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Mexico’s Maria Novaro on ‘Tesoros,’ Mexicans’ Joie de Vivre

Screening at the Berlinale and now Guadalajara, Novaro’s latest is a children’s adventure feature, and the response by Mexico’s best-know woman director to the violence and pain in her country

“Tesoros” kicks off with a view of scrub tropical forest and a deep marine blue tropical sky, captured from a van, painted light blue, taking six-year-old Dylan and his family to live in Barra del Potosi,  a blowsy, stunningly quaint beachside chalet community behind a sand bar on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

Cut to Jacinta, the film’s narrator, not much older than Dylan, who lives in an animal sanctuary with her parents and dog Toto, a hermit crab, Erni, and a garden with a whale’s back bone.

After just seven minutes of “Tesoros,” all but the most jaundiced of spectators will have begun to think that in Barra del Potosi they have found paradise on earth and wonder about the cost of renting an apartment there.

Sold by FiGa Films, the children’s adventure movie from one of Mexico’s foremost directors, María Novaro (“Danzon”), marks a departure for much Mexican film. Its story has Dylan who already plays a pirates video game on his iPad, dreaming of Francis Drake appearing to him on a dark and stormy night and telling him he’s saved up a treasure for the young boy. Dylan and his new primary school friends embark on a leisurely hunt to find the treasure trove which takes them to limestone islands just off the coast.

Produced by Cine Ermitano’s Pamela Guinea, “Tesoros” is lit by bright warm colors and an eye for a palette of blues and yellows and standout reds that transfer the soft tones of the seascapes to open door houses, even a school, whose walls and shelves are spangled with a lively bric-a-brac of toys and students’ paintings.

Your film opens a window onto a Mexico which is not one of corruption or violence…

“Tesoros” is a movie for children, but it really my response to the violence and pain in Mexico. I wanted to talk to children about something else which is also Mexico, as true as the violence, and which can strengthen optimism about the future.

Hence the focus on the stunning landscapes and the constant presence of nature, in the kids’ games, where they live, their classes….

Mexico is a beautiful country and one of the top five most biodiverse countries in the world. As a Mexican, I love my culture, our food, the taste of life, the joy we find in life. Some time ago, an international survey, where people judged themselves in terms of happiness, suggested that Mexico was the second happiest country in the world – in spite of the many painful problems. This unbreakable will to be happy is one of the great strengths of a country and its people. I wanted children to share this, live it. My film talks about that joy of living.

It also talks about the importance of the imagination…

I was interested in making something different from what we normally get with children’s films. I wanted to make it very real. Although there is fantasy in the children’s lives, I wanted to find a way for that fantasy to be completely linked to the real world, a world as experienced by children in my country. So I wrote the story to happen in this place, a paradise, though part of one of the most violent states in all Mexico, the state of Guerrero.

The children’s homes and their school are decorated by a marvelous bric-a-brac of drawings, murals, paintings, clay crafts presented natural but vibrant seascape colors. To what extent is this mise-en-scene created? Or were you just observing reality?

Almost everything you see in the movie really exists. I just chose the best places and the best colors. But it was all already there: the wonderful mural outside the school; the designs of the man and woman outside the bathrooms; the seahorses on the balcony.

What are you working on now?

With the experience of “Tesoros” and because I’m a grandmother and enjoy so much working with children, I’d like to continue down the same path. I’m from a generation of 35mm cinema but I have adapted to digital technologies. It’s really wonderful what can be done now. My next project is nothing less than the fall of Tenochtitlán and the end of the Aztec Empire, seen from the present. There are enough resources and digital effects to do this, without it being too expensive, and allow me to make the film, told for children and young people.

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