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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 10:44 EDT

Spanish film tells tender tale of survival

October 21, 2005

By Elisabeth O’Leary

MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish director Isabel Coixet believes
words can wound as deeply as weapons — a theme she develops in
her latest film, which offers a tender and thoughtful portrayal
of how people deal with painful pasts.

“The Secret Life of Words,” which goes on general release
in Spain this week, tells the story of Josef, played by U.S.
actor Tim Robbins, who is badly burned and temporarily blinded
in a fire on an oil rig.

He is nursed by Hanna, a partially deaf woman with a tragic
secret who lives in an isolated world, retreating into silence
when she needs to. Hanna is played by Canadian Sarah Polley.

Despite the dark subject matter, Coixet says the film,
which won plaudits at the Venice Film Festival, is also a
fairy-tale.

Coixet, a former advertising director from Barcelona, has
won acclaim for poignant, moving films that delve into the
private lives of fragile characters.

“The Secret Life of Words” is her fourth feature-length
movie and, like her previous film, was produced by fellow
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s El Deseo company.

She says that deciding her films’ titles is key.

“Names are very important. As soon as I have the title, I
have the story. And (the title) suits the film very well,” she
told reporters in Madrid this week.

“Words can hurt as much as weapons can,” she said. “Hanna
tells a story about how saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ can be so
cruel, like the worst kind of insult.”

Coixet has reflected on suffering for years. As a child,
she was gripped by stories about Nazi concentration camps, but
what moved her most was what happened to those who survived and
were released back into the world.

“Nobody was waiting for them, nobody was there to tell them
that their lives were going to get better … How does someone
survive that?”

DAMAGED PEOPLE FINDING LOVE

Coixet has built a reputation on bittersweet features with
quirky titles, such as “Things I Never Told You” (1996) and “My
Life Without Me” (2003), which also featured Polley, star of
“The Sweet Hereafter” and “The Claim.”

“I’m very comfortable with sadness … I have a lot of fun
suffering,” Polley told reporters.

In “My Life Without Me,” Polley plays a woman who finds out
she has a couple of months to live and who makes a list of
things to do before she dies.

Robbins, who won an Oscar for his supporting role in Clint
Eastwood’s 2003 “Mystic River,” is known for making films which
reflect his convictions, and this is another one with a clear
political element — impossible to reveal without destroying
the film’s final twist.

But Robbins dislikes the term “political.”

“I have a problem with that word. If you make a film you
have to make it about humanity. I don’t approach it from a
political point of view,” he said.

“What attracted me to (this film is that) two damaged
people could find each other and find love,” Robbins said.

Working with Coixet, who has been making feature films
since 1989, was enjoyable, he said, despite four hours of
make-up each day to create his burns.

“It was great … I got to lay in bed all the time.”