Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg have a real chemistry together. Were they like that offscreen as well?
They had chemistry from the moment they met. I wish I could take credit from that, but sometimes what you do as a director is just casting.
Was it complicated to block the actors in such rugged terrain?
It was incredibly challenging. We were shooting three- or four-minute takes. Three actors and the camera were choreographed together, with no cutting. Getting everyone to move together in one perfect take was hard.
The dialogue feels very natural. Was any of it improvised?
It’s a testament to the actors that it feels improvised. Most of it was written. They brought a very natural rhythm to it.
Were the Spanish lessons part of the original script?
Absolutely! I’ve learned Spanish in the past few years, so it was on my mind a lot.
Were there any films you had in mind while making it?
There’s a film by the Russian-Georgian director Mikhail Kalatazov, The Letter Never Sent, about people moving through the Siberian landscape. Coming from a different angle, there’s Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy. It’s not a landscape film in a conventional way, but it’s about a couple on a journey negotiating the space between them. It’s a film I love.
How closely did you adapt the script from Tom Bissell’s story “Expensive Trips Nowhere”?
The central turning point is taken from his story, but the characters are very different. His characters are married already, and they’re wealthy travelers. I tried to imagine what would happen if the same things happened to young backpackers who were at the happiest place in their relationship. The core of his story was so evocative that it really captured my imagination and left me intrigued and wanting to work through it.
I haven’t read the story, but isn’t it a take-off on a Hemingway story?
The Bissell story has a relationship to the Hemingway story, but it changes it drastically. By the time you get to The Loneliest Planet, there’s very little left from the Hemingway story. There’s a couple, and there’s a guide, but the emotional implications are completely different. It’s not a useful connection at this point. It’s set on a lion safari in Africa. How you feel about the characters is very different. I try to be as kind as I could be to my characters and sense how they feel from the inside. I try not to judge them.