Nuria Ibáñez

Nuria Ibáñez on her latest film and New York debut

Nuria Ibáñez, The Naked Room, 2013, digital video, color, sound, 67 minutes.

The Spanish documentarian Nuria Ibáñez’s most recent film, The Naked Room (2013), was recorded entirely inside a pediatric therapist’s office in a Mexico City children’s hospital and is composed primarily of close-ups of the young patients’ faces during consultations. The film will screen at Anthology Film Archives from August 29 to September 4, 2014 in its New York theatrical premiere run. 

WITH THE NAKED ROOM I wanted to show something that is often treated as though it were invisible. There is no real and sincere media reflection today on the wounds of childhood and adolescence. Filming children’s psychological consultations in Mexico City, where I live, helped me understand things that I had not previously seen or heard about. More than case studies, I found through the collective faces of the children another, more primal face—that of our social reality.

I chose a children’s hospital because I wanted to deal with first wounds—the initial pains that stick with us and accompany us throughout our lives. The youth in the film possessed the eloquence and transparency to address this. Our filming was divided into two distinct periods of about three months in total, which allowed my crew and I to familiarize ourselves with the daily routines of the hospital’s doctors and other members of its medical staff and for them, in turn, to grow accustomed to us.

By contrast, I met the children and their family members only on the days that I filmed them. I believe in the “direct cinema” tradition of observing more than interfering and never learned in advance who would enter the hospital, which problems they would bring, or how they would be treated. Before the youth began their consultations, I would approach them and their families to explain the nature of our documentary, making clear that the project came from my personal interest without sponsorship from the local Department of Health, and that it was their choice whether to participate. Only if they agreed to do so could I enter the consultation room with them. 

The film’s title refers to a naked room because of the clear, dignified, and unprejudiced way that the children have of telling their life stories. I didn’t have to do anything to gain their confidence other than to be present listening to them, though the naturalness that they exhibit comes a bit from how we worked together. I felt it important to stay in front of them, at their eye level and without moving much, which would have disrupted their speeches and sacrificed gestures and silences. I filmed their faces within very tight frames that allowed me to get close and feel their wounds as my own, thus preventing judgment or pity. 

I learned that they had a great need to speak and to be heard and decided that the parents and doctors would remain largely offscreen, since the family environment as well as adult society had hurt them. Through the course of their consultations, they discuss and we can see the effects of different forms of violence: physical, verbal, psychological; violence committed against others and against oneself; institutionalized violence.

I was never interested in making a morbid study, though, since the scars are not important in and of themselves. They interest me only when they can lead us to something beneath the surface. Selecting the children that appear in the film had nothing to do with the hardness of their stories, but rather with my ability to transmit, through the sum of them, things not explicitly described by any one of them—for instance, human frailty.