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‘Chronic’s’ Michel Franco, Emma Suarez, Televisa Team for ‘April’s Daughter’ (EXCLUSIVE)

‘Chronic,’ ‘After Lucia’ director continues his exploration of keystone family relationships

'April's Daughter,' Michel Franco and Emma
Copyright: Lucia Films/Alexandra Bas

One of Mexico’s highest-profile and most resolutely independent young directors, Michel Franco has gone into production on “Las hijas de Abril” (“April’s Daughter”), a mother-daughters relationship drama starring Spain’s Emma Suarez, co-star of Pedro Almodovar’s “Julieta.” It’s a followup for Franco, whose Tim Roth starrer “Chronic” won best screenplay at 2015’s Cannes Festival.

Videocine, the movie distribution arm of Latin American TV network giant Televisa, has acquired theatrical distribution rights for Mexico. Set up at Franco’s Mexico City label Lucia Films and kept under wraps until the present, “April’s Daughter” is currently 10 days into a shoot in Puerto Vallarta, the Mexican resort.

Also written by Franco, “April’s Daughter” plumbs the same keystone family ties whose exploration catapulted Franco to international notice when “After Lucia” won Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Award in 2012.

Suarez plays a woman who returns to Mexico to reconnect with her youngest daughter, Valeria, when she learns the teen girl is pregnant. The reunion opens a Pandora’s box of emotions, Franco told Variety from the set of “April’s Daughter.”

“The characters’ good intentions do not always have positive consequences. There’s no such thing as a simple family,” Franco said; he is trying to explore this in the “most intimate context possible, that between parents and their children.”

Also driving the narrative are “the preoccupations which a 50-year-old, mature woman begins to have,” Franco added.

“April’s Daughter” bears broad similarities with the narratives lines of “After Lucia” and “Chronic,” of characters attempting to reconnect with their supposed nearest and dearest. That said, it will be “my most accessible film yet, for mass audiences,” Franco promised.

He added: “I’m shooting the film in a different way, with multiple camera movements, not sequence shots, and closer up to the actors. There’s some music, much more dialogue and fewer silences,” a reference to “Chronic.”

Financed via a Videocine minimum guarantee and Eficine tax coin in Mexico, the drama is set up at Franco’s Mexico City label Lucia Films, which has become, in four years, one of the most big fest-laureled Latin American production houses. Apart from “After Lucia” and “Chronic,” Lucia Films also produced Gabriel Ripstein’s “600 Miles,” a Berlin best first-feature prize winner. Lucia Films also co-produced Venezuelan Lorenzo Vigas’ “Far Away,” which scooped Venice’s top Golden Lion last year.

Actress Suarez broke through with Julio Medem early ‘90s trilogy, “Cows,” “The Red Squirrel” and “Earth”; she won a Spanish Academy Goya for “El perro del hortelano” in 1996. But major recognition has largely come in maturity.

Newcomers Valeria Becerril and Joanna Larequi play, respectively, the mother’s pregnant daughter and her elder half-sister.

“I like to make pictures with adolescents, combine them with actors with a lot of experience, as in ‘After Lucia,’” Franco said.

That represents part of the filmmaking philosophy of the 37-year-old, whose films combine auteurist ambitions and a  staunch creative independence, with a larger concern for audience than many Mexican auteurs in past decades.

Distributed by Videocine, “After Lucia” notched up about one million spectators in Mexico, Franco said. Though often treating social issues, Franco has always maintained that his films should be entertainment. “The first purpose of my films is to entertain, but to entertain clever audiences,” Franco has said.

Lucia Films is the sole producer on “April’s Daughter,” as Franco its sole writer.

“This allows me to lose myself in the terrain, then find myself, shoot chronologically, do many things producers might not think good ideas but I need creatively,” Franco commented.

Franco will show “April’s Daughter” to sales agents when it is more advanced. Wrapping in January, “April’s Daughter” shoots in Puerto Vallarta and nearby Guadalajara. “In Puerto Vallarta, there’s a middle class which lives and works, leads a ‘normal’ life. Also, there are no safety problems and it’s not a battle to get a film made here,” Franco said.

Gabriel Ripstein remembers how he met Franco when Ripstein worked for Sony Pictures in Mexico and Franco came to his office to pitch comedies. Franco recently shot the pilot for a 13-episode comedy TV series, “El Que Se Enjoja Pierde,” co-starring “Instructions Not Included’s” Eugenio Derbez, for Blim, Televisa’s SVOD service.

“As a director, it’s important to not always be in one’s comfort zone,” Franco said.

Pedro Damian, the true-life producer of Televisa’s 2004-06 uber-hit teen soap “Rebelde,” stars in the series as fictionalised version of himself who turns in desperation to Derbez, the most popular comedian in the Spanish-speaking world, for a career makeover.