Gael García Bernal & Jonás Cuarón – Desierto

October 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Unlike some inspiring immigration-themed dramas including “A Better Life” and “Under the Same Moon,” co-writer and director Jonás Cuarón decided he wanted to take on the issue in a much different, more instinctive way. In “Desierto,” Cuarón, son of Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity”), tells an intense story about a group of Mexican immigrants facing a life-or-death situation as they try to cross into the U.S. on foot.

During their trek, the men and women pass through the crosshairs of Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a merciless, racist and unhinged vigilante who is hell bent on killing as many Mexicans as he can before they make it to the border. This includes Moises (Gael García Bernal), a father risking everything to get back to his young son in California.

Bernal and Cuarón talked to us about the message behind the film and the current immigration debate during this presidential election.

On whether films should just entertain or provide something to think about

Jonás Cuarón: It is definitely an entertaining, thrilling experience, but the reason I did it is because I’ve lived in the U.S. for the past 15 years and I’ve seen this phenomenon start with these anti-immigration laws and this rhetoric against the migrants, the foreigners, “the others.” In that sense, this film is a cautionary tale about where our society can end up if we keep promoting all this hatred.

Gael García Bernal: The main motivation was also to portray our biggest nightmare, which is the consequences of somebody pulling the trigger by validating all of the narrative that exists of fear and hatred against other people.

On making an action-thriller about immigration

JC: Partly why I wanted to engage this narrative through a genre is because I wanted to connect with an audience in a visceral way and not in an intellectual way. I wanted to do that because I feel this certain subject matter is not debatable. Right now we live in a moment where everything is being debated. There are certain actions like [Sam’s] actions in this movie — his hatred — that are just not debatable.

On how immigration is being debated this election cycle

GGB: The problem is that there’s a narrative being constructed in complete fallacies and lies, which says that migrants are bad people. That is a complete and utter invention of a fascist, racist mentality. From any community, migrants are the most good-willing [people]. They just want to get a better future, not only for them but for their people and for their community.

This is a fact. It is not a point of view of deception. It’s actually what migrants have done everywhere in the world throughout history. We all come from migrants. We know migrants are good. There is a very constructed narrative to hate foreigners and that’s something that definitely needs to change in order to tackle the important issue of migration.

On deporting 12 million undocumented Mexican immigrants back to Mexico

GGB: There’s a movie about that!

JC: Yeah, “A Day Without a Mexican.”

GGB: That’s not going to happen, of course. I don’t live in the United States, but I’m curious to ask people who live [in the U.S.], especially those from Mexican origin and background, how much change they’ve seen since all this hate speech has been taking place. I think there’s been a lot of damage that has already been done. I would like to inform myself and ask if they see a difference in how it has been for them day to day and how they’re perceived. It’s not only hate speech that is creating this but also the silence. We [have] a short-term, politics mentality that only [has] electoral motivations. What’s very sad is the fear of “the other” is the easiest way to pool votes and to put people into an action that will naturally lead to a disaster.

This interview first ran at


April 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco
Directed by: Pablo Larraín (“Tony Manero”)
Written by: Pablo Peirano (“The Maid”)

With all the junk we’re persuaded into buying on a daily basis through TV commercials, it’s a bit surprising more political campaigns haven’t tried to use the same techniques to earn more votes for their candidates. After all, if a Jack in the Box marketing team can make someone crave a bacon-flavored milkshake, anything is possible, right?

That’s exactly what happened in Chile during the 1988 referendum where citizens voted on whether or not their dictator Augusto Pinochet would continue his presidency for another term. Those who supported Pinochet voted yes. Those who did not voted no. In the Oscar-nominated film “No,” director Pablo Larraín tells the story of the No campaign to boot Pinochet out of office and the young advertising executive hired to lead the cause with some unconventional ideas.

Gael Garcia Bernal (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) stars as René Saavedra, a character you would find in “Mad Men” if the AMC show was set in 1988 Chile. Although René’s has a commercial background (he makes TV spots for products like soft drinks), he’s brought on to kick start the campaign against Pinochet in the only way he knows how: by peddling the idea of a new government to the people as if he was selling them a Coke.

The rules of the political race are simple: each night both sides are given 15 minutes on TV to convince voters they’re right. The 15-minute spots air every night for a month and then people make their decision. For René, it’s more than simply giving Chilean citizens the facts on why they should get rid of Pinochet, it’s also keeping them entertained and making their message stick. If that includes a few cheesy jingles and logos (and even a mime!), so be it.

As leftist René, Garcia Bernal sells democracy like a champion. His passion and creativity are evident and he pushes his merchandise like a snake oil salesman. Garcia Bernal does a great job matching the script’s low-key humor and satirical take on the state of politics in Chile during the era. Larraín mixes the slight comedic elements well with engaging drama and excellent archival footage. As a matter of fact, the whole film looks like it’s make up of archival footage since it was all shot on video tape. As things play out, you might think you’re watching a documentary at times. It’s fascinating, nonetheless, with Garcia Bernal at the helm and Larraín, who captures Chile’s first-ver Oscar nomination in the history of the country, offering up a story most outside of Chile don’t know.

Rudo y Cursi

May 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Jessica Mas
Directed by: Carlos Cuarón (debut)
Written by: Carlos Cuarón (“Y tu mama tambien”)

Reuniting for the first time since their sexually-expressive outing in 2001’s “Y tu mama tambien,” Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna play two soccer-playing brothers experiencing fits of sibling rivalry in “Rudo y Cursi.”

When Beto (Luna) and Tato (Bernal) are accidentally discovered by a professional soccer recruiter in their small Mexican village, the brothers begin to butt heads when they find out there is only room for one of them to join the pro ranks. Through some suspicious luck, Tato ends up moving to Mexico City to make a name for himself as a soccer player although his passion for singing is his real priority.

Beto, who needs to earn money so he can pay off a gambling debt with some dangerous bookies, earns his chance soon enough to play for another team in Mexico City, and the brothers find themselves on opposite teams for the first time in their lives. Despite the sporadic soccer moments, “Rudo y Cursi” is more about the relationship between brothers who are slowly growing apart and the changes each of them are going through as they become popular among fans.

In his feature directorial debut, Cuarón tackles some multi-layered topics and gives his dim-witted but generally likable characters enough subtle comedic material to play off one another well. Bernal and Luna’s chemistry, while not as essential as it was in “Y tu mama,” is lighthearted enough to overlook some of the film’s more formulaic scenes like the inevitable penalty kick between the brothers you could have predicted during the opening credits.

Carlos Cuarón – Rudo y Cursi

May 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Five years passed after screenwriter Carlos Cuarón was nominated for an Academy Award for his 2001 film “Y tu mama tambien” before he began writing his next feature script. The rough idea he had for his movie was about “a soccer player from a humble background.” When he shared some of his thoughts with actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, he didn’t expect their response: they both wanted the part.
Instead of making a choice between the actors, Carlos, who is the younger brother of Y tu mama tambien director Alfonso Cuarón, decided to rework his story and write it about two brothers. The film, “Rudo y Cursi,” tells the story of Tato (Bernal) and Beto (Diego), siblings who are recruited onto rival professional soccer teams.

During an interview with me, Cuarón, 42, who along with penning “Rudo y Cursi” makes his directorial feature debut, talked about his personal passion for soccer and whether or not he used his own relationship with his brother to create his main characters.

Did you use your relationship with Alfonso in any part of the script?

The only thing that is sort of the same between Rudo and Cursi and Alfonso and me is that we are all sometimes a bunch of dumbasses. The story is more about my observation of other sibling relationships.

Was there ever any sibling rivalry between you and Alfonso since you both work in the same industry?

I guess there was some sibling rivalry, but the way we work together is more of a partnership. I would write scripts with him of projects that I liked and I would say no to the ones I didn’t like. I didn’t think it was necessary to have to show off my relationship with my brother in this film.

Because of the success of “Y tu mama tambien” back in 2001 do you find it easier or more challenging to write today? Is there more or less pressure?

Well, this script was really difficult for me. It really took a lot of time. I wrote and rewrote for two whole years before I felt it was ready to shoot. This project is different from “Y tu mama tambien” because I was finding the story and the characters as I was writing. In other projects, I know more about the story and the characters before I start writing.

Were you already familiar with the world of soccer before you started to write?

I am a soccer freak. I love soccer, so I knew a lot. But I also did research. I have a few friends that used to play soccer professionally. I would go have lunch with them and talk. I would talk to players and referees. I also went to some soccer training and went to games and to dressing rooms during halftime to see how everything operated.

Did you ever worry about choosing to highlight soccer in this film? I mean, the sport isn’t very popular in the U.S.

Yeah, I was very worried about this, but not only in the states. The truth is all soccer movies that have come out have all flopped. They have been box-office disasters historically. I was worried about that but at the same time I felt like I wasn’t making a sporting movie or a soccer movie. I wanted to make a movie about brotherhood. That is the reason why we don’t see much soccer. Much of it is off camera. There is a reason I didn’t show much of the game. At the end of the day the only thing I really wanted to dramatize on the field was the only thing you can really dramatize in soccer, which is the penalty kick. It’s like a duel; two men facing each other and in front of them is destiny or death.

Is there anything else in the sports world you would say is the equivalent to the drama of the penalty kick?

I think it’s exciting when a pitcher is pitching to a batter with two outs, two strikes, and three balls with the game tied and the bases loaded. I think every sport has their own “penalty kick.”

But not every sport has the type of fans that come out to soccer games. We see a bit of that in the film where a fan can be your best friend if you’re playing well and wants to kill you if you are not. Does it ever surprise you how intense and sometimes dangerous these fans can become?

Yeah, I’m really surprised every time something like that happens especially in Mexico. In Mexico soccer is still a family sport so you go to the stadium with your family. Families can’t go to the games anymore in Brazil or Argentina or other parts of South America because the fans are really violent. I don’t understand it. I think people should understand that soccer is just a game.

Have you ever experienced what Gael’s character Tato is going through in the film where he is passionate about something, but just really isn’t good at it despite his sincere efforts?

Well, I hope not with directing. (Laughs). I have a passion for soccer, but I’m an average player. I know I’m never going to play professionally. I knew that all my life. I never even thought of it when I was a kid.

Do you think someone can truly be happy doing something they’re good at but don’t necessarily like?

No, I don’t think so. I do what I like to do. I understand Tato in that sense. He’s good at soccer but he wants to sing even though he’s a lousy singer. I think you have to be very intelligent and go with your passion but at the same time have enough self-criticism to see your talent is in another place.

Why did you choose Cheap Trick’s song “I Want You to Want Me” to be the film’s theme song and why did you decide to translate it into Spanish?

One day I was driving my kid to school and I was listening to this CD and suddenly the song started to play. I started to sing along with it, but I sang it in Spanish. It’s very stupid and I felt stupid but I discovered that was the song the character needed. Someone that sings, “I want you to want me,” needs attention and has a problem. I knew for the music video I wanted it to be something between a homage and a spoof of the Norteño videos we have in Mexico. To me it was a very basic concept. I hired a choreographer. We shot it against a green screen. People kept asking me what I was going to do with the green screen. I told them I wanted it for kitschy backgrounds.

You touch on the idea of celebrity in the film when Tato becomes famous and starts doing things he wouldn’t normally do. Are there any differences between the idea of celebrity in Mexico and the U.S.?

I think it’s the same, not only in Mexico and the U.S. but worldwide. You are a reporter and I am a filmmaker so if we meet a star it’s normal to us. But normal people get star-struck. I’ve experienced that with Diego and Gael everywhere both in Mexico, the states, in Spain, in South America. I’ve also experienced it with other actors in L.A. like Clive Owen.

What did it mean to you to get your brother and directors Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Babel”) and Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) to step in as producers for your first feature film?

To me it was a privilege to have them produce my movie. What was great is they produced this movie the way they would want to be produce. They gave me complete creative freedom and weren’t demanding. They very rarely went to the set. Alejandro went one day. Guillermo never went because he was shooting “Hellboy 2.” Our communication was mostly through internet and phone calls. These guys are three of the best filmmakers in the world so all of their feedback was always appreciated.


October 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”)
Written by: Don McKellar (“The Red Violin”)

With 2004’s “City of God,” Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles quickly became one of the most talked-about directors of the new century. That’s why you hope projects like “Blindness” are mere flukes in a career that started off so impressive.

Adapted from the novel by Jose Saramago, “Blindness” tells the story of a group of people who are quarantined when an epidemic causes them to lose their sight. The plague starts when a man goes to an unnamed ophthalmologist (Mark Ruffalo) when he suddenly loses his sight while sitting in traffic. The following morning, the good doctor has lost his vision as well.

Soon, a handful of people are infected with the “white blindness,” an idea that somehow gives Meirelles reason to whitewash most of the film with extra lightning and overexposing some scenes. The visually aggravating cinematography, however, is the least of the film’s problems. Although it’s an interesting idea, McKellar’s narrative is ineffective.

As more people become sick, they are sent off into hospital wards where an aggressive pecking order amongst the blind community slowly begins to take shape. Julianne Moore (“The Hours”) plays the eye doctor’s wife, who goes to the ward with her husband despite being the only person who can see. It’s never explained why Moore’s character doesn’t lose her vision, which isn’t that big of a deal. “Children of Men” never tells us why Kee (the pregnant girl) is the only one in the world who can bear a child. The difference, however, is that Kee in “Children of Men” was a symbol of faith. In “Blindness,” Moore’s character is so frail, there’s really no reason to develop her into anything more than collateral for the heathens that live among her.

There is so much Meirelles wants to say about the blind leading the blind, his metaphors come off heavy-handed and wasted. “Blindness” may be reaching for some deep-seated ideas about the brutality of society, but there’s no way to describe exactly what he wants us to know when he’s delivering it in incoherent, sometimes laughable, pieces.