We spoke to Gabriela Ybarra and Ángeles González Sinde about El Comensal, which is becoming a film after having swept it away as a novel

«Hydrangeas, Gabriela, do you realize? They persecute us », exclaims Ángeles González-Sinde (Madrid, 1965) while she sits next to a
glorious bouquet of blue hydrangeas in a flat in the center of Madrid. The director, screenwriter and former Minister of Culture tells the writer Gabriela Ybarra (Bilbao, 1983), author of the
novel The Dinerthat the first now leads to the
big screen with the same title (premiere, May 27).

That is the reason for
bring them together again and talk with both about family and collective memory, mourning, healing and the challenge of translating such an admired novel, nominated for the
International Man Booker Prize, to the language of cinema. The hydrangeas was a coincidence. “They play a
important role in the movie and they are very present”, they explain to those present, before starting the photo session.

Iciar (
Susana Abaitua, Homeland) him
buy a bouquet of blue hydrangeas to his mother that
she is very sick (Adriana Ozores) to remind her of her beloved Basque Country and of origin. A precious and innocent bouquet that to his father
(Gines Garcia Millan)
it hurts just to see why hydrangeas like that decorated his house in Bilbao when his own father, Iciar’s grandfather, was
kidnapped and murdered by ETA.

flowers are a
small detaillike so many others, of fiction and imagination, which help to retell the real story of
Gabriela Ybarra. “I think that, unlike other adaptations, this film and the novel are complementary,” says the director. In fact, the film leans more on the
father daughter relationship. And, for that, in addition, the names of the characters have changed.

“For me it was important, because
Gabriella’s novel It was already his vision of the
family memory and in the film is added
one more layer of imagination», clarifies González-Sinde. “That’s why they didn’t look for the
physical resemblance in the actors», confirms Ybarra and she does not recognize herself on screen, although
cried “from beginning to end” the first time he saw the completed film. “It’s very strange, it’s like being
attending a psychodrama or to a kind of
strange therapy“, recognize.


Gabriela’s grandfather, Javier de Ybarramayor of Bilbao, president of the
Provincial Council of Vizcaya and El Correo was kidnapped on May 20, 1977 by ETA and
murdered one month after.
Enrique de Ybarra, Gabriela’s fatherspent a decade threatened,
left the Basque Country and they moved to Madrid. That silent past in her family assailed the writer when
his mother died of cancerin 2011. Looking for a cure, investigating
his own duelhis
therapeutic response was The diner, published in 2015. Very soon after, the adaptation was launched. Almost seven years have passed in which, in more than one moment,
they doubted if it would become a reality. “The whole process has been curious,” recalls Ybarra.

he approached me
the producer, Isabel Delclaux. He came to me with the book underlined and telling me that he wanted it to be
His first movie. It all sounded like science fiction to me, but I saw her so excited that I couldn’t say no.” Together they began the search for
someone to direct it Y
Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde It didn’t take long for him to sign up for the project. The filmmaker had already attended the presentation of the book and written about it. Gabriela’s editor, moreover, was the director’s partner,
Claudio Lopez Lamadriddeceased in 2019. Since
a word from youit had been 14 years since she had been behind the camera, but with this project she was clear.


“I guess there are stories you don’t want to abandon,” the former minister replies. It is a novel that talks about
many issues that interest me, like families, the unsaid, the difficulty we often have in communicating with those closest to us». He was also attracted to her way of talking about
collective memory from the intimate and particular, from the personal and emotional. In the book, as repeated in the film, the
eta terrorism from the perspective of this young woman who wants to speak, who needs
break your silence.

“Silence is very eloquent. all of them
the silences are transmitted», adds Gabriela. And they are heavy. “The memory is there, whether we like it or not,” continues Angeles. Our protagonist, unlike her father, wants to order all that
sentimental chaos, integrate it and continue. If not, sooner or later, in some corner you find what you wanted to avoid.

Everything that
the protagonist he complains to his father seems to raise it to
society in general. «Psychologists and sociologists believe that it is a question of generations: the victim survives the situation as best he can, the children learn to
keep silence and it is the grandchildren who find
inconsistencies and begin to rise
under the rugs», points out González-Sinde.

But Gabriela’s case was particular. “I am second and third generation. My grandfather’s story was told, but I
I was not aware of how we
It affected our family day to day until my mother died, he remembers. I was raised to
shut up and not tellbecause my father
was threatened more than a decade, going with an escort, and that is very ingrained in me. In fact, still
I find it hard to speak of certain things.”

However, she speaks. With the
fair words, measures, calmLike in his novel. And some of the threads of that one are the ones that she is pulling now to
write his second book. People like Gabriela, of her generation and perhaps others before
They already speak and many others listen. Today, fortunately, there are more stories on screens and in books about
the years of terror experienced in the Basque Country. Is there enough distance already? “It is natural that there are stories today and there will be many more, because they are fascinating and we can get a lot out of it,” says the filmmaker. And the writer, next to her, adds: «As a reader and as a spectator, I like
consume content that helps me
get over my own problems.

I think this is also a way of putting u
n small grain of sand in all this way so great that is the one of the
coping with trauma of an entire country. Being able to confront your story with someone else’s always helps a little. It is important that
many stories are shared and, above all, from a personal point of view, because I think more are coming». That’s why they are important
the details: the diner who does not sit at the table the day everything changes. the hydrangeas those details.