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VENICE 2018 Competition

Carlos Reygadas • Director

“My films don’t come with a manual”

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- VENICE 2018: Cineuropa caught up with Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas to discuss Our Time, his sixth feature, currently competing for the Golden Lion

Carlos Reygadas • Director
(© La Biennale di Venezia - foto ASAC)

Featuring Carlos Reygadas’ wife, Natalia López, his children and the Mexican director himself, Our Time [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Carlos Reygadas
film profile
]
focuses on a couple who are trying to save their long-term marriage – and their ranch – in the wake of a love affair. But as this new relationship grows stronger, everything they’ve managed to build-up over the years is called into question. We caught up with the filmmaker at the Venice Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: Does it interest you that people, like your characters, can have a host of ideas and agreements that work in theory, but which subsequently fall apart?
Carlos Reygadas
: That’s how we live our lives. We spend so much time thinking and planning, trying to succeed in our marriages and to create families. And we fail! But we also get back on our feet and try again. Sometimes things last longer, but eventually everything fails and the world itself will one day simply cease to exist. The interesting thing, however, is that humans try to communicate with one another despite their individuality. Animals and plants probably do this too, but we happen to have an awareness of our existence and for this reason we can relate to each other on a personal level. But yes, we do fail, which is good.

You’re playing one of the main characters in your film, as is your wife. Was this a bit strange for you, given what the film is about?
You’re a film critic, so you’ll know that it’s me on screen. But most viewers won’t know and they won’t care. Also, once you’ve filmed someone or something, it’s not the same thing anymore. At first, my mother said: “I don’t want to see Natalia do all these terrible things!” But it’s not Natalia – she’s acting. People say Our Time is autobiographical, but my most autobiographical film was Silent Light [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, and I’m not even in it, and I don’t speak German. This one? Not so much. I did it for practical reasons.

What do you mean by “practical reasons”?
I didn’t want to deal with other kids and their annoying parents, and as for my wife, I couldn’t find a better actress. I actually filmed two weeks with some other guy, which I later had to reshoot. It’s hard to find people who can actually do manual work, who can work with cows as well as pretending to be a writer. Today, everybody is a “specialist” and we’ve lost the capacity to do different things. I thought of Chaplin who said: “Where there is no actor, the director comes in.” All pioneers of cinema have taken this approach. But I knew that it was going to be a problem and that the Anglo-Saxons would think it self-indulgent.

The part of the lover is played by Phil Burgers, who’s the only person in the film that could be described as a professional actor, so to speak. But his is a rather odd character…
It’s a difficult part, because you’d expect to see someone with a little more charisma in this role. But I wanted his character to be a little abstract. I didn’t want to make a film where it would be all about the woman’s choice between a husband she loves so much and who has a good heart, or this really interesting guy. I wanted the film to be all about confusion, because it’s about this particular woman and her own personal journey. In many cases, brilliant people fall for complete idiots. It’s normal – it’s how we operate.

My films don’t come with a manual, mostly because there’s so much repetition. You watch a lot of films – don’t you get bored? People like Greenaway say that cinema is dying, but I don’t think it’s even been born yet. But it will probably die very soon anyway, so there will be an abortion of sorts. Some say that cinema is about telling a good story and I find that so sad. Do you know what we already have to tell stories? Books. Films are better for conveying emotions. If there’s no mystery in a film, it’s just an imitation of life, plain and simple.

At times, the film is narrated by a little girl. Why did you want these things to be said in a child’s voice?
I’ll tell you something which I know you won’t believe, because people like David Lynch already tried and no one listened: Good directors don’t know what they’re doing. I could invent some reason behind it, but it wasn’t always a girl. The same goes for a scene where Phil reads a message from my character, Juan, and where what you hear is Phil’s voice rather than Juan’s - the guy who actually wrote it. A bad way to make cinema, which most people see as a great way to make cinema, is for us to know everything. That’s why people think Spielberg is such a great filmmaker - in his films nothing is ambiguous, we understand everything and that makes us happy. But, in time, we’ll forget them, for sure.

Would you say that pursuing your own vision is an absolute priority in your work?
If I couldn’t do this then I wouldn’t be making films. There are worse jobs, but this one isn’t that great either. I do it because I really want to share my vision with others. In my film, Ester doesn’t clean a single dish and some still insist on describing this as “macho”: “Oh, so people are like bulls, the males are fighting over a female and this stupid asshole takes three hours to tell us that?” They’re only capable of seeing these characters according to some codified view of sex in our society. Juan is fighting for his marriage. He probably gets things wrong on many levels, but who doesn’t? God?! Orson Welles said that making films purely for money would be a waste of time. We might just as well make them out of some internal necessity.

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