below? Or was it mainly achieved through digital effects?
Gaztelu-Urrutia: The prison design process, the hole, was the key to getting the most out of every euro in our budget. Functionally, the entire construction with its movable walls and corners was calculated with millimeter precision, so that we could hold 99.9% of the film with the camera on our shoulders, hand-held, without other film machines.
We built two levels with a space below to place the scissor crane that powers the platform that was digitally erased later in post-production. We shot 80% of the film at level 1, and when we had to shoot down with the camera, we went up to level 2. Based on these two levels, we generated the endless levels that appear on the screen by adding post-production techniques for layer composition and 3D images.
The design artistically represents the dehumanized coldness of the Vertical Self-Management Center – an outstanding achievement by Art Director Azegiñe Urigoitia. When we thought about the structure of the platform, we tried to do so from the perspective of the fictional architect who designed it, from the perspective of the society that designed it.
The structure had to be efficient, durable, impregnable, indestructible and cheap, so it was not difficult to conclude that we had to use modular blue-gray concrete slabs. We thought of constructing very simple geometric lines. The plan of each level is rectangular: nine meters long and six meters wide. That is, a ratio of "1 / 1.5". This format is repeated over and over again, resulting in a very graphic and repeating aesthetic. The platform has exactly the same proportions, as do the wall panels, the toilet, the mirror and the tables. The wall lights, beds and sinks have this ratio multiplied by 1.33.
Filmmaker: Another fascinating aspect of production design is the food on the platform. Can you describe the thematic intent and the practical approach to this element that stands for prosperity?
Gaztelu-Urrutia: The food was treated as another character in history that aesthetically contradicts the architecture of the prison. We worked with a warm palette of ocher colors. It is fluid, organic and irregular and is presented on mannerist, imaginative, Versailles-worthy dishes with a clearly decadent halo. At the highest level, food is an object of excessive, almost erotic, opulent desire. It is perfect to be desecrated, to be destroyed, to end down in what is evil, in complete aberration. From a technical point of view, fictional food (props) and real food are mixed together.
Filmmaker: The grotesqueness of the food scraps on the platform and the very primitive way in which prisoners consume them lend a certain brutality to the act of eating.
Gaztelu-Urrutia: That is correct. Apart from the production design mentioned above, I worked intensively with the actors, especially Zorion, to underline the primitivism of the food. Apparently, this act was later enhanced by sound effects thanks to the expertise of sound post-producer Iñaki Alonso and composer Aranzazu Calleja. Music and sound effects coexist in harmony, making it sometimes impossible to tell them apart.
Filmmaker: There is cruel violence in history. Have there been concerns or debates about how to graphically represent these acts of slaughter and cannibalism?
Gaztelu-Urrutia: If the hole is a reflection of our society, it cannot hide the violence. It had to show how we tear each other up.
Filmmaker: As the horror unfolds in reduced spaces, there is a visual dynamic for what is shown on the screen and how it is shown, whether for flashbacks or disturbing appearances. What mandate or parameters have you and the cameraman Jon Domínguez followed here?
Gaztelu-Urrutia: We assume a premise of simplicity. The film required simple staging without aesthetic craftsmanship. In this sense, there is no shot that would not have been possible 60 years ago. First, the story is told with very narrow settings and we gradually show the space, keeping the secret parallel to the information that the characters' dialogue provides, so that we invite the viewer, the hole, this prison, organically to enter . As soon as we are inside, we close all doors and show the four walls. Now nobody can go anymore.
In addition to the camera, Jon did great lighting work and created a depressing and overwhelming atmosphere. There are innumerable photographic details that deal with the emotional state of the characters. For example, the blues in the upper levels are chromatically more turquoise, while those in the lower levels are darker. It's like the sea: the color on the shore is soft and that of the sea is dark and cold.
Filmmaker: When you first worked on the screenplay, did you foresee the logistical composition of the realization of the vision or did you deal more with the philosophical terms and the narrative mechanics associated with them?
Gaztelu-Urrutia: The original idea came from one of the screenwriters, David Desola, who, together with the other screenwriter, Pedro Rivero, wrote a script for one play. This work was never produced for the stage, so the authors sent the script to producer Carlos Juárez, who loved it and immediately sent it to me. I was very impressed with the analogy of the levels and the potential of the script, but at the same time it was clear that the text had to be rewritten to make it into a film.
From that point on, to be honest, it was a really painful ordeal that lasted two years. David, Pedro and I argued a lot. . There are two friends that I admire, but which I sometimes want to strangle honestly. Everyone defended their point of view with teeth and nails. We wanted to abandon the project more than once. There were conflicts regarding both core elements and anecdotal elements. There were days when I loved her and others when I hated her. Now I remember this time with some affection, but it was difficult.
Eventually, I gradually began rehearsing a version of the script that I felt relatively comfortable with. The actors and actresses contributed a lot and we made some changes. We also changed things during the shooting and finally we finished what you saw while editing.
Filmmaker: The platform is an incredible allegory of economic inequality and how its roots are in the worst of human nature. The release of the film was in line with a global crisis in which people are now consistently questioning power structures. Do you think that the reception of the film has to do with this cultural and social moment?
Gaztelu-Urrutia: Genre cinema is a great way to protest. When we premiered the film at the Toronto International Film Festival in September last year, many people told me that it was the ideal historical moment to release it, given that inequalities are perceived in society today.
To which I replied that if we had a premiere at another time, it would have been the best moment because we are always in the historical moment when there are most social inequalities. In other words, there is more and more inequality, or at least that's how we perceive it. And now, with the launch on Netflix, they tell me again that given the strange situation the world is in, it's the best time to release it.
I think the film can be understood the same way at any time and in any place because we all live and understand injustices in a similar way. With the cards that were handed out to us from our level, we all suffer from it and unfortunately we all exercise them directly or indirectly. If we had used toilet paper or face masks instead of food on our platform, we would talk about the same thing, about the selfishness that lies deep in our hearts.
Filmmaker: Up to this point, a strength is emphasized in how even after suffering in the lower levels; Prisoners become oppressors as soon as they get an impression of abundance.
Gaztelu-Urrutia: Unfortunately, we are the poorest species that has ever entered this planet, and I don't think we will change. We are fearful animals, and if you give power to someone who has spent their whole lives in fear, they will likely become motherfuckers.
Filmmaker: Among the actors are Ivan Massagué and especially Zorion Eguileor strange actors who play almost surreal characters. Did the process of creating this dynamic of power and despair between them involve chronological filming?
Gaztelu-Urrutia: It was shot chronologically to facilitate the emotional and physical development of the characters. The protagonist Ivan appears in virtually every shot of the film and had to lose 12 kg during the filming over six weeks in order to give Goreng's physical and psychological deterioration credibility. Imagine how difficult it is to play in a movie that demands so much from you while following the strictest diet of your life.
If Ivan’s work is meritorious, it’s no less Zorions, especially considering that we had to change actors and find him a week before production started. In other words, seven days before filming began, Zorión knew nothing about the existence of a film called The Platform. My promise was to work with them to the point of exhaustion to improve the perverse chemistry that both sides of the same coin had to have.
Filmmaker: For Trimagasi, everything is "obvious". Does that speak for the fact that he accepts the status quo, or what does this interest in what he takes for granted tells us about the character and this world?
Gaztelu-Urrutia: Trimagasi is the hallmark of our film. This differentiates it from all other films in the same direction. The cynicism and empathetic irony of this despicable – and delightful – individual makes him feel strangely close. We all have a bit of Goreng and a bit of Trimagasi, and each of us has to decide which of them wins their own internal struggle – if you can choose, of course. The first time we look at Goreng, we see what we want to be. And when we look at Trimagasi, we see what we are. Yes, I said the first time because the film is supposed to question this premise when viewed repeatedly.
Filmmaker: There has been a lot of talk about the ambiguous ending of the film. You are not hopeful about our species, but could there be a hint of optimism, or should our society radicalize because no revolution takes place completely peacefully?
Gaztelu-Urrutia: In the film, the character of Imoguiri tries to start a peaceful revolution, but encounters the inherent selfishness of our species. This selfishness is perceived not only in the upper levels, but also in the lower ones, which despise those who are even lower. This is the great desire of the majority to climb positions regardless of the cost.
A revolution implies regime change that makes it practically impossible to do so in a peaceful manner. Perhaps there are people who would voluntarily give up their position to achieve a more egalitarian society. However, it is very difficult for the group that should give in to agree on this together. We are all selfish, but there are some of us who are very selfish. The latter, the most selfish, light the fuse and the fire of selfishness spreads easily among the others.
I would like to say that the platform is not a social criticism. It is social self-criticism. I am also in the hole and I see myself reflected in many despicable aspects of the film. Sometimes I surprise myself with shameful classic, racist, sexist thoughts … but I will improve, I promise.