Chile’s Alfredo Castro, star of multiple Pablo Larrain’s titles and Venice Golden Lion winner “From Afar,” is attached to play the lead role of La Loca del Frente in “Tengo Miedo Torero” (My Tender Matador), a big-screen adaptation of the only novel of Pedro Lemebel, maybe the most politically transgressive of writers who emerged in the last years of Chile under Augusto Pinochet.
The casting of Castro, star of Larrain’s breakthrough “Tony Manero” and last seen in Cannes Critics’ Week entry “Los Perros,” is a first building block in a flagship project from leading Chilean production house Forastero which speaks of its heightened ambition to make films that enroll Latin American co-production and high-level talent to leverage big festival play into overseas theatrical distribution.
“My Tender Matador” also looks on paper like a highlight at San Sebastian’s main industry event, its Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum, which runs Sept. 24-27.
Headed by producers Gregorio Gonzalez and Florencia Larrea, with Lucas Engel coming on board in 2015 to bolster its private-sector finance, Forastero is already one of Chile best-known production houses. Gonzalez and Larrea’s credits take in Sebastian Silva’s Golden Globe-nominated “The Maid,” Dominga Sotomayor’s Rotterdam Tiger winner “Thursday Through Sunday,” and Francisca Alegria’s Sundance winner “And the Whole Sky Fit in the Dead Cow’s Eye.”
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Also on its 2017-18 slate are indie dramedy “Dry Martina,” the most expansive in production terms of movies from Che Sandoval; and “The Monster Within,” Rodrigo Susarte’s auteur genre debut, presented at SANFIC’s Santiago Lab thiss week. “My Tender Matador” and “Dry Martina” are both co-produced with Rizoma, a driving force of the New Argentine Cinema (“Giant,” “The Custodian”). Together, these three titles form one of the strongest current slates of any movie production house in Chile.
Libertarian, provocative and artistically radical, Lemebel was openly gay and a courageous icon of Chilean left-wing queer counter-culture under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, interrupting public events tarted up in high-heels and feathers when homosexuality was a jail-able offence. Lemebel, who died in 2015, grew up in a favela Santiago. For reviewers of many political declensions, “My Tender Matador” nailed that context as, set in the spring of 1986 with Pinochet’s losing control of Chile, it tells the story of La Loca del Frente, an aging, lonely, loquacious, physically squalid transvestite who lives in a shanty barrio of Santiago, listening to boleros to drown out the noise of gunshots and police outside. The novel narrates in parallel the love story between La Loca and a member of the armed resistance to Pinochet who is preparing the (true-life) 1986 attack on the dictator, at the same time as it recounts farcically Pinochet’s soulless marriage.
“My Tender Matador” is Forastero’s most ambitious project to date, said Gonzalez “not just because of its budget and its appeal as a period piece: We feel a strong sense of responsibility, given Lemebel’s cultural and literary significance in Chile and abroad.”
It will be directed by Rodrigo Sepulveda, whose “Aurora,” acquired for world sales by Paris-based Films Distribution, won the 2014 SANFIC Festival. Sepulveda suggested that, “following a self-denigrating, provocative, tragicomic premise,” the film will break with “traditional, working class, proletariat and anarchic masculinity of a Chile past.” Rather, it will “dignify an old transvestite and a freedom fighter through their personal worlds, lives torn apart by dictatorship and their life stories.”
Also a theater director, playwright and founder of Chile’s Teatro de la Memoria playhouse, Castro said he was asked to play La Loca del Frente by Lemebel himself, when the book had been optioned by an Italian production house.
“Pedro Lemebel is a highly important writer in Chile and ‘Tengo Miedo Torero” an emblematic work of Chile’s protest culture and its most alternative and radical zones,” Castro said, adding that the work has “a very important political dimension.”
La Loca del Frente’s seduction of the guerrillero is “beautiful” but very possibly an invention of La Loca del Frente, he ventured. Certainly, the work is a “highly interesting” mixture of “reality, fiction, dreams, lies, illusion and invention,” Castro added.
Gonzalez signaled that Forastero aimed for “My Tender Matador” “to be a Latin American film tapping regional talent and skill through multi-lateral co-production.”
The 2017 SANFIC catches Forastero at a stage of “creative growth” and betting on the growth potential of Latin American and Latino audiences, said Gonzalez.
He added: “We are ready to tackle larger projects, with an eye on Latin American films, thinking of producing cross-border projects, joining regional co-productions in a larger role than as a usual minority partner, or perhaps even becoming majority producers on films by experienced non-Chilean directors.”
To position globally, Forastero is “developing a catalog that embraces multiple genres and a variety of social, political and psychological points of view,” Larrea added.
So while “My Tender Matador” screams big festival potential, “Dry Martina” is upscale comedy with psychological point and “The Monster Within” auteur genre.
Sandoval’s second feature, “Much Better Than You” builds as an alcohol-sluiced Mumblecore odyssey through Santiago nightlife as a husband looks for easy sex to repair his dignity after his wife, quite reasonably, walks out on him. Rarely has irreparable egomaniacal machismo been so miserable.
“Dry Martina” again questions gender models – not raving machismo but rather sex as a liberal woman’s ready fix for trauma. Here, Antonella Costa (“The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Garage Olimpo”) plays a 35-year-old Argentine singer who is dumped, loses her voice and becomes frigid – until she falls in love/lust with handsome Chilean Carlos. But “the real root of her problems is affection, not sex,” Sandoval has said, and a potential new family their solution.
In production terms, “Dry Martina” raises the bar, Larrea said.
“Che Sandoval has large experience creating “agile, black-humored,” naturalistic films centered on people with a complex backstory, in constant conflict with humanity” according to Larrea.
For his first feature with Forastero, however, “we’ve aimed at an an upgrade which runs from “the development of a solid screenplay, with doctoring by Martin Rejtman (“Rapado,” “Two Shots Fired”), to cinematography by Benjamín Echazarreta, a DoP on Sebastian Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” and “Gloria”
Written by Valeria Hofmann (“Attitude Test”), “The Monster Within” aims for the mix of horror and psychological observance which has become the hallmark of upscale Spanish-language genre (think “Pan’s Labyrinth” or ”The Orphanage”).
It tracks a policeman who is dispatched with his daughter to a benighted town in Chile’s South, an epicenter of terrorist attacks, and is given the case of a cult killing, carried out by local warlocks.
A genre-bender, said director Susarte, “The Monster Within” “will have the form of what I call ‘daily horror,’ in which the supernatural is the result of the psychological state of characters.”
“I’ve always been into genre films, and after watching Amat Escalante’s ‘The Untamed’ last year, my eagerness to create a film that mixes horror with thriller and Latin American mythology increased enormously,” Larrea added.
Escalante’s monster horror served as a metaphor for contemporary Mexico. Expect a similar intent from Susarte.