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Morelia: Director Matias Meyer on ‘Yo,’ Mexico’s Education Problem

“Yo” bows in competition at Mexico’s Morelia Fest

Variety spoke with Matias Meyer about his film “Yo”(pictured) which, sold by FiGa Films, will be in the main fiction feature competish at this year’s Morelia International Film Festival, running Oct. 23 – Nov. 1.

His third feature to compete at Morelia, the film – an adaptation of a short story of the same name by Nobel laureate author Jean-Marie Le Clezio – portrays a sensitive young man who may be full grown and feeling sexual desires but lacking the maturity to know how to handle these feelings.

Do you think the place and circumstances of his upbringing played a role in his inability to mature?

Totally, and in fact, it makes me think of one of the main problems in Mexico, which is education. He’s never been in school, but when you see him, he’s intelligent, and he’s tender and can learn very quickly. And that’s what we see towards the end of the movie.

In the film, he tells the young girl Elena that he is 15, which he clearly cannot be. How old is really?

The actor is 22 or 23. You don’t know how old the character really is. In the short story, he says: ‘They told me I’m 15 years old’, and he assumes that because they say that.

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With the little kid (Elena), society is very afraid of seeing this couple together, so he’s definitely older.

Do you think he was lying when he told Elena he was 15?

No, I think he thought that was true. That also shows in a way that he never had a birthday cake. He just believes what people say. Like all the kids he has a huge imagination and in some aspects he can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.

“Yo” is an adaptation from the original short story by Jean-Marie Le Clezio. What was key for you to keep or change in your film?

The structure in the short story is like his mind, really confused. It’s more like an association of ideas. I used a more linear structure, so that I would have an evolution of the character. It keeps you turning the page; it keeps audiences in the theater. Le Clezio told me “Yo” is this character that is never going to grow up. And this is different in the movie, because in the end he evolves. You need this evolution of the character in cinema.

You have consistently used non-actors in your features. When might you use professionals?

I’m planning to use professionals in my next two projects. There is a wonderful new generation of actors in Mexico. There is a lot of creation from the actors, they help to create the character. With non-professionals, they totally trust the director. If you tell them ‘That was perfect, that was ok’, then they say ‘ok’. They won’t say: ‘I can do more, give me the opportunity.’ I think the actor is always pushing themselves to their last physical and emotional limits.

You have said the main character “Yo” is a child in a man’s body with sexual desires. How do see Yo’s energy with Elena, Jenny and Luisa?

Elena is also alone. Yo is very attracted sexually, but he can control this. He knows she’s a little girl. And she’s very honest and direct with him. They say in Mexico how ‘drunks and children tell the truth.’ Jenny is very tender with him for a prostitute. She knows it’s the first time of this kid. But she’s also afraid. ‘I’m going to be sweet with you. Can you be the same with me?’ But everything goes well finally.

With Luisa, I think he’s attracted not by her physique but by her personality, he asks her about her life, about Belize. There’s totally a maternal relationship. When he asks her to tell a story and he falls asleep, she just goes out quietly and leaves him sleeping.

With all of three of these three relationships, for him, it’s about trying to fill the absence of the mother.

His mother is so tired of everyday life and all her work that she cannot give him what he needs. He’s just asking for a little love and patience. She thinks she’s going to have to be stuck with him for the rest of her life.

You are based in Montreal now. Do you think you will keep shooting in Mexico or might you doing something there?

I’m based in both countries and doing both, but it’s still easier in Mexico culturally, even if I’m discovering I can do this is in Canada. In Canada, I’ve been writing a script about Louis Riel, who was a political and spiritual leader of the Metis people who resisted the government. It’s about the foundation of Canada, set in 1885. It was a very apocalyptic time for the indigenous people. And in Mexico, my last three films have been adaptations. Now I want to come more from my personal experiences. And the film will be more recognizable to me. It’s a lot about couple relationships and forbidden desire.

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