By Jonathan Marlow
Carlos Reygadas, born in Mexico in 1971, started making short films in 1998, after studying international law in Mexico and London. These early works include Adulte (1998, short), Prisoners (1999, short), Oiseaux (1999, short) and Maxhumain (1999, short). Reygadas will be appearing at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on Thursday, February 16, 2006, for a screening of his first feature, Japón, and on Saturday, February 18, for a screening of his second, Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el cielo, 2005), which Dennis Lim, writing recently in the New York Times, called "an anomaly among today's explicit art films, which often deploy sex more as a stunt than a subversion. In the languid, graphic scenes of fellatio that bookend his movie, what is startling isn't so much the frankness of the sex as the glaring disparity between the participants: Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz), the attractive young daughter of a general, and Marcos (Marcos Hernández), a homely, obese, middle-age man who is the general's driver."
Jonathan Marlow spoke with the controversial director at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
You started a in the legal profession, as a lawyer. How did you decide to pursue cinema as a vocation?
I had liked cinema since I was a teenager and, although I liked my legal job very much, at a certain point I thought that it wasn't enough. I would read Jack London and would regret not living in that time. I felt that I needed something more and I had this drive evermore for cinema.
You started making short films...
I had been working in Belgium, in Brussels, so I decided to go back there. I did some short films over there the first year after I quit law, and then I prepared Japón on over there, which I shot two years after I had quit my job as a lawyer.
What can you say about these shorter works? Are they similar, stylistically, to your features?
I was really learning. Since I never studied cinema, I felt like I really needed to know quickly if I had any talent or if I'd even be happy making films. I quit law when I was around 26 and I just went forward and did all of the films in a year, in Super-8, black and white, all grainy and everything.
Did you ever blow them up from Super-8?
I never bothered to do anything with them, except that I have them on video now. Since I also had to learn to produce, I would shoot very little film. I didn't shoot a master shot and then shot/reverse shot, or anything like that, for editing later. I really didn't know how. I thought that you had to shoot the film as it would look on the screen and that method of learning is what I have used ever since. In a way, the short films are similar to the features in the way that whatever you see in the film is what I shot. That gives the film this rigid quality. Rigid in a bad sense, but also a good sense, in that it's something that is very well thought [through] and structured, visually.
This is always shot in sequence?
I always intend to shoot that way. At least each scene, I try to. Because of practical reasons, I cannot shoot the whole film in chronological order, but the internal part of each scene I always film in continuity.
In your shorts, were you also focused on using non-actors in the principle roles?
Actually, no. I learned that that's what I wanted...
From working on the shorts?
Yes, exactly. Actually, it's not true that I shot all of my short films in Super-8. My second short (Prisoners), which was the most ambitious one, I shot in 16mm, and I did Maxhumain in 35mm because a Belgian producer helped me out. That film has two Belgian actors and I rehearsed in the traditional methods. It was after that film that I didn't want to do any more rehearsals or work with professional actors.
I suspect that you have an affinity for the work of Bresson and Kiarostami?
Yes. The theories of Bresson have been especially important for me.
Was your intent to get more "naturalistic" performances out of individuals who are not trained as actors?
Not "naturalistic" acting but out of concern for the actual human presence. This is preferred to the technique of representing a person or character.
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