The opening scene in “Enigma” seems to be set in a police station where the officer in charge, his back to the camera, explains to a woman that they want to re-open the case on her murdered daughter. But it turns out that the woman he’s interviewing isn’t the mother and when Nancy, the film’s protagonist sits before him, that he isn’t P.D- but a TV producer. Shot for the most part at Nancy’s family home, “Enigma” marks the awaited feature debut of Chile’s Ignacio Juricic, whose 2015 short, “Lost Queens,” won a Queer Palme and was runner-up for the Cinefondation Award at 2015’s Cannes Festival. “Enigma” turns on Nancy, a 40-something hairdresser, as she debates whether to go onto the TV show which may throw light on the night, 10 years prior, when her daughter was beaten to death after leaving a LGBT club. But it returns again to the theme of identity, the mechanisms and acts that forge it in very early scenes, as Nancy debates whether to appear on the program – an act which will define her for life. Meanwhile, cooped up in the family apartment, which at times appears like a sober arthouse version of “Duck Soup,” her huge brood of daughters and friends learn deeply conservative attitudes and mechanisms of hypocrisy which will define their own existence. Chile often slots two or three films in sections at Cannes. This would seem to be a candidate. Variety talked to Ignacio Juricic as his film screened in rough cut at Guadalajara’s Intl. Film Festival.
The set up of “Enigma” is inspired by the ghastly brutal murder of a lesbian girl, Sandra, just after she leaves a covert gay club. But the murder scene doesn’t appear at all in what we saw of the film. Your interest appears to lie elsewhere…
It’s interesting that you mention the murder scene because I think this film is about the consequences, or what is attached to filming a murder scene. Our interest lies there, with what is beneath. The TV show in the film is interested in the crime scene; “Enigma” is about family relationships, the grief, living our daily lives without having any closure on justice. I wanted to explore other forms of representing violence because I’ve doubt if we need to see another women or LGBTQI+ person being beaten to death on screen.
At least from the few scenes seen, your film makes several key and highly original stylistic choices, such as in early stretches of shooting characters when together in mid-shot, often with natural light. You can sometimes hardly make out their individual faces. Why? And do you sustain this throughout the film?
Since the very beginning, I knew that I was going to film one shot per scene and that the camera will only pan and tilt, because to me that way of filming is an interesting contradiction in the film’s nature, since there are a lot of characters and a lot of talking and a lot of things happening but the camera kind of stays still. So we went from there, exploring what chances that gave us that felt in line with what we were doing.
One of the most devastating things about the film looks to be the huge hurt Sandra’s death has dealt to her parents who, 10 years later, still never really talk about it. In the first scene between them, when they are finally alone in their bedroom, there’s a palpable silence between them.
First of all, to me it feels very fitting to the time period when the movie is set, the ‘90s when we are transitioning to democracy and in Chile the things kind of continue as if nothing has happened, meaning that there’s no sense of justice or truth in what Pinochet’s regime was and people have to kind of continue with their lives. I think that the same feeling applies to queer history where we have countless tragedies, so I believe the parents and the film in general explores a way of living and dealing with that pain.
How did you direct Roxana Campos, who plays Nancy? What guidelines did you give her?
We had a lot of time to rehearse with Roxana and the rest of the main cast. I think the process was really interesting and honest, because I approached the writing thinking of my own family, and with the cast we talked a lot about our families and we addressed the story and the characters from there. So I think there’s a lot of their own experience in it. That makes it honest and respectful. Those characters are our parents, sisters, aunts and cousins.
The film was developed at multiple labs. What help did this development process give you?
We went to labs that were focused on production, and how to get funding, like TFI Network, Santiago Lab and Lobo Lab. Those were very important platforms for networking. We also went to 3 Puertos Cine at FicValdivia, Distrital and Rotterdam, which was more focused on the artistic development. The dynamic was really helpful. They put us on a deadline for coming up with a first draft of the script and made us film a scene, which we ended up redoing in basically the same way in the film.
How finished is the film? Could it be ready by, er, May?
We are really close to getting to the final cut. We are entering the postproduction stage, so it shouldn’t take so long.