Los Premios

A Set Design Study

In 1987, for my graduation project, I chose to create the set design for a fictional movie version of the novel “Los Premios”, by Julio Cortazar.

Here are the exact words (well, the translated exact words) I wrote back then, keeping intact the naivety of my 21 years. To do otherwise I would be betraying the part of myself that I cherish the most and which I have lost some time during my adult life.


I didn't know much about photography at the time — I can't pretend to know much about it today either –, and in spite of the fact that I had a wonderful old Zeiss camera — which my father never stop praising –, I wasn't able to do it the honors it deserved.

As I remember, mastering the light was the hardest part, especially because I had just a small bedside lamp, and that I had the great idea of providing color to the sets by using colored plastic papers as filters. Of course, most of the time, that lead to unsatisfying shots — sometimes too much color, sometimes too little, sometimes too much light, sometimes not enough. Nevertheless, I was proud of the results, as I still am today.

I spent three months working on this project. Every free hour I had I would close myself in my room to wade among styrofoam boards, pins, papers and pencils. I wouldn't stop drawing, cutting, assembling, reading and writing in frenzy. I never ceased to amaze myself in my quest for little objects and in finding ways to transform them into my models.

Julio Cortazar was among my most beloved “creators” when I was a teenager, and his novels and short stories were, and still are, a rich source of inspiration to me; and yet I don't remember how I came up with the idea for such a project.

I remember reading the novel for a second time, and I was surprised how different the narrative seemed from the first reading. I understood then that I had grown up, that I had matured, and that maturity had opened another level of understanding. I discovered at that very moment that I was no longer a teenager.

Those three months were the lonelinest, but also the most profitable months of my creative life, and here are the results. Please, be kind with the “young me”.

The Project

The project had four main steps, starting with the analysis of the romance, the study and sketch of the most meaningful sets, the creation of the set models and finally the photography, when I was able to add the desired lighting effects.

The main sets were devised in two series: the A series that comprise the common areas such as the restaurant and the passengers' cabins, while the B series represented the “underground”, the zones reserved for the crew.

The “plot”

“Los Premios” tells the story of a group of people from all social layers of Buenos Aires, who, through an unexpected lottery, won a cruise to a secret destination. When they go on board, they find out that the passage to the ship's stern is obstructed and, even if this fact in itself seemed quite unimportant, some members of the group decided to force access, believing the crew's explanations to be fuzzy and implausible.

From that point forward, the atmosphere of the novel changes abruptly. The thin wrap of reality is thrown away, letting us contemplate the fantastical environment in which the characters drown little by little, and which leads to violence and death.

The parallel that Cortazar, an Argentine novelist, makes to authoritarian governments — it was the case of Argentina in the 60's – becomes clearer. The once lucky characters find themselves being used as puppets, as pieces in a chess game, being manipulated and constantly observed by invisible eyes.

We find the “forbidden zones” in the novel, the impossible communication, the shadows inside ourselves that cannot be explored. What is over the stern, is not important — what really matters is the human urge for truth. The question is not “what is there?”, but “why can't we go there?”.