CRÓNICAS /CHRONICLES: Sebastián Cordero interview
In 2005 I had the opportunity to conduct a few interviews with filmmakers who were presenting their first, second or third feature film at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. These were done for a magazine called YDN (Young Designers Network). This is the third and final one I will reprint here. (The first and second interview are located on the site too)
CRÓNICAS /CHRONICLES (2005)
A film by Sebastián Cordero
A serial killer who preys on children, but treats his son and wife with the utmost care and love. A journalist who’s out for personal gain, but seeks to find out the truth at whatever cost. Put these two together in a room and you may get some heavy headbutts along the way.
Cordero’s second feature (premiere at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in 2004), is located in one of Ecuador’s most grimy and poor areas and stars John Leguizamo (CARLITO’S WAY’s Benny Blanco) as Manolo Bonilla. An American based reporter working on a local story about ‘Il Monstro’, a killer who roams the Ecaudorian mainland. When Vinicio, an old victim of a local lynching asks for his help in making a tv item about him that has to prove his innocence, Manolo is not interested. When the man in return offers some very interesting information about ‘Il Monstro’, you know heads are gonna turn.
What follows is Manolo trying to pry as much information out of Vinicio and Vinicio trying to tell as little as possible. Shot mainly in the dungeon-esque cell of Vinicio, the film still manages to hold your interest partially because you actually find out the identity of the killer really fast, but it becomes a search for when it will all be revealed and more than that, how the main character will react to it. The film shares some elements with Michael Mann’s THE INSIDER in that it exposes the media as not really caring about the truth, but just in presenting it to the public. The news show that Manolo works for is even called “Una Hora con la Verdad”; An Hour with the Truth. Recalling America’s famous news show ‘Sixty Minutes’. The interesting element is that neither the good nor the bad guy is actually all good or all bad. They both posses human qualities and they both are incredible bad persons. In the end you just sit back and watch what’s happening and you wonder how far human beings are willing to go to get what they want. Plus the matter of fact is that this goes on everyday, the media and the killings. You end up with a rather pessimistic film that tries to show you the way of the world and better yet, the dark roads many people take while they try to find their way.
Shot in a fashion very reminiscent to the early seventies cinema of the United States, CRÓNICAS pulls you in with it’s hand-held camera work and sweaty film stock. You’re there in the wet jungle and you can smell the stink of the jail cell. What brings CRÓNICAS just over the edge of just being a ‘serial killer and the media’ film is the ending. And that just knocks you down and on your ass and makes you leave the theatre in a rather depressing mood. Because you know that this is the way it usually goes. Because you know that the so called truth is rarely revelead, but still the reporters have to sell you something, so they sell you ‘their truth’.
John Leguizamo as Manolo, Leonor Watling as Marisa and José María Yazpik as Ivan. Picture on top: Damián Alcázar as Vinicio. Copyright Palm Pictures.
Interview with Sebastián Cordero
Baris Azman: Could you tell us something about the themes of the film? Is there too much evil in the world?
Sebastián Cordero: Well, when I started writing the screenplay I did a study on arrogance and how human beings think that they can own the truth. That was my starting point, but at the same time, one of the things as a writer and as a filmmaker, to which I was very attracted to, was, the idea of making a story, with characters who are very complex, who have good and bad sides to them, who can have a very normal side and at the same time be very corrupt or really monstrous in their nature. And yes, it is a film that shows a very depressing world and in the end the idea is to have the spectator be very unsettled and have them ask themselves many questions. As a spectator myself, that’s the kind of cinema that I like.
It feels like it’s a losing battle, how much one tries, you cannot win over the evil that’s in the world.
It is pessimistic, but at the same time there are mistakes being made. It’s a tragedy with a hero that has a tragic flaw, this arrogance, him thinking that he can place himself above other people, thinking he can control and handle everything. It’s a film with a lot of greys, it’s never black and white, things aren’t clear.
There is a chance for redemption near the end of the film, but nobody seems to even take that chance.
This is perhaps the pessimistic side of me, but people are first of all out for themselves, before they are out for others. I think people will help out others if that doesn’t hurt them. But here, in order for them to give the identity of ‘Il Monstro’, it would have harmed them. It would have caused them problems with the law, it would give them a very bad public image and for someone who lives for what their image is, that is a big problem.
There are no more heroes left?
None. I don’t really believe there are heroes, people are acting out of self interest.
Would it have been hard to make a pessimistic film such as CRÓNICAS in Hollywood?
It would have been difficult, you wouldn’t have the type of ending CRÓNICAS has, although, the movie is very inspired by American cinema of the nineteen-seventies. Some of my favorite movies are from that time, I mean, DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975, Sidney Lumet), the films of Bob Fosse, Francis Ford Coppola. Where you had heroes that were not heroes. Who had a lot of flaws, a lot of problems, like Serpico. You were questioning these characters, but you were identifying with them anyway. And I think, for me that is a lot more interesting, than having a hero/protagonist who is perfect and a bad guy who is just bad because he was born that way. I don’t believe that and I feel cheated as a spectator when a movie does that.
SERPICO (1973, Sidney Lumet)
Could you name some visual inspirations for the film?
It really came out from many things. On one hand, I wanted from the start that the whole movie would be hand-held, I think there’s only one shot which wasn’t. Because it would bring you closer to the action, bringing you a lot more freedom. And it was very much like a cinema verité type of style. Which for a film about journalists, it seemed a very appropriate style to use. The camera can go where it wants, which frees the film up.
But then there were a lot of other elements that were important. To feel the heat, the humidity, to feel the nature. Nature as an accomplice to the killer. Usually when we see nature in film, it’s beautiful, nature is a good thing. Here, nature, because of all the tropical elements, the bugs, that fact that everything grows so fast, nature helps out the killer in hiding and hiding his victims.
The journalist comes from a very plastic and metallic world, full of computers, gadgets and cameras, whereas the killer actually comes from an organic, down to earth place.
The first image of the film is of him coming out of the water.
Exactly, it is like a moment of rebirth for the character. Water is very important in the film. Cleansing. There is a lot of washing going on in the film, as if you could wash away the terrible deeds one has done. In the end the film asks the question, who is more horrible? The person that does these crimes, the people that cover it, or the audience that craves these kinds of stories in the media?
How is your working relationship with your Director of Photography; Enrique Chediak?
He’s from Ecuador as well, but he studied at the NYU film school and shot movies all his career in the States and CRÓNICAS is his first film that he shot in Ecuador so for him it was very personal. His way of working is very organic, very story driven, although the movie might have moments that are very strong visually, they are all coming from the story. The lynching scene in the film was mostly improvised, we had a certain shot list but once we decided on the action we just shot it and covered it many times and just went in to see how close he could get. Picking up little moments. It was like jazz, we had our structure, our basis and then we would practically throw the shot list out and start over. Because it’s one thing to plan in your head and put it on paper and it’s another when it’s actually happening in front of you. There are so much more interesting things there happening that you should take advantage of. Obviously you balance things out of course, a mixture of both.
The film feels like a mixture of available light and yet, certain scenes are very stylized.
Well although it’s a bit cinema verité, although it’s hand-held, it’s still overall very stylized. The colors we used, the production design, the textures. It’s very much based on reality, but we took it to a certain extreme. The houses that were built on stilts over the water, to give you an example, we photographed the location, but the red bricks that most houses had just looked horrible. Although it was real, but in the art direction we used sheets over the brick houses to make them suit us better. It made it slightly more aesthetic.
I noticed an American company distributing the film. How did the financing come about?
It’s a co-production between Mexico and Ecuador. So, basically how it happened was, I wrote the screenplay in Ecuador, but financing in Ecuador is very very very complicated. You have no idea how crazy it is. This is my second film and my first film premiered five years ago (RATAS, RATONES, RATEROS, 1999), since that film I met a lot of people, made a lot of contacts and among them a few people from Mexico.
Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón.
One of who ended up producing the movie, Bertha Navarro and she’s partners with Guillermo del Toro (director of CRONOS, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, HELLBOY). So when she got involved, Del Toro got involved because they have the same company. They then brought Alfonso Cuarón in on the project (producer of Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN, THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON, director of CHILDREN OF MEN) and his company in the end financed the majority of the movie. Alfonso believes in looking for strong projects and he definitely liked the screenplay and felt it was uncompromising and he helped make the film bigger.
Sebastián Cordero http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0179542/