LOS CABOS – Gaz Alazraki, director of Netflix’s first Spanish-language original series “Club de cuervos” plus Mexican film blockbuster “The Noble Family” has set his second feature, “Almost Paradise,” which immediately ranks as one of the hottest international movie prospects now coming out of Mexico.
Alazraki’s riches-to-rags comedy “The Noble Family” grossed $26.25 million in Mexico in 2012, establishing him from his debut as a filmmaker with a broad audience sense and ability to touch a social nerve.
Produced by Edgar San Juan at Mexico City’s Film Tank Leonardo Zimbron, CEO of L.A. and Mexico-based Alazraki Entertainment, and written by Alazraki and San Juan, “Almost Paradise” is some ways more larger, a bid to achieve the Holy Grail of Latin America’s most ambitious producers – think Argentina’s K & S (“Wild Tales,” “The Clan”), Brazil’s Gullane (“The Second Mother”) and L.A/Mexico’s Canana (“The Savage Detectives”) and AG Studios (“Desierto”) to make a movie which can function as well outside its country of origin as at home.
An international distribution deal on “Almost Paradise’s” is in advanced negotiation.
A barbed caricature, “Almost Paradise,” is based on Mexico’s first best-seller, penned by the enfant terrible of Mexican journalism, and prolific and highly popular social satirist Luis Spota, said San Juan. It turns on an Italian prince, Ugo Conti, who fleeing his lover, a U.S. heiress, dazzles Mexican high society, especially its political class born out of the Mexican Revolution but avid for old world aristocracy. But, when Conti is exposed as a fraud, the same Mexican society abruptly destroys him.
The screenplay is almost complete, said San Juan, calling “’Almost Paradise,’ ‘The Talented Mr Ripley,’ meets ‘Catch Me If You Can’ and Alain Delon starrer ‘Purple Noon.’”
It will shoot in Mexico City, Acapulco and Rome, and in Spanish, with some English and Italian, he added.
Unveiled at Los Cabos where it plays fest’s Discovery co-pro market, “Almost Paradise” is an instant flagship for a Mexican cinema whose near preternaturally young industry leaders are not yet kicking 40 but confident enough to begin an examination of Mexico’s state as a nation, after years of economic growth.
“I am still satirizing upper-classes. There are similarities between the main character in ‘Almost Paradise,’ Ugo Conti, and Peter in ‘The Noble Family.’ They are both driving an agenda of marrying into money and pretending to be wealthy Europeans,” said Alazraki.
He went on: “But what the book ‘Almost Paradise’ brings which is fresh and new to the conversation is a deeper study of an existential Malinchismo – a love of all things foreign and scorn for national things – which the upper classes often have in Mexico. Everyone shows off what they have to an absolute stranger from ‘This is just as good as a French palace’ to ‘We’re such good socialists that even Trotsky though we were as good as those in Russia.’
“An upper-crust’s search for validation from an outside world which is a clear indication of a lack of national identity and pride which the book mocks deliciously well.”
Alazraki also said that there is “a deeper study of an imposter who is shunned by society in Italy but embraced with wide open arms in Mexico probably out of the fact he is blond-ish.”
“’Almost Paradise’ turns on who we are and how we see ourselves, It’s about a society which doesn’t value itself, needs something external which gives it value, which makes it highly contemporary, “ said Zimbron, pointing out that this phenomenon is global.
“There’s a cultural invasion in Mexico, Colombia, Peru which has produced a prejudice that what comes from abroad is always better,” he added.
In what is regarded as a soft year for Mexican films at their domestic box office, total admissions to local movies through Nov. 8 stood at 16.5 million, per Rentrak’s Luis Vargas. That figure is still significantly above any year this century before 2012.
“There has been a certain reconciliation between Mexican public and Mexican cinema but we still have to conquer international markets. That’s the next challenge, beginning with the U.S. There have been some good results but there’s still long way to go. We should be able to achieve eight films a year that open well in the U.S. Then we must conquer Latin America.
“The question is how can we create relationships wioth other countries so that they don’t feel so nervous about distributing a Mexican film, want to gamble on a bigger and wider-coordinated distribution of Latin American films in simultaneous territories,” Alazraki commented.
San Juan is the writer of quirky immigration drama “Norteado” and Chalan, helmed by Jorge Michel Grau (“We are What We Are”), and producer of the Golden Globe-nommed “The Maid” and Cannes Directors’ Fortnight player “La Sirga.”
A former Warner Bros. Executive, Zimbron produced “The Noble Family” and “Club de Cuervos” out of Alazraki Ent. as well as “Pulling Strings,” which grossed $5.7 million in the U.S.