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Manifestation of a monster - Amat Escalante talks about misogyny and homophobia

Journey to the end of the Mexican night

Av 6. okt 2016

Amat Escalante`s film idioms bear witness to hidden happenings, minimalistic scenography and stripped down, direct dialogues. This year the acclaimed Mexican director is participating in the Director’s Special Portrait section and the Films From the South festival is screening his newest film The Untamed (2016), as well as Los Bastardos (2008) and Heli (2013).    

(Read the reviews and buy tickets to the films HERE) 

In 2005, Amat Escalante appeared on the film scene with his film debut Sangre and unexpectedly established himself a one of Mexico`s most promising film makers.   The film participated in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes film festival, where it was awarded the Critics Prize

(Sangre, trailer)

Amat Escalante was born in Barcelona, Spain, and grew up in Guanajuato in Mexico. In his early twenties he moved back to Barcelona, in order to study film at the Centre d’Estudis Cinematográfics. He later moved to Cuba, in order to study film at the Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión. 

With his second feature film, the polarizing Los Bastardos (2008), he once again gained attention at Un Certain Regard at Cannes. The setting for Los Bastardos is the tubulent border between the USA and Mexico and the film makes use of unadorned, unsentimental and convincing social realism. The film is thought-provoking and deals with social themes like illegal immigration, dysfunctional social structures and human dignity. 

(Los bastardos, trailer)

I 2013 Escalante advanced to the prestigious official selection in Cannes with the dramatic thriller Heli (2013), which was very well received and was awarded the prize for best director.  In the film we meet a 17-year-old father, Heli who lives with his wife and sister in an area which is dominated by corruption, violence and drugs. Heli works nightshifts at a car factory and tries his utmost to protect his family and himself from the brutal reality that surrounds them. However, when his younger sister`s boyfriend steals drugs, the entire family are entrapped in having to negotiate with bandits, the military and the police. 

The film deals with serious social themes and portrays the daily frustration of ordinary people in a bleak and blunt manner.

(Heli, trailer)

GENRE HYBRID: SCI-FI, HORROR AND SOCIAL REALISM

Esclante participated in the main competition at the Venice Film Festival, early this Autumn, with his latest film The Untaimed (La Region Salvaje) and was awarded the Silver Lion award for best direction. The film is one of the participants in the main competition at the Films From The South festival. Worth noting is that the film was aided by generous Norwegian sponsors and contributors. Mer Film was a co-producer, the film was sponsored by Sørfond and the musician Guro Moe composed the film music.   

Once more the director delves into the dark side-lines of Mexican society, however with unexpected twists and turns. The Untamed, in spite of being defined by its science fiction and horror film qualities, also deals with love and freedom in a society dominated by male chauvinism and homophobia. We encounter a young couple in a small Mexican village in the lowlands, which is struggling in a destructive relationship.  However when a meteor collides into a nearby mountain, the events that follow cast a shadow on the main protagonists personal problems and struggles.  

- Tell us about the inspirational background to The Untamed.

- It all started when I read a newspaper article about a woman from Guanajuato, the city I live in. She fell prey to an attempted rape, which she battled against and survived. Both were injured in the struggle. The police escorted both the woman and the rapist to a hospital and placed them in the same room, which in itself is very absurd. To add insult to injury, the woman was blamed for being of loose morals, a slut and, you know the rest…. This incident created the foundation for The Untamed, although I have obviously added to the story and created a completely different one.   However, the basic elements are there:  the main protagonist is a woman living in a society dominated by male chauvinism, misogyny, homophobia and other negative tendencies. I derive a great deal of inspiration from everyday happenings and articles I come across. Another article which inspired my work on the script was when a man`s corpse was found in the river that flows through Guanajuato. The article also revealed that the deceased was a nurse by profession, and that he was gay. The newspaper headlines read: ”Faggot found dead.” I was naturally shocked and angered by this condescending title, which put a misleading focus on the article and says a great deal about the society we live in.   

(The Untamed, teaser clip) 

- With inspiration from such tales, many directors would have ended up creating a pure socio realistic drama, however you chose to include elements like horror and science fiction.   

- My previous film, Heli, dealt with the dark side-lines of Mexican society and is in many ways connected to The Untamed and to my earlier films, as far as theme is concerned. However, his time I wished to portray it all in a different way and it seemed a natural choice to explore other film genres – to allow brutality and lack of humanity to manifest itself like a monster, something that does not belong on earth.  Besides I have always been a fan of film genres like horror and sci-fi, so it was fun to work with these elements. It felt absolutely right for this project.    

- For me, creating a film means exploring areas one does not necessarily know everything about. It also means broadening the horizons for the story such that both the viewers and I can develop a deeper understanding of events that happen around us. Although I make use of socio realism a great deal in my work, I also like to pose questions and explore the dynamics between human beings, as well as the psychological mechanisms that cause people to act as they do. I do not know everything in advance. I search for answers and often do it simultaneously as those who watch my films. 

A PREDICTED CATASTROPHE  

- Since we are on the subject of dynamics; a recurring feature of your earlier films are the dynamics in the shots and the suddenness of certain scenes.  Occasionally you create an apparently calm situation, although admittedly with an impending disturbing atmosphere, until the bombshell truly drops, totally unexpectedly. This we can refer to as a «definitive point of no return» which takes place in a nano second.  Is this a technique you enjoy using, which you return to almost instinctively? 

- It has to be an integral part of the story. In Los bastardos it was very natural to use this technique, and although the effects were very sudden and brutal, I see it as a logical and predicted outcome of the fatal journey the brothers had set off on. In Heli it was even more clearly predicted, in my opinion. I did not expect anyone to be shockingly surprised, however I was obviously mistaken. This is why it is difficult to know one´s film entirely, until it has reached the public and one receives its feedback.  However, I never use violence for the sake of it and The Untamed is an example of this. Yes, violence takes place in this film too, but as a natural consequence of the events taking place, and it appears primarily as social and psychological violence.

- Daily life for women in Mexico can often seem full of violence, although not necessarily physical. This can take place in the form of condescending glances, degrading and sexist comments, and discrimination. The situation is even more pejorative for homosexual men. Certain parts of the world have progressed with regard to liberation and tolerance, however other countries have still a long way to go.

 

Montages-logoThis interview is presented in collaboration with the film website Montages.no

 

SPECIAL SCREENING AT VIPPA 

A special screening of The Untamed will take place in a spacious shed at Vippa (Vippetangen), on Sunday, the 9th October. Read more about it HERE. 

 

DIRECTOR CONVERSATION  

Film: The Untamed  

Date and time: 10th of October, 20:00  

Venue: Filmens Hus/Cinemateket – Tancred  

In conjunction with this screening there will be a conversation between director Amat Escalante and Truls Foss from online film magazine Montages.