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Los Cabos: Emilio Santoyo on ‘Ana’s Desire,’ Talking About Sex in Mexico

LOS CABOS Mexico — In “Ana’s Desire,” Ana lives with her young son in an upper-class neighborhood of a big Mexican city. She begins the film, delicately cleared dead leaves from a rose. It is a premonitory symbol. Suddenly, Juan, her long-lost brother, turns up on her doorstep. He has news, he finally confesses, which will distance the siblings even more. But his physical presence reawakens in both dormant but never dead sexual feelings towards one another. This is the great love of their lives, and one of the merits of “Ana’s Desire” is that it offers no way around this for Ana and Juan. Emilio Santoyo, director of “Ana’s Desire,” one of Los Cabos’ five titles in Work in Progress, drills down on his feature debut, talking sex in Mexico, and the bedrock significance of the family.

”Ana’s Desire” will have many audiences rooting for a brother and sister who not only love each other but harbor deep-rooted, seemingly ineradicable incestuous desires towards their sibling. Where did the idea come from to put spectators in such an emotionally challenging position?

I live in a country with a systematic use of double standards. While it’s perfectly common to normalize murder and corruption, it’s practically impossible to have an open talk about sex. It’s like our Catholic background forbade us to think about pleasure publicly. Even if Mexico has the world’s biggest rate of teenage mothers, there are still some themes that are taboo among people, especially speaking of forbidden desire. I thought that making a film that made people root for these two characters who desperately need each other – who, on the other side, are siblings – would be an interesting way to confront the audience with their own prejudices.

The incest is traced back to a family context of two children left to their own devices by largely absent parents, each having in the other their only emotional world. Would you agree?

We tried to limit the way in which viewers could justify the causes behind incest. I did not want people to attribute incest to factors different to the own love and mutual dependence relationship that existed between these two siblings. That is why the film avoids contextualizing geographic, economic, social or political aspects. Yet, the film does state that this great complicity arose because, in the end, Ana and Juan only had each other: their world revolves around themselves.

As in other portraits of Mexico at Los Cabos, family seems the only resilient reduct of affective bonds. Other relations cut far less deep. Could you comment?

“Ana’s Desire” revolves around the way we will always be connected with our family as a natural force that is part of us, no matter how much we want to run away from it. These siblings grew up at a time when there was no prejudice between them, but as adults, they understand that they cannot have this relationship: growing up took its toll and now they must embrace new responsibilities.

With this dilemma we present the family structure we have built as a society, dealing at the same time with a taboo relationship but without morally judging it. I think that to understand human behavior, we must avoid any act of morality.

”I was very, very happy. Then I grew up,” Ana tells her young son about her childhood. There’s a sense that childhood is a Garden  of Eden. The rest emotional survival. 

Indeed. The third act of the film revolves around the nostalgia that we feel towards our past, when the expectations we have in our infancy are not met. The characters find their refuge in their refusal to move on emotionally, and somehow this revolves around the house where they grew up.

Ana’s flat has exquisitely modulated tones in its decor. She keeps a rose garden. Is there a suggestion that she is attempting to compensate in aesthetics and sensuality for a frustrated forbidden sensuality?

Yes, in part she is compensating for something she lacks in this moment of her life. That’s why she works with flowers and that’s also why she looks at her young neighbors at night, when she can’t sleep. In that sense, her brother brings back the physical/sexual desire in her life, something that she was trying to constrain. Ana’s character has a need to be in control of everything, a way of being that collides with the huge desire she feels towards her brother. It’s something she does not fully understand; it’s bigger than her and takes all her strength. But also, that desire is probably the engine that can take her out of her constraint and cowardice.

Beyond decor, what were you guidelines when directing? 

As the focus of the film is not on the sibling’s sexual relationship, but rather on the consequences and impact this had on them, the central idea of the narrative was to suggest incest without seeing it directly. It happens mainly in the audience’s imagination and it is suggested by the use of a very simple and naturalistic language.

Visually, we solved the sequences using minimal amount of shots, which were mainly static. We only moved the camera when Ana is dealing with her nostalgic desire to go back to the past. Since she doesn’t make decisions, she’s usually still, inside of a changing landscape.

Can you talk about how the film was written and then produced?

The film is based on the original idea of Gabriela Vidal, a dear friend who was also my teacher at film school, with whom I co-wrote the script. After a long development process, we produced the film in a totally independent way through a crowd funding campaign in Kickstarter and with Anomia – the main production company- private funds. The shooting took three weeks in Mexico City locations and one week in the town of El Oro. We had the luck to find amazing co-producers along the way, and basically all the equipment was contributed as in-kind investment. The crew, composed by 15-20 beloved colleagues, donated the majority of their wages.

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