Actor-director Daniel Hendler comments on the modern political scene with his second movie, a strongly cast dramedy
A Berlin best actor Silver Bear winner for Daniel Burman’s ‘Lost Embrace,’ actor-helmer Daniel Hendler has gone back behind the camera as a writer and director of his second feature, “The Candidate.” As with his 2010 debut, “Norberto’s Deadline,” Hendler has teamed up with Micaela Sole, his partner at their production label, Montevideo-based Cordon Films, to bring to the screen a dramedy which explores and questions typical character archetypes and keeps the audience guessing throughout, while leaving room for shards of dark humor. An Argentina-Uruguay co-production, “The Candidate” had its theatrical release in Uruguay on Oct. 27.
Hendler’s first film, “Norberto’s Deadline,” told the story of a timid thirtysomething (Fernando Amaral) who has trouble finding his lot in life. The boss at his new real estate job suggests he take an assertiveness class to help with his new career, but instead Norberto joins an acting class which pushes him to do things he never expected of himself.
“The Candidate” delivers a behind-the-scenes tale of a campaign being run in an effort to get voiceless millionaire Martin Marchand (Diego de Paula) elected to office. A team of advisors is brought in to shape the image of Marchand, producing social media profiles, commercials and a new public persona. Conflict arises when it is revealed that not everyone is who they present themselves to be. “The Candidate” has an invitation-only sneak peek at at Ventana Sur.
In your first two features, you take character archetypes and turn them around forcing the audience to evaluate their assumptions of who the sympathetic characters are and who they might root for, often reversing the roles multiple times throughout the films. Could you comment?
Yes. I suppose there is a principle of “aspirational identity” that governs us as spectators. It is usually a gateway to the movies, to the point of view of the narrative. This is most clearly seen in advertisements where identification is sought with characters who respond to the target market they are looking for. I think I am more interested in the cinema that challenges the viewer in his need for identification, to invite him to reflect in an altered or deformed mirror from the way he normally sees himself. At times he is horrified, at others laughs. I suppose we are willing to identify with any character to live the cathartic experience of the piece where – through a protagonist – we must overcome obstacles to achieve goals and satisfy desires, something that in our life does not work in such a linear way. Because of that we often give the film – or video games – that key of ephemeral satisfaction.
Increasingly, our mind is looking for shortcuts to interpret the codes, cataloging and giving genre to what we see, and that’s where I think emerging or independent cinematography would have a duty to be a bit annoying and not stick to those furrows, which are ever more limited. That annoyance, that discomfort that generates the back and forth between identification and rejection towards a protagonist, or between the elements of one genre and another, I think, would bring these films closer to a more Brechtian experience, where a more active stance is called for of the spectator.
When you write is it your intention to challenge the typical figure of a protagonist or are these hard-to-pin-down characters a result of the stories you are trying to tell? How sympathetic for you are your protagonists?
I feel empathy for the characters I write, and also some rejection. That rejection however, is similar to how I feel towards some characteristics of my own personality, which I suppose I have “tamed”. In the characters I emphasize these characteristics, and put them in contexts where certain “defects” become more dangerous.
I am interested in identifying with that monster that is the candidate, and to remove it from the place of demon or object of terror, because when we access their human dimension (which is so difficult for me to perceive in certain increasingly popularized sinister politicians), we understand that the danger nested in them does not come from the condition of being good or bad. This danger comes, sometimes, from other sources, behind their carefully designed empty or perverse speeches.
These characters of The Candidate (and, to some extent, Norberto) are also deformed mirrors of some common miseries, but I do not turn away from them or cease to feel affection for them (although clearly in the The candidate’s case it’s a little more uncomfortable, that affective relationship).
Both Norberto and Martin show desires to be artists rather than continue on with their established lives. Norberto drops everything to become an actor and Martin has a uniquely sincere conversation about how much he would like to be a painter. You have been an actor, producer, writer and director now, are these characters a way for you to express other creative avenues, and are there other areas within the arts you would like to or are exploring?
I would like to explore almost all creative avenues but I do not think I have the time or the capacity to develop them. However, this coincidence between Norberto and Martin, is more a limit between sensitivity and lethargy, or between the down-to-earth-ness and the delusions of grandeur, things with which I can also identify myself.
Both “Norberto’s Deadline” and “The Candidate” are series pieces of drama which challenge the audience, however both also have moments of levity. How important is it to you when writing drama that comedy be a part of your scripts? Is there an intention on your part include these bits of comedy or is it just your sense of humor coming through naturally as you write?
It does not happen consciously although I can see it as I write. I do not mean to tell the joke but to access the humor. Humor I think should never be lost, even when we write something tragic. The market is not very open to humor, except when it comes to a deliberate mood and framed in established genres. The intermediate zones do not meet the demands of the market that needs a place for everything and everything in its place. As Martin says: “I prefer to be extreme left or extreme right rather than center.” That is a sinister but also lucid side of Martin, I believe, with respect to the seduction of masses. The truth is that humor for me is fundamental because it adds another layer to look at, and therefore can enrich – when you manage to connect well – the discussion.
Your producer Micaela Sole has said that this film was meant to “represent a new form of politician, entrepreneurs without political tradition and a discourse empty of ideological content.” The protagonist of your film is a middle aged white man who inherited a large fortune from his father and has decided to run for political office but has no real platform to run on. Does it surprise you how true to life your story telling has become and now that you know everything you write comes true will you use your new superpowers for good or evil?
Haha, I would like to think I have that kind of power but I’m afraid I don’t have the necessary influence to contribute more than a grain of sand. Those who hold that power are not artists but entrepreneurs or advisors. Along with these new politicians to which Micaela Solé refers, have also appeared their advisors who, in the shadows, are horribly powerful, and who feel no ethical or moral weight because they are limited to fulfilling a strategic function where what matters is only that they win. In the end, all of them wash their hands by delegating that ethical responsibility. What’s worse is, they are strutting around writing books in which they expose their audacious techniques to destroy opponents in the most fruitless and violent ways. They have the foresight and the power to do good or evil, and they usually choose evil.
You have now finished directing your second feature film and continue to add to an impressive resume of TV and cinema roles as an actor. Is there anything upcoming from you, either as an actor or director, that you can tell us about?
Right now I’m acting in the second season of the series “The Hypnotist.” I just finished a web series, “The Division,’” where I direct and act, to be released in 2017. Also in 2017, we will premiere a film directed by Israel Adrian Caetano “The Other Brother,” in which I act. Finally, we are also premiering a film for television in which I act called ‘On the Edge,’ which is directed by my wife Ana Katz. In turn, I plan to attend some premieres of “The Candidate” in 2017.