Filmmakers of the Future: David Valolao’s A Match at the Ends of the Earth
Written by: David Valolao & Gustavo Espinosa
Directed by: David Valolao
Here is our logline: “Luigi’s wife passed away. His son wants to help his father overcome depression by starting a chess match via letters with Vittorio, his dad’s friend from World War II who lives 6,000 miles away.” And we knew our theme: A friendship lasts forever.
The idea of Una Partita ai Confini del Mondo came from two facts: the true story of Luigi and Vittorio and my personal experience playing chess. We spent two months doing research and writing the script. But when we finished the first draft, we realized the story was too full of exposition. We hadn’t met our expectations.
In less than 15 minutes we wanted to show the arc of our hero, but we hadn’t made him empathetic. So we started our rewrite thinking: “What is really important for the story? What is the central point? What do people need to know?”
We cut 70% of the first script! We were looking for the right balance between backstory and plot, so we started to focus on the characters’ emotions. In the first script, the focus was on the connection with the family in Argentina and how Luigi’s son Aldo contacted Vittorio’s daughter, but we decided this was boring.
In the second script we decided to follow the relationship of Luigi and Aldo. We preferred to stay close to our characters and help to understand their feelings. More emotions, less explanations — and as Blake Snyder would say, more primal!
The chessboard was our magical instrument to create a connection over time and space with Vittorio, Luigi’s old friend who moved to Argentina after the war. We used the one flashback of Vittorio and Luigi in the foxhole to connect the past with the present. On the last frame of the flashback, as they play chess, Luigi says: “Focus on the game.”
In the past, these words had helped the duo survive. In the present, the first frame of the chessboard after the flashback is a symbolic image of their continuing friendship. But now the duo must defeat a new enemy: Luigi’s depression.
We spent a lot of time finding the right ending. Seeing Luigi completely happy was too forced. But we needed a good ending to balance the emptiness of the beginning. We used a complicity game between the characters as we reveal our twist: Aldo thinks that his dad believes he is indeed playing chess with his best friend. Luigi understands that his son is helping him overcome a difficult situation, but he does not want to admit it.
But we had a question: How we can explain this twist? Using dialogue was out of question. Through images. Good. How? It took us a week to find the solution, which was right under our nose: For most of the story, Aldo is sitting at the chessboard playing chess with his father. So we decided to add a detail: Aldo’s photo in the frame behind Luigi.
Then, at the ending, when Aldo is sitting at his home in front of the typewriter, his father is sitting in front of the chessboard and decides to move the picture of his son to the side of the chessboard — as he had earlier with the photo of him with his best friend Vittorio during the war.
No dialogue. Just images.
Before the ending Luigi realizes that he will become a grandfather. He needs to move on and focus on beautiful things. This is the moment when death and life meet. This is the moment when Luigi overcomes mourning. From a cinematic point of view, we decided to use a dark setting as a metaphor of Luigi’s mind, like a cave without an exit. Step by step, when Luigi starts to fight, light enters his apartment and he can start to live again.
After one year creating this short film, we are happy that the story has touched the hearts of so many people around the world. We have been selected by over 50 festivals and to date, December 2018, we have won 18 awards as Best Short, Best Screenplay, and Best Direction along with four Audience Awards.
Here’s to you, our audience on the Save the Cat! site. May light — and true friendship — enter your life!
Editor’s Note: Sometimes something very special like this beautiful film arrives unexpectedly, and we can include it in our Filmmakers of the Future blog posts. (Hint hint: send us your short films.)