Escalante: Riding Mexico’s new wave

Helmer and compadre Reygadas garnering critical praise

MEXICO CITY — With only one film under his belt, Mexican helmer Amat Escalante, 27, has already been critically hailed as the avant garde of a new wave of Mexican cinema along with Carlos Reygadas, his colleague and co-producer.

With his first pic, “Sangre,” Escalante established himself as a minimalist provocateur in the vein of Reygadas — on whose “Battle in Heaven” Escalante served as second director — and earned comparisons to Bruno Dumont and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

“Sangre,” produced by Jaime Romandia’s Mantarraya, won the Fipresci prize after bowing in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in 2005. It’s still making the festival rounds after appearing in 30 fests, while Funny Balloons has sold the pic in six territories.

Escalante discovered his desire to be a filmmaker at 16 after seeing “A Clockwork Orange.” The films of Werner Herzog also provided inspiration.

“I felt there was something (Herzog) was able to tell me without using words,” says Escalante. “Something that I can’t articulate, but when I saw his movies, they spoke directly to me in a visual way. Herzog used simple means to create his world. This inspired me to think that I could speak with this visual language of cinema.”

Escalante has been working on his next film, “Los Bastardos,” while at the Cannes Residence, the 18-week writing and development program run by the festival in Paris. The film will be produced by Romandia and Reygadas’ No Dream Cinema, and has additional backing from Jean Labadie’s Bac Films.

“It’s about immigrants who are hired to do jobs that legal American citizens don’t want to do,” explains Escalante, “and about money and what we will sacrifice just to get some.”

To be shot in Southern California and Mexico, “Los Bastardos” draws on settings where Escalante lived during his youth in Orange County and in Guanajuato, Mexico.

“I worked in Taco Bell and all my friends were illegal immigrants from Mexico,” he recalls. Close family members entered and worked illegally in the U.S.

“I am very passionate about my country and everything that has to do with it,” Escalante says. “I want to express something that people can relate to about the present, to articulate and not just be like the cows in the field or people on the couch.”

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