It’s what guys do. Any fan of Nick Hornby (British novelist) will know that when times get tough you do one of two things. You get taxonomical (you make lists, you invoke your inner Excel) or you desperately try to make things funny, for the purposes either of distraction or comprehension.
Rodrigo Muñoz suffered the bereavement of a close childhood friend shortly before embarking on a film school assignment on the subject of, ironically, friendship. He was suffering from depression and forking out a lot of money on psychologist bills. So what route did Rodrigo take? Lists or humour? Both, as it happens.
Le prix du bonheur is a madcap first-person search for answers to a series of life questions, much of it undertaken on a bike, across two continents, always with an accompanying tally of expenditure, involving family, advice-offering strangers and a beautiful girl from the theatre that he really, really likes (drinks with whom cost CHF 8.40).
In search for answers, Muñoz approaches a sense of resolution in two ways, firstly by invoking the memory of his father through old Venezuelan footage, and then by reconciling the concepts of personal depression and weather depression, a leap of logic which propels him towards a series of interviews with boatmen and women who had just survived a freak storm on Lake Geneva.
“Looking at the film it’s always a big question to know if I am filming myself or a representation of myself, or a character who is not exactly myself,” comments Muñoz. “I think that humour for me was very important because of the seriousness of the question [of depression] at a hard moment in my life.”
Muñoz points out that the narrative structure was more or less in place from the outset, but that the decision to conclude matters on a nautical theme came quite late in the process.
“For the film to have a narrative structure which could be solid I had to film some other stuff, I needed this conclusion on the boats, and really this was shot three days before the end of montage… But things came quite naturally. I had been shooting for six months and I really knew my material perfectly. I knew what could be put where. Maybe the precise work on the sequence and the duration of the scenes was done in the edit, but the overall narrative structure was quite clear to me before starting.”
As an exercise in self-therapy, did it work? Did Muñoz feel a sense of catharsis during or after the process?
“Of course, first of all it was a film that I really needed to do in some way,” he answers. “I needed to talk about these issues and I was really asking myself a big question: what can society offer to a young person in my situation? But it was also a period when I could ask a lot of questions and reinvent myself a little bit myself. It was a moment when I wanted to say stuff… It made me realise that all films should be made out of necessity.”
Muñoz is, like most of us, in lockdown at the end of his second year at film school. Bearing this in mind, how does he assess his future career post-studies (and post-corona)?
“This film taught me a lot and also gave me a big interest in documentary because I saw its full potential and the liberty it gives you,” he answers. “So after leaving school, the first thing will be documentary for me. It allows you to really dig into subjects profoundly, which is not really possible starting with fiction, unless you have a big production.”
Not to say that Muñoz isn’t eyeing up fiction in the future at some point, but not just yet.
“This film really made me discover the documentary [form]. There are so many more things that I want to explore using this way of making films.”