Benito Zambrano Talks ‘Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake’ From Filmax

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Based on the same-titled Spanish best-selling novel, Benito Zambrano’s ‘Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake’ weighs in as a heartwarming second chance in life tale from the Goya and San Sebastian winning writer-director (“The Sleeping Voice”). Telling the tale of two unfulfilled sisters who create a new life together running a bakery in Majorca, it weighs in as one of Spanish mini-major Filmax’s big new prestige plays for the fall, playing this year’s Spanish Screenings. Variety talked to Zambrano during the showcase:

Did you deviate from the original story in the book? And what additions did you make? 

It’s hard to say as now I don’t remember the book that well as to know what is ours and what’s not. When making a film adaptation the fundamental thing, to me, is finding the movie that lies within the novel. That’s truly the difficult part as one has to condense, to be more direct and focused while sacrificing characters, conflicts and parallel plots. For example, in the novel we explore the characters’ past and that simply couldn’t fit in this movie. You have to loose many things that deviate from the main course.

How did you come across the book of the same name and why did you decide to film it?

The recognition should be given to Carlos Fernández and Laura Fernández, producers at Filmax. They bought the rights to the novel and saw a movie there. When I read it, I liked it and it moved me a lot, and that’s the most important thing for me: Finding a story full of emotions, that moves and captivates. It is a very well told story, with a traditional narrative style, where story and the characters are the main thing. Also that it was a story about women, contemporary, and with very attractive plots: a love relationship between a woman and a man several years younger than her, adoption, family, sisterhood, brave women who decide to take charge of their lives, and everything related to NGOs, doctors and volunteers who collaborate in underdeveloped countries.

Blood relatives. It’s a difficult topic. Do you have siblings and did any of your experiences inform your direction of the film?

I come from a large family – I have six siblings – so I know a lot about that. Fortunately we all get along very well. And perhaps that fact of giving importance to the family, of knowing that they are there and feeling that warmth, affection and unconditional love, makes me highly value one of the central themes of the film: the love between two sisters, who are reunited and reconciled after a long time. In these times we live in a world where many of us are divided, far from our family origins, working in cities and countries different from those in which we have grown up, I think that claiming the importance of family, brotherhood and feeling your own identity are great values today. They’re very present in the film.

What was the process like of collaborating with the author to write the screenplay?

It was a very positive process. Cristina was from the first moment at the service of the film. She is a woman of cinema and before writing this script she already had experience in the sector, so she knew well what the job of a screenwriter is. Working with her was very easy and comfortable, since she already knew that novel and film are two different things and one had to write based on what the feature film needed. And once focused on the script, the most important thing is that it be good and go forward.

How has the production or roll out of this film been affected by the pandemic?

The pandemic limited us and created an extra cost because of all the precautionary measures that had to be taken, which unfortunately will not be transferred to the film. But because of the type of film and how it was shot the pandemic hasn’t been a too serious  problem. One could even say that it has benefited us in some respects. For example, it has helped people to be more focused and available. This may sound selfish but the crew and actors were like in a creative bubble. We’ve also been able to shoot on an island like Majorca, normally often filled with mass tourism, in a very calm and relaxed way, though thats’ unfortunate for the tourist sector and many other people affected. In that sense, we have been able to work more calmly than on other productions. Also we never got any positive test.

What bonds these two sisters?

Love. I think the most important thing in the relationship between Marina and Ana is a tremendous love, a love of sisters which was always there, and that by circumstances and past mistakes kept them fourteen years apart. But when all these problems are resolved, the wounds heal and unconditional love arises again.

Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake
Credit: Giacomo Neri