Gael Garcia Bernal And The Making Of Chicuarotes
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
By: Ali Moosavi
Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal owns a resume that would make many actors envious. He has worked with many leading filmmakers such as Alejandro Inarritu, Alfonso Cuaron, Pablo Larrain, Michel Gondry, Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, Elia Suleiman, Olivier Assayas.
Bernal is at ease playing characters from a multitude of nationalities. In addition to Mexicans, Bernal has played characters from Chile (Neruda and No, both by Pablo Larrain), France (The Science of Sleep, Michel Gondry), Argentina (Motorcycle Diaries, Walter Salles), Cuba (Wasp Network, Olivier Assayas) and Iran (Rosewater, John Stewart).
Garcia Bernal appeared in three films this year at the San Sebastian International Film Festival, two as an actor (Wasp Network, Oliver Assayas and Emma, Pablo Larrain), and one behind the camera as a director (Chicuarotes).
Chicuarotes is about two Mexican teenagers living in poverty. The father of one is a drunkard who regularly beats his wife and children. These two boys have seen nothing but misery and spend their days with petty theft. To escape from this miserable life, and leave their city, they take a bite that is much larger than their mouths. They kidnap a child and send a ransom note to his family. As one might guess, this ends in tragedy.
Movies about kids struggling in dire poverty are not new, and Garcia Bernal does not really advance this well-worn theme cinematically. Not withstanding that, Chicuarotes is a well-made film with good performances and another plus in Bernal’s shining resume. I sat down for a chat with him at the San Sebastian International Film Festival.
Ali Moosavi, UniversalCinema Magazine (UM): Have you experienced this dramatic class division that we witness in your film? Garcia Bernal (GB): One thing we didn't shy away from in this film was class perspective. I prefer to talk about this issue within the film rather than about my life. It is here, in the movie because we’ve all grown up with certain established narratives. I mean for example the narrative “we must run away”. This kind of Noah’s Ark belief that is basically the cannon of Western civilization, like let's quit this place and go find a better place. And then the Puritans were the ones that took this maxim to the extreme. They killed everybody and established a new world that was not sustainable and had to start a new. This kind of belief has infiltrated the growing up process and is one of the products of despair and frustration in young people. This is what we have all been through, and with our rational and emotion-controlled abilities we have been able to build a new future for ourselves, different futures and different outlooks.
UM: Can class difference alone make young people commit a crime?
GB:The problem is that children grow up in a home devoid of love and where there is no nurturing of self-reflection. These are the main ingredients for somebody becoming a sociopath just to survive in these conditions. You mix these with impunity, lack of governance and an established narrative for getting away and there is a great chance that the consequence might be something terrible like kidnapping a child. This is something that is definitely from class perspective, though other kinds of impunity occur in higher classes.
UM: How much of this is related to poverty?
GB:This is not a film about poverty and scarcity of economic resources. It is about other types of poverty that have nothing to do with money. Not having money is just an excuse. What is true is the despair of youth, and the violence that exists around the world, and the most common example is domestic violence. Most of those who grow up in these conditions endure these hardships and survive and break the circle. We wanted the film to be provocative and daring present the truth as bitter as it may be. The other option would have been to not make such a film, not to talk about these things and just keep it the way it is.
UM: You've worked with many top directors in very interesting films. But it seems that you have found a new sense of purpose in directing Chicuarotes and also working again with Pablo Larrain.
GB: Something happened in the process of having worked three times with one director. I think it is due to many reasons. Pablo brought me back the joy of working in the movies. I was at a stage in my life that I was not enjoying that much before I used to love acting. Of course, this is a normal thing in life. It might have been because of having kids. I would rather spend my time with them than at work. Sorry for saying this, but certain things seemed kind of bullshit. I asked myself, why should I do this? But then, during doing No, I realized that cinema had a specific task of exploring ambiguity and questioning. If the cinema just tells a story, then it is content, not cinema. It has to engage us into the whole complex grey area and be daring in that sense to be cinema. Pablo gave me the opportunity to enjoy that with him. So, I am very grateful to him and of course he was also an inspiration to me in making Chicuarotes, as were Alfonso Cuaron and the other directors I worked with. And of course, also the filmmakers I've never worked with and some of them are no longer alive.
UM: Was Bunuel’s Los Olvidados one of the films that inspired you?
GB: It was a resemblance rather than an influence. Los Olvidados, caused a great stir when it came out, of the controversy in its time. It was something that the Mexican Government at the time, which was controlling what people said publicly, did not want people to talk about it. Mexico was in an economic boom and the movie was about the forgotten, those who didn't benefit from the economic boom. Mexico is a rich country, but one third of the population live in poverty, and it should not be like that. The screening of Los Olvidados all over the world, and especially the bitter humour, was bothersome for the Mexican government. Not only the film did portray the problem of poverty in Mexico, but it also showed it with humour which made the government more upset. Humour is the best way to re-construct and put yourself without any defence. Laughing is something that opens up possibilities of understanding.
In this respect, there are some similarities between Los Olvidadosand and the Chicuarotes. While poverty and misery are very real, in Mexican society we are laughing at our own misery. That was what I was trying to portray in my film. There is hope that we will change things. The other films that inspired me even more than Los Olvidados, I can name Ugly, Dirty and Bad (Ettore Scola, 1976). Pixote (Hector Babenco, 1981) was also an inspiration. Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomas Alea, 1968) also has characters trying to escape and people telling them that they should not escape. And then we find out why they want to run away. So there is a world of cinema that can make an impact.
UM: Do you plan to be active in both acting and directing in the future?
GB: I enjoy directing so much. Fortunately, it is not like football that you only become a coach when playing years are over and I can be active in both acting and directing. But I think my main profession is acting and I'm proud to be an actor. I love acting and it is through being an actor that I can choose in which film act or direct. It gives me more freedom than just being a director. How many movies can be made in life? Six, seven are good numbers. Tarantino doesn't make many films and all his films are great. Terrence Malick has been prolific lately, but before that he had made two or three and they were wonderful. Lucrecia Martel also has done very few films. I don't think one has to direct a lot. Directing is like writing a long book with a collective group experience. So it's something that should take its time. Some people can direct a hundred plus movies. UM: Like Woody Allen? GB: With Woody Allen, one out of every three that he makes is actually good! That's a good ratio, of course!
UM: Don't you think the popularity of television series like El Chapo and movies like Sicario provide a stereotypical picture of Mexicans?
GB: Sicario was a good movie.
UM: Yes, but I am thinking about the image of Mexico. Of course, Donald Trump's words didn't help either.
GB: Why do you think what Donald Trump says is the image that one adopts for that country? He is not someone to take seriously. The problem is that he is in a very powerful position. Your question may be more about what role Hollywood plays in the movie industry in terms of stereotyping, not only Mexicans, but also all countries around the world. We make films and we are responsible for the content of the film. But we must be careful not to fall in the trap of arguing with such people. For example, you mentioned that horrible person. I don't even mention his name, how one should counter argue about what he is saying. From what perspective? Like, let me convince you that I’m not a rapist?! How does that work? There is no point in having a conversation with someone who from the get-go says that you are a criminal or rapist. No conversation. Just because he is President, it does not give him the right to say these things. I consider him a complete idiot. I’m not going to fight against those arguments because I don’t give a shit about what he says.