Latin American cinema is all the critical rage, but, says Mexican filmmaker CARLOS REYGADAS, his debut film, Japon, isn’t part of a ‘new wave’.

Words: Catherine Bromley

f you were calling a spade a

spade. you‘d call Mexican

filmmaker (‘arlos Reygadas a hippy. A lovely one at that. but a hippy' all the same; a man against convention. devoted to freedom of expression and freedom of interpretation. When he attended last year's lidinburgh International Film Festival to promote his debut feature film. he came dressed more for a walking holiday than a day of interviews at the (‘aledonian Hotel. and it‘s not just his attire that draws you to this conclusion.

lake the title to his film. Ju/uin. for a start. It‘s symbolic. you see. Although in concrete terms the film has nothing to do with the land of the rising sun it‘s about a man who travels from Mexico (‘ity to the arid wilds of the country to kill himself -- the title does suggest the resonant themes of the piece. namely: suicide. respect. calm and a distant place.

‘lt was during shooting that l realised that titles are a necessary evil.’ explains the softly spoken Reygadas. ‘I wish I didn‘t have to title things at all. When you‘re waiting in a restaurant for someone and you draw something on a napkin. then you put it aside and that’s it. No title. And in photographs. art and music. you can leave it as "Untitled". but in a film you can't. We‘re so used to these descriptive. ultra—synopsis titles that prepare you for the film. but this is just because you have to pay and people don‘t like being surprised.‘

And it’s not just the title that flies in the face of convention: the film itself is a slow-moving. often beautiful contemplative work. filmed using an entire cast of rioti- actors. Sparse on dialogue. it's heavily imbued with symbolism and very much concerned with metaphysical themes. Reygadas may be Mexican. but if you were expecting a gritty drama along the lines of Alejandro Gonzalez lnarritu's Anzon's I’crl'us‘ or a raunchy sex comedy like Alfonso (‘uaron‘s l" 'Iii Mama 721n1bim. think again.

Although he's not blind to the fact that the current interest in Mexican cinema (sparked by lnarritu and Cuaron. among others) has been of great benefit to him. Reygadas denies the existence of any ‘real Mexican wave’. Furthermore. much as he admires his fellow Mexican filmmakers. he rightly observes

22 THE LIST i3 27 Mar 301$

Intbefl, , realm ' the senses

Reygadas may be Mexican, but if you were expecting the gritty drama of

Amores Perros or a so raunchy sex comedy like Y Tu Mama Tambien, think again

Reygadas, concerned with metaphysical themes

that they are working within the mainstream. Motivated not by money (‘lf 1 was interested in commerce. I'd be in banking.’ he saysl and influenced by the abstract films of Russian auteur Andrei 'l'arkovsky. Reygadas is instead interested in cinema as a means of expression rather than a story— telling tool.

Hence there are no easy answers in Japan. In fact. there are no answers at all it's all open to interpretation. We are not told why the my'sterioUs mid-40s man in his tilm wants to kill himself. nor why he feels compelled to have sex with the woman he forms a redemptive friendship with. What we do know. however. from this interyiew. is that the non-professiona| actor Alejandro Ferretis who plays the enigmatic stranger in the film (in real life a good friend of Rey'gadas') was asked to actually penetrate the old woman for authenticity.

Perhaps not surpassineg he couldn't get a hard-on. but in so much as the down-to-earth director wanted him to ha\e sex with another non- actor. and an extremely old one at that. it shows a concerted liberalism and. if nothing else. a determined commitment to the virtues of cinema verite.


Japon plays at Edinburgh, Filmhouse from Fri 21 Mar; Glasgow Film Theatre from Fri 28 Mar. See review, page 23.

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THE ARTHOUSES FIGHT back, however. Edinburgh's Filmhouse and the Glasgow Film Theatre ringing in with the Sheffield International Documentary Festival on tour. Currently running at the GFT and beginning at the Filmhouse 25 March, it features the premiere of doc champ DA Pennebaker's film about lost disco divas Only the Strong Survive (which might apply to Scotland’s cinemas).

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