World premiering at Mexico’s Guadalajara Festival last week, “Me Estas Matando, Susana,” Roberto Sneider’s third feature, stars Gael Garcia Bernal as a young Mexican actor subject to bouts of machismo who flies to a U.S. writing seminar to win back the love of his wife, a feminist novelist (the underrated Veronica Echegui, “Fortitude”). Rambunctious – “messy,” says Sneider – and laugh-out-loud in its early stretches, if a Guadalajara audience is anything to go by, “Susana” was the best received of big new films at the festival, its mainstream upscale knockabout entertainment mixing with a serious reflection on the complexities of masculinity, Mexico and modern love, the last being one reason why Garcia Bernal wanted so “fervently” to make this film which, co-produced by Cinepolis, the world’s biggest non-U.S. cinema chain, and distributed by Televisa’s Videocine, weighs in as one of Mexico’s big 2016 B.O. plays.
By JOHN HOPEWELL
The choice of Spain’s Veronica Echegui for the role of Susana comes from the book, or was simply because you wanted to cast this very good actress, or was there another reason?
Roberto Sneider: In the novel, Susana is Mexican. One reason, which was important, is that for me the film is about someone who loves his wife, who is not a macho but labors under the import of a machista ideology which impacts some situations. José Agustin, the novelist, took this idiosyncrasy to the center of the U.S., where such attitudes are not so normal. I thought it was interesting to have a Spanish actress and wife, who also isn’t so accustomed to and doesn’t accept such behavior, which is yet another obstacle. Also in readings between Gael and Verónica, there was a special chemistry. And I liked the fact that she has a certain vulnerability and is very beautiful, which makes it even more difficult for a man who is struggling with machista behavior….
For those who look for it, “Me estas matando, Susana” reflects on the contradictions of modern love. Both partners assert their independence. Yet love implies some sort of dependence. Would you agree?
Gael Garcia Bernal: A love relationship has always been shaped by the context and times we live in. Right now it has its particular complications to be with someone. This crisis that you point out — independence versus the dependence of love — is a big issue in modern couples. Doesn’t matter the social or the economic context. This affects everyone. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this film so fervently.
At the beginning of “Me estas matando, Susana,” Eligio gets home drunk, crawls into bed beside Susana, and says to her, in a seductive way, “Say you love me.” She refuses, and she goes on refusing….
Roberto Sneider: Susana is intellectual, more intelligent than Eligio, feminist, but she also has her idiosyncrasies, like a prejudice against seeming vulgar and saying “I love you.” Neither of them will yield, budge from their position. You begin to realize that she has a hard side to her, with regard to not expressing her love for him. The film’s about both of them compromising in the end. But I wanted to make a film that was messy, with its jump cuts, music, and where the lead characters’ sentiments were not so pure nor so clear.
All three of your films, Roberto, are based on novels: “Two Crimes,” “Tear This Hear Out,” “Me estas matando, Susana.” What is it about adaptations and what do they have in common?
Roberto Sneider: I love literature, read the three novels when I was a kid. They’re novels with marvelous characters and great dialogues. What do they have in common? I think all three are explorations of what we’re like as Mexicans. All three have vital, active characters.
In a key scene for me, Eligio and Susana go with other writers at the course to a bar and Eligio starts to talk about Mexican food, its glorious diversity, redolent of Mexico’s regional mix. When he asks the American students at his table what is the best food in this part of the U.S., they say it does a good burger. Succumbing to bouts of machismo, Eligio reflects in some ways some glories of Mexican culture and its failings. I feel that this ambivalence informs much of your performance, Gael….
Gael Garcia Bernal: It’s an interesting question. Definitely Eligio is a prominent figure of Mexican exceptionalism. When confronted with a clear definition of what it is to be Mexican, we encounter ourselves in a never ending allegory of mixes and chaos. It’s a long discussion, for sure, but I can see this reaction occurring many times in any conversation with a Mexican, male or female. It’s an ambivalence that is quite extreme: We can laugh out loud of our misfortunes and failures yet at the same time we are incredibly proud of the acceptance of this and how this makes us a much more mixed, chaotic, free definition of a sophisticated culture. Octavio Paz and many modern writers can explain this with more scope. But you are right; this is the tonic of Eligio’s journey.
Roberto commented in a Guadalajara post-screening Q & A that you improvised in some scenes. Could you comment on when and why?
Gael Garcia Bernal: We improvised a lot. Eligio is a character that needs to be very alive all the time. So we had to keep the energy going with lots of improvisation. There where many elements to react to within the context and at the same time I understand the journey of a Mexican in the middle of the United States.
The American girl who flirts with Eligio at the writing seminar comments she’s never been to Mexico, in fact never been out of her state. Do you feel there is still, despite globalization, a large ignorance of Mexico and indeed, as someone who works extensively abroad, a large ignorance in general of other people’s cultures?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Of course! It is quite common to meet people that live a few kilometers away from Mexico and that have never been there. We need to revive on many levels an illustrious desire to get to know the world, to learn another language, to understand and create empathy with people that live a few kilometers away from us. It’s never late to do this.
What kind of distribution does the film have?
Roberto Sneider: Televisa’s Videocine distributes in Mexico. It will be released May 5 on 400-500 screens. A few Mexican films have gone out on over 1,000 screens, but this is still a serious bet.