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France / Mexico

Jean-Charles Hue • Director of Tijuana Bible

"The true necessity is to show these small miracles of love that can erupt from something terrifying"

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- French director Jean-Charles Hue tells us about the genesis of his new cinematic oddity, the English-language feature Tijuana Bible

Jean-Charles Hue  • Director of Tijuana Bible
(© Nathalie Nivet)

Following The Lord's Ride [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
and Eat Your Bones [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
(Directors’ Fortnight 2014), Jean-Charles Hue returns with Tijuana Bible [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jean-Charles Hue
film profile
]
, an English-language fiction film shot in the extremely dangerous Mexican border town and which offers a memorable role to British actor Paul Anderson. The film is released in French cinemas on 29 July by Ad Vitam.

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Cineuropa: How does a French filmmaker arrive at the idea of filming in Tijuana?
Jean-Charles Hue:
For 13 years, I’ve been spending a few months in Mexico every year. I first shot a documentary in Monterrey in the world of dog fights which touched on what I had been looking for for a long time: in places where we sometimes expect the worst, we find love, hospitality, the unexpected, this ability to mix Eros and Thanatos. I then went to Tijuana where I made my feature debut, Carne Viva, which did not come out in theatres due to music rights issues. As in Tijuana Bible, it was a portrait of the Zona Norte, a neighbourhood formed of four blocks of houses, but via a documentary approach that tended towards a form of fiction told by characters who were prostitutes, drug dealers, a policeman and the mayor (Tijuana’s own Al Capone). Human beings who escape us, who at times identify with God, at others with animals, who appear set on a predestined path yet find a way of escape, all the while claiming that they will not make it but that they at least can choose on what moral principle they can end. All these people, I filmed them, and they sort of became my life in this desire I always had to be kind of on both sides of the camera, in the peripheries, where those who cannot be at the centre are pushed away.

Why choose the domain of fiction, and why a former Marine as a central character?
I had the desire to come closer to the cinema of Sam Peckinpah, notably his film Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, to see if I would manage to express myself in a slightly more fictional framework. This also brought me its own set of problems. First of all, English is not the easiest language for me. Then, I had actors who have a private life, which is normal. But I was used to working day and night, to being with my characters all the time, which usually allows me to take out my camera at any time. Here, I had to seize instants that were a little predetermined, because we only had six weeks. With the second roles, I was able to do some preparation, because they were close friends who were playing themselves: prostitutes, drug dealers, etc. I then took the plunge, in documentary mode, in the instant. Thankfully, Paul was quite flexible: he wasn’t afraid, because he’d spent his youth in the hot neighbourhoods near London. The model of his character of former Marine, I met him like many other people who come to Tijuana for sex, drugs or something else. This young thirty-something had lost all his friends in Afghanistan when a mine exploded their humvee. He was very nice, with a permanent smile, like the Joker, and a gigantic scar in the shape of a cross on his stomach. I wasn’t allowed to film him, even though it was my dream, because narcos threw me out of the Zona Norte, which happened to me regularly. I never saw him again and the character of Nick in Tijuana Bible kind of started from this powerlessness. Fiction is the desire to put back in front of my eyes something which I didn’t manage to fixate, to engrave, if only in my memory.

In fiction, how far can you go in terms of a frontal representation of violence and drugs in fiction?
In the initial script, the main character was shooting up heroin. For me, it wasBad Lieutenant, which left a strong mark on me in terms of redemption, bitterness, humanity. But at certain TV networks, I was kindly told, “this is tough”, which implied “this can’t get through today.” So the script evolved towards crystal meth and a kind of aesthetic of this smoke in which we get lost: it is less hardcore than shooting up, but it eventually amounts to the same thing in the long term. I had to show all of that, but I never did it in a very explicit way, because it isn’t the topic of the film. It is just part of the lives of these people: they take drugs, and so they also have mood changes depending on their cravings. The most difficult thing isn’t to show the truth, because everyone already has an idea of what that truth is. The reality is ten times worse, more bitter, crazier, more pitiful and sometimes more beautiful, more generous because these people can sometimes be wonderful, hospitable, grateful, share everything with you while they could just as well rob you for a few dollars or steal your camera. In any case, I need to start from the bottom and to see how far up we can climb, to show a form of redemption. For me, the limit isn’t moral or aesthetic, the true necessity is to show these small miracles of love that can erupt from something terrifying.

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(Translated from French)

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