After decades of Latin American realism in cinema and soap opera in TV, restrained by customs and context, a lot is beginning to stir and transgress entertainment conventions.
Argentina – with Mexico, one of the few Latin American countries to forge its own genre tradition, is once again the stage for a fresh take on TV fiction entertainment that suggests that, when it comes to higher-end drama, Latin America can have a lot to offer.
One case to point: New HBO Latin America Original “The Bronze Garden,” which will bow out after eight episodes on Friday, Aug. 18 in the U.S.
Partnering HBO Latin America and Adrian Suar’s Pol-ka Producciones in production terms, it was hailed by HBO after seven episodes as its most-watched Latin American series of the year.
Pablo Fendrik (“Blood Appears,” “Ardor”) and Hernán Goldfrid (“Thesis on a Homicide”), two young Argentine directors that have constantly shown their control over the grammar of movie genre, work side-by-side on “The Bronze Garden,” taking directorial credits on four episodes each. Based on the homonymous novel and written for television by its author, Gustavo Malajovich, the eight-segment series follows the frantic and desperate search of a father for his kidnapped daughter. Working back and forth between genres and slower-paced character development, the show has grabbed attention for its production values, a crafted screenplay and the performances of great Argentinean actors, led by Joaquin Furriel and Luis Luque. Variety talked to Fendrik and Goldfrid as the show, broadcast every Sunday just before “Games of Thrones,” was building to its major-twist climax.
Over the last decade, Latin American cinema has plumbed multifarious genres: “The Bronze Garden” is a constant display of narrative elements ranging from thriller to near Gothic terror. What was your approach to these genres?
Fendrik: We worked together creating a common language, based on the idea of something very close to us. We are directors but also spectators, fanatics of film genre. We’ve seen many films from the ‘80s, ‘90s and of course the current decade. It was a beautiful playground to keep experimenting, applying our knowledge and desire to explore what we could do with the material. And that was Gustavo’s novel – deeply rooted in the police procedural. The range of things to cover is very wide: Highly intimate, small moments such as the first episodes of the father, Fabian Danubio and his wife; chases, gunshots. As in Episode 5, a moment of intense horror cinema.
How did you go about adapting a novel into a serial format?
Goldfrid: One thing was crucial: the fact that one of the screenwriters was the novel’s author, Gustavo Malajovich, who is first and foremost a screenwriter. He wrote scripts long before literature and writing this novel. When you transit the pages and chapters of the novel many times the ending of a chapter is a sort of cliff-hanger where one desperately wants to read the next chapter. There’s a great knowledge of the language of TV series and the police procedural in the writing of the novel. [It was] already in its origins very cinematic, very visual, very sonorous.
What sets apart the series from other procedurals are moments where the plot pauses to mature character, creating a very three-dimensional storyline instead of having people who merely drive narrative.
Fendrik: One of the things that made the whole story attractive to us – and I think to the audience – is the tridimensionality of the characters, that it’s not just a man who lost his daughter and is desperately searching. Each of the characters transcends a little more, has more flesh on the bone. As far as the series allows, we try to explore all that subtext, all that other side to each one of the characters. If we think of the hero’s path, all the characters affect Fabian, working within this great adventure so that he becomes a tragic hero.
The series has a highly developed, sometimes unconventional, and mature cinematic language. Many choices are closer to film that television one. Could you comment?
Fendrik: We had to use all our resources, what we knew about visual grammar. If we’d used only close-ups and shot- reverse-shot. it would have been exhausting Our choices in certain episodes have to do with getting way from the characters, contextualizing them, generating a sense of restlessness. Sometimes we stayed back and used a normal lens that would make the characters very small; or we would use a three-camera setup, using very long lenses, cutting the foreground and letting the characters move freely around the city. Someone once asked us what was the difference because the television screen is much smaller and we come from film. The difference is none at all because what is truly important, the size of the shot or the optics you work with, is what you want to make the audience feel. If a general shot is needed, that shot is telling something; if it takes a close-up or an extreme close-up this is not related to the size of the screen but to the language with which we are speaking.
How were your dynamics while shooting? Because the series shows a high quality, highly curated images which usually requires far more time than TV shoot schedule allow.
Goldfrid: It was very like a movie, or at least our latest films, but with the difference that we had to generate a lot more material per day of shooting. We had to have very high-quality standards, just like professional film, but to generate a lot more material, I would say double. There were days where we must have shot 30% more material than on our films. Which first created some pressure on the whole crew because it had to generate a lot of material but of high quality.
John Hopewell contributed to this article.