Jonas Cuaron debuted his gripping action thriller “Desierto” at the Toronto Film Festival, about a group of Mexicans crossing the border into the U.S. In remarks to the audience at the Visa Elgin theater, Cuaron said the issue happens to be timely, “but it’s also universal,” adding that he started the script six years ago.
Gael Garcia Bernal stars as one member of the group, who are being pursued across the U.S. desert by a murderous vigilante (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who wants to protect “my home!” The film, which was written by Cuaron and Mateo Garcia, drew big applause from the Sunday night audience, who also gave loud approval to the filmmaker and star.
At the post-screening Q&A, Garcia Bernal said immigration is “part of life. We all come from immigrants.” He said the film is “paying homage to all the people who make this journey.” It’s clear that the characters are seeking a better life, though there is no speechifying, no soapboxing about the topic in the film, which is in English and Spanish.
Cuaron said, “We view it as a problem, but it’s not a problem, it’s a phenomenon.” He added, “There’s no such thing as an ‘illegal’ human being.”
Bernal said, “Unfortunately, it is timely because there is a discourse of hate,” which he said is divisive and was begun for political reasons.
In the film, the vigilante is accompanied by a vicious German shepherd, and Garcia Bernal got a laugh from the audience when he said there were actually three dogs used in filming and they were all “so nice and easygoing.” Cuaron nodded and joked, “It was much easier to work with the dogs than the actors.”
The film, which is Cuaron’s second feature as director, also plays at the London Film Festival in October.