Saturday Night Director Rosana Matecki Talks Tango and Leonard Cohen

Doc explores the tango of alienation and inclusion in urban life

12 mins read

“Solitude is a lonely Saturday night,” reflects director Rosana Matecki in Saturday Night. The Venezuelan-Canadian director considers both the chill and warmth of big city life in her adopted home of Montreal in this NFB short. Saturday Night sees Matecki look at the city in a new lens following the death of Montreal icon Leonard Cohen. She observes how the metropolis’s vibrant arts scene brings the community together. Inspired by the pull of Cohen’s voice, she finds a sense of community not by frequenting concert halls, but by kicking up her heels at La Tangueria where Montrealers dance the tango week after week.

Saturday Night offers a snapshot of the multicultural mosaic of Montreal through the perspectives of two immigrants, Magaly and Juan, who frequent the club. As Saturday Night observes dancers of varying skill levels navigate the floor, exchange partners, and mingle through the shared language of dance, it illustrates how big city life can be just as energizing as it is alienating. With hints of both closure and nostalgia, Matecki reflects on her future in this city she’s come to call home as she taps into a sense of community she hadn’t quite felt before.

POV interviewed Matecki by email upon the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Her answers have been translated from Spanish by the NFB.

You mention the death of Leonard Cohen as a moment in which you felt Montreal come together in mourning, and how that helped create a sense of community. Were there any Leonard Cohen songs that spoke to you and helped you understand the community in Montreal?

Hallelujah: this song has always reminded me of Montréal. At the beginning of my career, I made a documentary called Yekuana. This song was included in the soundtrack. It was not sung by Leonard Cohen, but inside my head, I always hear it sung by him.

The day they announced his death, I went shopping at the grocery store on the corner of my house, and that song was playing. When I returned home, it was playing all over the block. I arrived, and the radio was saying goodbye. It was playing like a mantra that Montreal gave its poet, a musical thread without interruption of all his songs. This lasted all weekend and it was sad but magical. There, I understood that the artistic perspective is a fundamental part of my evolution as a human, to understand my processes and my tests.

I had been wondering for months, again, whether I would have to continue living in Canada. That day I stopped asking myself. And with that, I began to look at stories around me. all part of my background, of living here and there, and, perhaps, from somewhere else. Maybe.

Montreal is a city that has always made me feel at home. That is why I allow myself to question it about its distance, its loneliness. The resistance of many to understand that we need to leave our place of comfort to get closer to the other. You criticize what you consider yours, not what is foreign. I like to play with it, because I am one colour within all the colours of this city, and you have to look for the universal space in it, not look like it.

Magaly | NFB

What drew you to Magaly and Juan as characters?

I was looking for “reflections,” for characters where I could look at myself as a mirror. I am interested in people who give light in the darkness. I like people who work hard, and who never abandon passion. Magaly and Juan are sincere with their affections, with people.I was looking for an older man who would practice tango and a woman who had never danced it. They both had to speak Spanish and take me to a simple multicultural place in a colorful neighborhood. Tango was the poetic vehicle to explore the need to share and depend on the performance of the other, as an idea of community, to declaim loneliness.

The day I met Magaly, I asked her if she wanted to go tango dancing in a colorful room, and she immediately said yes, that she was bored and that she believed that she was invisible. I knew right away that she was the person I was looking for.

I came to Juan on Facebook and I saw him dancing in the summer, in front of a river with his girlfriend. He invited me to visit the room that became the location of the film. Little by little, he became an image of history, I was very interested in discovering his passion for painting, and his generosity.

In your voiceover, you say, “I don’t see myself growing old here. I don’t see myself dying in a retirement home.” Why stay in Montreal if the plan is to leave eventually?

Montreal is my home. You never leave your home. However, asking myself whether I would like to spend my old age here is a very valid question. If I consider myself a citizen of the world. I do not see life as a closed act in one place. My spirit is nomadic, traveling, and it is also resilient.

Saturday Night is my second short on this topic that interests me a lot: old age. The first film that began to explore this universe was The Oldies, about old Cuban musicians who have to work to survive in a country that does not allow them to age comfortably. However, Los Viejos from The Oldies are not alone: they have a community of people around them because that is how life is conceived in Latin American countries. We grow up and live with our old people in Latin America, and sometimes, if it is the case, they continue to explore their passions. I do not observe this same in the city of Montreal.

How does the experience of straddling two worlds—your home in Montreal and your life in Venezuela—inform your perspective as an artist?

I make movies because I cohabit these two places with kindness and passion. Montreal is my refuge, the place where I think and inform myself, where the daily routine is not altered by chaos. Chaos takes time. Venezuela is the colour and also the pain. It allows me not to forget, to seek the dream. Montreal allows me to have perspective. It is also loneliness; it is the place where I breathe my artistic “démarche” [progression].

Saturday Night considers how life in a big city can feel isolating, so how did making this film help you process the sense of isolation we all experienced over the past year?

“This time is a little mantra.” That is how my voice ends in the short film Life of a Dog, a film that I made in collaboration with Danae Elon for the CBC, in the midst of a pandemic. In it, the two of us reflected on this forced, strange confinement, and our feminine needs, a look together with our respective children. Tadeo, my son, was entering puberty at that time, and it was very difficult. Cinema always lifts and saves us. My trade has always taught me encouragement, ideas, the inspiration to continue and to solve things.

We had just finished filming Saturday Night in February of 2020. When the room that served as the location was completely closed in March. It was all very strange and sad to imagine all the clients of La Tangueria alone in their homes. This situation made me define the editorial direction of the film. Finally, it was a time of much creation. Very productive, but also a time of waiting.

Can you tell us more about the “Re-Imagining My Quebec” series of which this film is a part?

 It is an initiative of the NFB. Three projects were selected, with Saturday Night being one of them. It was very [competitive]. Initially, the character proposed for the pitch lived in Quebec City, “The Quebecois Travolta.” After conducting the first investigation in the field, we realized that he was a character for a feature film because of his complexity. The exercise this time was to do a short story.

It was my first experience with the NFB, and my first film shot in Canada, in Montreal, my city. The NFB gave me the opportunity to film it and finish it in Spanish (my mother tongue) with English and French subtitles. The three selected projects talk about artistic views within the diversity of this wonderful country and the NFB.

 One of the dancers says that tango is all about connection: what did you learn about your relationship with your community (either here or abroad) while making this film?

Tango is much more than a dance. It is a therapeutic practice. It’s great for seniors because the complexity of the dance helps prevent degenerative diseases.

Loneliness is real, and not a burst of nostalgia. According to Simone de Beauvoir: “Old age is the failure of contemporary society.” The failure of this modern society is to have forgotten that we were once a tribe.

Saturday Night premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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