Argentine first-timer Francisco Varone has directed a belated coming-of-age story in “Road to La Paz”, a road movie winding from Argentina to Bolivia and taking in two different cultures and generations. Starring Rodrigo de la Serna (Walter Salles’ “The Motorcycle Diaries”) and vet stage actor Ernesto Suarez, “Paz” tells the story of an old man (Jalil) whose last desire in life is to go to Mecc. Before that, however, he has to pick his 95 year-old brother in Bolivia. For this 1,800 miles trip, Jalil hires Sebastian, who has just become a driver and is deep in a thirtysomething crisis. Having won prizes for commercials at Cannes and San Sebastian, Varone shared Colombia’s 55th Cartagena Festival inaugural PuertoLab prize, its first post-production plaudit. “Paz” is a production of Buenos Aires’ Gema Films Productions, in partnership with Argentina’s No Problem Cine, Concreto Films, Netherlands’ Habbekrats, Germany’s Protestant film subsidy org, EZEF, and Germany-based Hanfgam & Ufer, as well as Visions Sud Est and the Qatar’s Doha Film Institute. Miami-based FiGa Films handles international sales. Varone talked to Variety as “Paz” headed to Argentina’s 2015 Mar del Plata Festival.
“Paz” is a balanced dramedy that has screened at Busan and Chicago, two very different audiences. How do you value both reactions?
Varone: Very well in fact, in spite of being such different audiences. In emotional terms, I think that people are touched in some ways at some point. And interestingly not everybody for the same reasons: Some identify with the older man, with his end-of-life concerns, and some others feel empathy with the early mid-life crisis of the young character. In addition, another thing that caught my attention is that the identification is not always generational: Young audiences don’t identify always with Sebastian and the elderly with Jalil. Regarding humor, Korean auds found some and Chicago’s even more.
“Road” shows a restrained humor –although I read a surprising tweet calling the picture hilarious. “Road” takes in more religions than “Nebraska”….
I loved “Nebraska.” I agree. However “Nebraska” bets more on comedy and off-beat characters. In Argentina, there’s a Catholic majority and a very small Islam community. The scene in the middle of the movie [a Dhikr devotional rite] is very important for me. With that, I wanted to show the audience that these kinds of things also happen here. I was a bit afraid about people’s reaction to this, but to say the truth nobody asked me why I chose a Muslim character…
Why did you choose a Muslim character?
The truth is that I began to write the screenplay just picturing an old man. But I ran into a friend who invited me to attend that ceremony and I felt that it matched perfectly the story. I didn’t pay attention Islamic questions. I am just really interested in characters, stories…
Do you think that at such a contentious religious-political time, cinema can afford reflection on such issues, contribute in anyway to peace [in Spanish “Paz” means peace]?
Cinema as a source of reflection is a big ask; cinema bringing peace: That task belongs to larger talents. In any case, that insight should come from non-prejudiced point of view, which dares to show both sides of the coin. I’m just confident about entertainment, in engrossing the audience and in a very subtle way -perhaps- filtering these kinds of considerations. That is my choice.
What is the kind of cinema you intend to make? Are you developing some project?
The kind of cinema I want to make goes in the line of “La Paz.” I like to work with stories that reflect extraordinary situations, stories mixing ordinary lives in which, suddenly, a twist takes you to an unexpected place. Regarding my next project, I have the feeling that I have one leg in the East, one leg in the West. Don’t ask me why but I guess my next movie will follow that path. More specifically, straddling between Latin America and the East.