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Gabriel Mariño Talks ‘Yesterday Wonder I Was’ and Confronting Cycles of Crisis as a Mexican Filmmaker

Fantasy mixes with cold isolation in Mexico City for the director's latest independent endeavor

Yesterday Wonder I Was

A double winner at Mexico’s Morelia and Los Cabos Fests, “Yesterday” is the latest from a director who has been keeping busy since his 2012 feature debut, “A Secret World,” was selected for competition at Berlinale, having taken part in San Sebastian’s Films in Progress pix-in-post showcase.

Mexican production company UnMundo, which also produced “A Secret World,” returned to produce “Yesterday.”

The film is a body-swapping tale of a solitary soul in one of the world’s most populated cities. The entity, completely unintentionally and unexplained, occasionally wakes up in a new body for an unknown period of time. Gender, age and physical features are all lost, the only thing remaining is the the entity’s consciousness. The film follows the entity through parks, parties, rooftops and its beloved courtyard garden as it tries to make a connection with someone who will love it in return, in spite of its condition.

That possible connection comes in the form of Luisa, a beautiful hairdresser who cuts the entity’s hair after each swap. When finally it wakes up in a body young and attractive enough to instill the necessary confidence, the entity makes its move and begins a relationship with Luisa, not knowing how she will respond to the next swap.

Mariño spoke with Variety about the film.

In the film’s most intimate moments of love, isolation and artists creating, the music and sound effects drop out and we only hear the rain outside. What was your intention in isolating that one sound?

I wanted to make a film as sensory as possible: Full of evocations, memories and nostalgia. I think that sound, being a non-visual tool, has the ability to filter deeper into the unconscious. The sound of water, and of rain in particular, is almost palpable. We all relate to something in particular, that is why rain and thunder are sound characters in the film. For me personally, rain can, in a moment, transform a mood.

One of the film’s greatest assets is its photography. Can you talk a bit about that, and your photographer Iván Hernández?

Iván is my biggest cinematographic accomplice. He always pushes my limits and gives my films a visual personality. Beyond the photographic, he brings ideas on the film’s history and characters from the early stages of the script. He photographed this film without lighting, using only the natural light of each location. Usually black and white contemporary films have a lot of lighting work, so it was even more special that Ivan would risk filming a black and white film in such a way. Ivan’s work was able to build a unique atmosphere, full of intimacy and textures, which gives shape to the accumulated memories of the characters.

It’s clear that Mexico City is a third character in the film. What role did the city play in making it, and could you have told this story somewhere else?

I have a love-hate relationship with Mexico City and wanted it to be a character in the film. In my head this story could not have happened as we see it in any other part of the world, because the city seems so great and mysterious that it could well be inhabited by some entity like we see it in the film. For me. this movie is also a crazy love letter to the city where I grew up.

You didn’t use a script, rather just a short story you wrote. How important then were the actors in making this film?

The actors and actresses were very important in the creative process, because I was able to work with them before filming. We did several exercises to build the film’s tone. The dialogues were constructed by me before and during filming, but some lines that were already established before were adapted by the actors on set.

Despite your sterling reputation, you made this film completely independently. Was that a creative choice or was it imposed on you?

More than by choice, it was out of necessity. In Mexico almost all the cinema is subsidized by the state through Imcine (the Mexican Institute of Cinematography) through different funds. I have applied to most of them on several occasions and never been lucky. I came to the conclusion that my film career can not depend on state funds and I have been able to find, in independent production, a place of creative freedom and support with which I feel very comfortable. The lack of capital becomes a tool that pushes creativity, and puts us to work on the edge, which is very exciting.

With a series of recent national crises, what difficulties are being experienced by Mexican filmmakers right now, and how can they overcome them?

In general, Mexicans are accustomed to working in the middle of a crisis. We continue to go from crisis to crisis. I think the worst enemy of Mexican cinema is not natural disasters or external phenomena, but our government and its neo-liberal policies on national culture in general. Each year, it cuts more the budgets for culture in Mexico and makes decisions that beat down protections for creators and cultural goods. Nevertheless, the raw material that feeds cinema in Mexico resides in the Mexican filmmakers themselves, and their desire to continue making cinema.