There’s a scene in “Bayoneta,” Mexican Kyzza Terrazas’ second fiction feature, where Miguel, played by “Club of Crows’” Luis Gerardo Méndez, is asked to sing a song. He does so, Chalino Sanchez’s “Nieves de enero,” a lovely spare ballad about heartbreak. Miguel knows something about that sentiment. An up-and-coming Mexican boxer, a Sydney Olympics medal winner who floors “Matador” Madrigal Ríos, Tijuana’s Miguel “Bayoneta” Galíndez’s prospects look bright until he kills his opponent in the ring.
Looking for atonement, even punishment and out of a sense of shame – as a father, he can’t look his daughter in the eye after failing in basic human ethics – he seeks exile in the snowy wastes of Tirku, a town in Finland, where he trains boxers. “Bayoneta” is a film about immigration, but for emotional need, not economic necessity. Picturing training as relief for Miguel, framing an affair which ends without a sense of tragedy, it bucks multiple clichés as it deals in a subject rarer now in films: Manhood, one man’s search for dignity in a desolate world.
Produced by three leading Mexican companies – Woo Films, Panorama Global, RedRum – as well as Rodrigo S. Gonzalez and Finland’s Matila Rohr, “Bayoneta” bows in competition at Morelia. Cinepolis handles distribution in Mexico.
Alongside Gael García Bernal and Jorge Dorantes, Terrazas is currently head writer and producer on “Here on Earth,” one of Mexico’s very first premium TV series, from Fox Networks Group Latin America and La Corriente del Golfo. He talked to Variety about a film which comes in at immigration from a different angle.
Talking to Luis Gerardo Méndez, he said that “Bayoneta” is not about boxing but immigration. Could you comment?
It’s not literally or politically a film about immigration because that is not the main point of view. But this is a film about guilt and manhood: Both things are intertwined with the migrant condition. One of the main aspects of the film is cultural contrast, cultural dialogue, and in that sense we did try to explore the condition of migrants.
That exploration is mostly in emotional terms. Would you agree?
Exactly. The journey is fully emotional and in this case the context of Finland represents a visual expression of what is going on inside the main character. We searched for that cultural alienation in order to force the character to face his demons.
Bayoneta’s reasons for leaving Mexico seem mixed: A quest for atonement, near punishment, and also redemption, but it’s left to the viewer to pick up on this. But maybe I’m wrong…
No, you’re not wrong. I don’t know if it works for the viewer, or all viewers, but I’m glad that you totally get that this was deliberate. I tried to suggest very subtly, too subtly, that he had been taken there by his former coach to train a Finnish boxer. There is a whole backstory that we wrote that explains how Denis, his coach, finds him in really bad shape and offers him this job. But the reasons for him to accept are exactly as you say: Atonement, self punishment, disappearance. But again, we did try to leave it for the viewer, because for me it doesn’t really matter why he’s there.
Apart from its take on immigration, I sense that one of the joys for you in making the film was a sense of authenticity….
Yes, of course. From the very start, when we started to talk about this film with Rafa Ley and Tizano, my co-writer, we were trying to avoid cliché. Even though the stories of all boxers are really similar, and this is why the clichés exist, we wanted to at least try to tell a different story. That’s why it is not the U.S. but Finland. That’s why Luis Gerardo Méndez is playing this character as well.
There’s a hint of the Western in the film. In Miguel’s bare, beautifully-sung song, the guitar score. But does that sense go deeper for you?
I never thought of it as a Western, to be honest, but I now totally get why the music and the structure and some story elements come across as part of a Western. The guitar score I love to death, it is by Topias Tiheasalo, a great musician. All the cues, all of his music, are improvisations. And then the song by Chalino Sánchez.
What were your guidelines when directing “Bayoneta”?
I wanted to let the scenes breathe, to let the actors unfold in the scenes and this is why I tried to avoid too many cuts. This is why there quiet a few sequence shots. However, I didn’t want these sequence shots to feel as hugely choreographic and clever, I didn’t want them to feel like sequence shots. I just wanted to spend time, to let the viewer experience the passing of time, the weather, the silence, the isolation, and let the actors do their thing. I also wanted to avoid cliches here and avoid beauty shots of Finland (which is so beautiful by the way). And with the actors, since we had a Mexican protagonist and then a Frenchman, then a Finnish cast, I tried to work a lot in evening out the tone of their acting.
You were also directing one of the now most famous young actors, best known for comedy. in the Spanish-speaking world: Luis Gerardo Méndez. How did that go?
It went beautifully. Luis is not only passionate and dedicated and super professional but his craft is also full of fine details; he goes in deep. And he’s a terrific guy, we became great friends. I usually shoot as a director things that live more on the dark side but I always have a lot of fun. Luis Gerardo contributed to making this shoot a fun one. He makes me laugh so much. I love him.
You are, I think, one of the most versatile writer-directors in the Spanish-speaking world. Could you talk about your work on “Here on Earth” and what you might be doing in the future?
Well, we are currently shooting the second season of “Here on Earth.” This has proven to be an amazing, collaborative, exhausting experience. Hopefully. there will be a third season but meanwhile I have to finish this one. I have other projects in different stages of development. I want to try and keep working both at an industrial level and doing more personal films. I like when I only write and produce, I love working with other great directors, I always feel that they know so much more than me. I learn from them. I like cooking my directing projects slowly. They are all urgent but I have to cook them slow. I will also be collaborating with my longtime friends and colleagues, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, at La Corriente del Golfo.