Meet Gabriel Mariño – poetic filmmaker of Un Mundo Secreto

Gabriel Marino
 Yet another highlight of this year’s FICG27 Mexican feature competition is Un Mundo Secreto, a quiet but emotionally poignant  first feature by Gabriel Mariño.  Along with La Demora, it was one of the two films that represented Mexico at last month’s Berlinale – this one in the Generation section.  The film is a visceral coming of age tale of an isolated teenage girl who alienated at home and school, flees the city and embarks on a journey of self search.  It first garnered attention at last year’s San Sebastian film festival´s Films in Progress, the hotbed of latin america’s next best up and coming projects.  What makes the film stand out is a sensitive touch and lyrical tone, and the female lead’s vulnerability transmits the mysterious but unmistakable void and longing she feels, which in turn permeates the fabric of the film.  Privy to her secret world, that universal and primal desire for love and connection is beautifully captured and affecting.  Big congrats, and thanks to Gabriel for answering my questions below:
CD:  Were you always certain your lead was going to be a female protagonist?  I ask because in a way her gender informs a lot of the journey.   What was it like to write a teenaged girl character?   How did you work closely with your actress and producer in shaping the character?
GM: Well, I always knew since day one that my main character it was going to be a girl.  Why? All my fiction characters are always women, maybe that gives me more freedom to be sensible and emotional.  I think in this way I can make closer contact with my feelings.  Why not a boy?, I guess my therapist can answer that more accurate than me. I worked very closely with my actress.  I have known her since she was 11. We developed the film for about three years.  Actually I wrote the script especially for her, and with my producer Tatiana Graullera, we worked very closely as well, since day one she was there, she was, and still is, my compass.
CD:  Finding one self on a road trip tends to be a quintessential and rich story thematic.  In your opinion, what do you think it is about Mexico’s urban and rural landscape it provides?  How did it feed into that path of self-discovery for your character?
GM: Mexico is a very big and changing country, a generous and a sad land, sometimes we can spend years and years in the city without knowing Mexico, without paying a visit to your home land.  Mexico is having a brutal, social and political crisis right now.  The social tissue is not strong enough to support Mexican people and specially Mexican youth, but I strongly believe that the answer to that crisis lies inside the Mexicans, not in the government or the politics.  It lies in the people and the country itself, so it was important to portray this quest for self discovery in the frame of Mexico´s roads and landscapes.
CD:  The cinematography is supremely arresting and such a big part of expressing the insular world of the character  – what was your approach in painting the film in such a way?
GM:  We spent a lot of time my DP Iván Hernández and me thinking in how to shoot Un Mundo Secreto, and after studying still photos of Nan Goldin and paintings of Edward Hopper we found our answer. We wanted to shoot the film in not so many shots.  For me it was to look at this story as if through a window. I told Iván that I wanted to shoot with practical light, without any lightning.  He agreed and we did not have any light equipment with us during the shooting.
CD:  So now you just made your first feature film in Mexico.  To some extent you had the backing and support of your alma mater, the film school, CCC.  How challenging did you find it to make the film?  On what level and how crucial do government funded entities like IMCINE continue to support first time filmmakers?
GM:  Well, the project was supported by Sobrevivientes films since the beginning, and we applied for IMCINE funds several times in different stages of the project but we did not have luck there, so we decided to make the movie independent, the CCC supported with some postproduction process, and other production companies (Bambú Audiovisual, Transistor Films, Al fondo del Callejón) supported with camera equipment, sound and so on.  In 2010 we won the Swiss Fund for production Visions Sud Est and then the film was a reality.  After San Sebastián Films in Progress IMCINE decided to support the project with post production.
FICG27 screenings:
Wednesday Cineforo UdeG 4pm
Thursday at Cinépolis Centro Magno 7:40pm
Friday at Cinépolis Centro Magno 10:15pm
Like it on FB here and to stay tuned to hear where it will have its US Festival premiere!

Meet Rodrigo Plá – consummate director of La Demora

Rodrigo Plá

Wow.  Everyone is talking about La Demora down here in FICG27.  Fresh off its Berlin world premiere and jury win, the third film by Rodrigo Plá (Desierto Adentro, La Zona) is a masterful and moving piece about a struggling, single mother burdened by having to care for her aging Alzheimers-prone father, and who out of desperation attempts to find a way out.  The character-driven film is remarkable for its indelible performances and understated, moody and immersive atmosphere.  Rodrigo and his writer and partner Laura Santullo were so kind to respond to my questions, and in reading the responses below, it gives you an idea of the very thoughtful and deliberate approach in which the film was conceived, down to the very last detail. I’m thrilled to share with you the exclusive interview below.  I translated and edited Rodrigo’s answers into English as best I could.  Read the interview in full and in Spanish here.

CD: Congratulations on your world premiere in Berlin.  The Forum section in Berlin is supposedly where you find the most ‘daring films’.  Why do you think your film was selected in this section?

RP: I guess La Demora, although it’s a simple story, is relatively risky in its structure and form.  The plot is not shaped by the actions of one person who wishes something and makes a journey in search of that desire. It’s more like the narrative shows an irrational stall that interrupts and transforms a common and ordinary life.  Maybe that’s why the film is a two act story.  The idea was to avoid constructing a plot from the aspect of analyzing what happens. This effort is demonstrated from the script to the entire process in the creation of the film, and as a result there is a sobering, subtle way to guide the viewers’ emotions towards an unequivocal direction. We preferred to leave the character motivavtions much more subtle.  The construction does not emphasize the causes or consequences, because actually the act that is most important emerges from the character’s will.    For us La Demora is something of an experiment and perhaps that’s how the Forum programmers recognized it.

CD: The theme of taking care of our elderly is more and more relevant ( I also have a grandma in the same situation as Agustin), is this primarily what motivated you to tell this story?

RP: If there is anything sure in life its change.  In film we try to reflect with honesty what concerns us at every stage.  And nearing your 40s, your own mortality and that of your parents is naturally a big concern.  More specifically, with the film I wanted to capture two moments, that ‘impulsive’ act of the daughter, and second, the stubborn man who insists in waiting hours and hours, as if holding on to one last hope.

CD: The atmosphere is quite immersive, tell us about collaborating with your D.P. Maria Secco and your film score:

I try not to use concrete examples when going over process with my collaborators.  Eventually after talking it through there might be a reference, but the more abstract, the better.  My tools are the words and emotions, then whatever is is generated between what I think and what comes out of the script and the reinterpretation of what someone hears, given their cultural baggage and experience relative to it, that’s the creative act that forms the film.  This process has some risks because none of us have the exact science or formula.  You work with a lot of uncertainness, in constant doubt and regularly questioning yourself.  Maria Secco was key to the film.  She was there for location scouting to get to know the natural lighting of the sets and to shoot angles.  She used her imagination and made suggestions.  With such an inherently emotional story we wanted to avoid being melodramatic so we chose to use a camera approach that created some distance, that was a bit cold, which would contrast and result in some equilibrium.  We also chose to tell the whole story exclusively via the two characters, who would always be centered in the frame, leaving secondary characters in the margins.  It was decided that characters that only appeared once would even be only shown from their backs, or just a reflection or partly, or outright out of frame.  For the score we felt that we needed to balance out the camera’s approach and inversely, recoup that emotion from the script but again without overdoing it.  And for this approach Alejandro de Icaza was instrumental.  He practically subconsciously introduced sounds, a car alarm when she became agitated, the infuriating noise of construction work, the ambulance siren from a distance that comes with the arrival of caretakers who come to the rescue, and the signature music which reminds us over and over about the moment of abandonment.

CD:  Your actors, Carlos Vallarino and Roxana Blanco, are impressive and deliver such weight and naturalism to their roles, how did you find them and what kind of direction did you give them?

Roxana Blanco is an amazing actress well known in Uruguay and I was already familiar with her work.  Carlos Vallarino on the other hand is a retired architect and this is his first acting role.  I found him through a long casting process.  His ability to penetrate, to imagine and hold scenes, made him a fantastic and unexpected gift.  Both of them brought an immense sensibility to the roles.   Roxana’s precise methodology collided against the imperfect and lax approach of Carlos, all of which generated an energy and chemistry to the character’s internal crisis.  She would tense up against his dialogue or gestures and appear to be obligated to stay lucid and ready to adapt to any unexpected changes he might deliver. And Carlos would take on a sense of blame or fault, which in turn, to a certain extent, affected his confidence and made him feel he was indeed a burden. Oddly enough this created a relationship which was expected between father and daughter.  There was improvisation which wasn’t laid out in the script, and lots of on -ocation set rehearsals.  The actors would adapt to the space and learn how to relate to one another, and simultaneously we had the opportunity to recreate said space according to any needs that would arise. .

CD: The title, La Demora is translated as The Delay, do you think there is anything lost in translation?  I feel that the title’s meaning transforms itself organically over the course of the film – the delay can be taken as her hesitation to run away from her problem (her dad) but it also in the end works very casually as if is was some traffic jam that prevented her from going back to him.

RP:  It was in the moment that I came to the decision to use title towards the end, by placing it in the end, the story comes full circle and serves something like an epilogue.  In a way it synthesizes and breathes air into the drama and journey of the characters. What happened was only a delay, a momentary detour on the way to her natural and final destination. It is a bit like a game as if to say that it’s not a big deal when in reality a lot has happened – she’s transformed and has had an arc, she’s not only a daughter but a daughter and mother to her father.