Co-produced by Mexico’s Machete Producciones and Poland’s No Sugar Films, “La habitacion” (“Tales of Mexico”) is the sixth feature from Machete. Headed by Edher Campos and Luis Salinas, it burst onto the scene producing Michael Rowe’s “Leap Year” and then made Diego Quemada-Díez’s multi-laurelled “La jaula de oro.” A young outfit, its movies are deeply rooted in Mexico – its social issues, culture and talent – but – or hence – international in appeal and frequently made in co-production. Premiering at the Warsaw Festival and screening more recently at Mexico’s Los Cabos Festival, “Tales of Mexico” is an omnibus feature directed by eight directors: Carlos Carrera, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Carlos Bolado, Ernesto Contreras, Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, Alejandro Valle, Iván Ávila Dueñas, and Natalia Beristain. It builds to a portrait of the patterns in Mexican history down the decades via its depiction of events in the same room from before the Mexican Revolution to the current day. Some of the most crucial periods and events of Mexico’s recent history –such as Porfirio Díaz’s epoch, the Mexican Revolution or the persecution of Asian immigrants — thread events or form their background. Variety talked to Carlos Carrera -director of the first episode and Oscar-nominated for “The Crime of Padre Amaro”- and Natalia Beristain, whose “The Goodbyes” won an award at Los Cabos’ Gabriel Figueroa Fund pix-in-post showcase, and who directed “Tales”’ final segment.
¿How did you select the periods that frame the eight episodes in ‘Tales’?
Carlos Carrera: The script [by María Diego Hernández] was already written. All the historic moments representing decisive tipping points in the country’s this and last century were already chosen.
Do you think it is necessary to know Mexico’s past in order to fully understand all the film’s parts?
Carrera: Most of the historic periods are explained within the shorts. There are, nevertheless, some specific references to institutions or historical figures, but the social and political environment can be perfectly understood from the lives of all characters.
Natalia Beristain: There’s no doubt that the historical background adds another layer to “Tales,”, but one of the film’s strongest virtues is that you do not need it to explore the personal stories. In the end, the feature is about people facing various situations.
Collective features face a danger of a lack of visual coherence and solid plot. Did you follow some guidelines to avoid this?
Carrera: All the directors of the first part worked together to follow the recurring characters brought up in the first short. In accordance with the emotional nature of each episode, we adopted some formal decisions in terms of lighting, color palette, helping to underline the transformation of the house’s occupants. All this was done to construct the picture as a whole.
Beristain: Yes, the directors worked together all the time. Each episode was developed not only as its own unit but also with regard to its relationship to the previous and following one. This was essential. Also the production designer [Carlos Y. Jacques, an art director on “Spectre” Mexico’s shoot] worked for the room to reflect the tastes of its occupants so was changing all the time.
“Tales of Mexico” moves from the opulence of Porfirio’s time to contemporary ruin. That suggests certain pessimism….
Carrera: There are different forms of violence is each episode:The classism of an unchanging caste society, one of the causes of the Revolution; then class revenge during the war; racism, which isn’t talked about a lot but is still present in Mexican society. The fourth part is an exception: an intimate depiction of nostalgia. The last suggests solidarity but frustration at the impossibility of solving Mexico-s violence and corruption.
In the last chapter, there are some documentary elements – characters looking at the camera, explaining their stories in first person, that could be seen as preparing the viewer for the movie’s end, a push for them not to forget its issues. Was that your intention?
Beristain: No, but I like your question since it suggests there are several readings aside to mine. If I had to talk about the purpose of these documentary elements, I would say that I tried to break with the general style of “Tales of Mexico,” building a more contemporary storytelling style which is more coherent with the present.
What is the natural target of the movie and your expectations for international when it comes to “Tales of Mexico?
Carrera: I think ‘Tales,’ in addition to talking about different times in Mexico’s history, has the virtue of exploring the passage of time. I expect Mexico and international audiences to enjoy the movie.
Beristain: “Tales of Mexico” can be appealing for international audiences, as happened with other collective movies set in a single space, such as “7 Days in Havana” and “Paris je t’aime.”