Courtesy of Max Zunino

‘Open Cage’ reflects on how, why he shot his second feature in Berlin

BERLIN – Martina doesn’t have it all, but, on an economic scale, she’s done well for starters. A scion of a Mexico City upper middle-class family, she works in the family firm, lives in a Noche Buena District flat nice enough for her flat-mate to wonder if they shouldn’t install a garden on their roof terrace.

Then she gets pregnant, by Alberto, her you’re-so-selfish-you-should-do-what-I-want boyfriend. Her pregnancy is a catalyst. Suddenly, she has to decide not so much what she wants her life to be – how many people really determine that? – as, in a more common early decision, what she doesn’t want it to be: An emotional adjunct to her flaky mother and me-first boyfriend. Intuitively, she hops on the first flight to Berlin, to search out her father, whom she has never met. “Bruma” (Mist) is the story of what happens to her.

The second film from Zunino, who co-wrote the screenplay with its star Sofia Espinosa, “Mist” weighed in as one of the frontrunners at Guadalalajara Construye, fest’s March 5-6 pix-in-post contest. That’s hardly surprising. Mexico’s most-prized filmmakers: His debut, “Open Cage,” also co-penned by and starring Espinosa, won prizes at Guadalajara, Ventana Sur and Montreal. Zunino’s upcoming third film, “Jumble,” a contempo Uruguay-set redemption tale still in development, has also wracked up multiple prizes.

A few days out from Guadalajara, Variety talked to Zunino about “Mist”

Two year’s ago at Guadalajara, we announced that you looked set to follow up your debut “Open Cage” with “Jumble,” the tale of a man who returns to Uruguay after 30’ years exile to expiate his remorse at having accidentally killed a soldier. What happened?

In these two years, we’ve advanced quite a lot on the “Jumble” project. We have won funds like Ibermedia development coin and Gabriel Figueroa Fund financing at Los Cabos Festival. I also won a residency in Berlin sponsored by the Medienboard, Nipkow Program, Goethe Institute and Guanajuato Film Festival, where I finished the screenplay with the help of two magnificent advisors: Franz Rodenkincher and Irene Goguel. The project was also invited to participate at the Torino Framework Lab in 2014. Right now, we are applying to Mexican funds; hopefully, we’ll be able to shoot it in 2017.

“Mist” turns on a quest for a sense for identity, as a woman has to decide whether to become a mother, settle down with her boyfriend, which becomes a search for an affirmation of freedom. In this sense, your shoot-style – over the shoulder, actors’ improvisation and input on what happens in scenes – seems to me to be a translation of the film’s central narrative and values.

I totally agree with your sense of the film. Since the very first moment, we wanted to make “Mist” an exercise of spontaneity. “Mist” is an ultra low-budget film, made by a crew of very few people. This is regularly a weak point for the production. We wanted to transform this weakness in our greatest strength, working both thematically and conceptually around the concept of freedom and identity. This concept was used to decide the story, language of the film, how to approach the scene with the actors and to the selection of locations where, on some occasions, we would pick it at the very same time that the sequence was shot. We wanted to maintain the maximum possible freedom within the film, and let ourselves be surprised by improvising dialogues, camera behavior, locations, extras, etc; including any element of reality that impacted a scene, integrating it into our history rather than eliminating them.

Another important factor about the project was from the very beginning, the experience as a team of shooting in these conditions, in an unknown but fascinating city, taking all these risks without worrying too much about the result.

Martina shop, bar-lifts, nicks things from work. Kleptomania has multiple explanations. What would be yours here?

Martina’s Kleptomania is a disorder of the will: A reaction to her monotonous and oppressive everyday life. Kleptomania is the red light that warns her she should pay attention to her desires and expectations in life, and once and for all take control of her life.

By not taking any decision about her own life and leaving decisions to her mother or other-half, kleptomania is presented as a reaction where she takes what she wants without others’ noticing. A self destructive reaction to her cowardly condition.

Young upper-class Mexicans, who can just hop on a plane to Berlin, Martina and Angel seem to be people who have never thought through their lives, conform to social expectations. In Berlin, Martina meets Angel, who is probably one of the best people she could meet, because, as a transgender performer, he’s had to think through a lot questions of identity and social expectation….

Thinking about the character of Angel (a transgender person), we wanted to contrast the indecisive Martina with someone who has fought this battle before, given everything to remain true to her own identity, and that is quite sure who she is. In this sense Angel becomes her teacher, her guide to find herself.

Could you talk about how you and Sofia collaborated on the screenplay, given this is a film of improvisation and how far that improvisation went….

From the beginning, when we knew that I was selected to attend a scriptwriting residence in Berlin, we thought how wonderful it would be to shoot in that amazing city. With that intention, we started to write together an outline of a very simple history that we could shoot. With this outline as the only document, we went forward and start inviting actors and crew who helped us to raise the project, and became our accomplices on this magic journey. Together we designed the concept, where the main thing was to react to stimuli that we find doing the scene. We all worked using this precept: the actors, the d,p., sound and direction, as well as production. It was about harnessing experience and appropriate elements we were finding on the road (such as kleptomaniac Martina) that helped us to tell the story.

As a film about identity, it seems “post-global” and “Chilean”: Martina hardly ever dwells on her Mexican nationality. With its warm colors, streets cafes, Berlin’s Mitte contradicts clichés about Germany… It’s a film about a middle class, not suffering, muddied peasantry.

Unlike our previous film, Open Cage,” where there was a social issue as the main theme, “Mist” speaks of the conflict of a single character in search of her identity, Martina. She travels to Berlin, one of the cities with the highest culture of tolerance and inclusion of the Western world, to discover who she is.

On the other hand, a feature of the upper class in Mexico, and I think everywhere, is not to observe or worry too much about social events happening around them. They feel unaffected by them. In this way, Martina is absorbed in her own conflict and does not care about what happens around her.

So, do you think “Jumble” will be your next film?


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