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Gael Garcia Bernal Blends Genres in Auteur Vehicle ‘Here on Earth’

Co-produced by Fox Networks Group Latin America, “Here on Earth,” a political thriller that is an auteur turn from Gael Garcia Bernal, will bring much needed star power to the Croisette during the Canneseries international TV festival.

Produced by FNGLA and La Corriente del Golfo, the new Mexico-based film-TV production house launched García Bernal and Diego Luna, “Here on Earth” is more than just a star vehicle. In industry terms, it’s a high-end scripted drama. In political terms, it skewers Mexico’s ruling elite, turning a spotlight on the horse-trading, influence peddling, luxury, blackmail and murder — ferociously unexpectedly or hauntingly casual — practiced by one of Mexico’s most influential families whose patriarch, Governor Mario Rocha (Daniel Gimenez-Cacho), is preparing to run for president. In artistic terms, it’s one of the most ambitious projects yet from actor-director-producer Garcia Bernal.

Featuring, in figurative terms, fratricide and a father’s betrayal of his son, “Here on Earth” is “epic, near biblical, and highly classic, the story of sons who inherit social positions which condition them, but seek to walk their own paths,” Garcia Bernal says.

As he speaks to Variety, the actor has just returned to Buenos Aires after a whirlwind three-day trip to Geneva, where he spoke about Mexico at the United Nations.

In creative terms, “Here on Earth” also marks the end of a very long journey. Garcia Bernal has been one of Mexico’s biggest actors since 2000 when, at age 21, he starred in Alejandro G. Iñarritú’s feature debut, “Amores Perros.” But he also become a playmaker for some of Latin America’s most ambitious movies and TV.

In 2005, Garcia Bernal launched Canana Films with Diego Luna and Pablo Cruz to help create an upscale Mexican cinema that was deeply engaged and questioned authority, but also reached ample audiences. One politically pointed project, envisaged as a TV series, took place at a house party among Mexico’s smug, privileged college elite.

“We took it to several networks in Mexico and U.S. cable stations, but there was no real place for it,” he recalls.

So he turned it into his 2007 Cannes-screened feature film debut, “Deficit.”

Most Mexican art films in the past decade had only niche audiences. Ten years later, Latin American TV has changed. “Many pay-TV and digital platforms want to reach a socially alert and active public,” says Garcia Bernal. FNGLA also gave him creative freedom, “which was marvelous.”

Co-written, like “Deficit,” by director Kyzza Terrazas, “Here on Earth” reprises some themes — class, privilege — recasting its across-the-tracks central characters as the rich, coke-addled Carlos, investigating the murder of his estranged father, Mexico’s anti-corruption prosecutor; and Adan, his friend from childhood and son of Rocha’s security detail head, with ambitions to climb into the elite.

“A shoot’s a great excuse to spend time with friends, combining that with work. You want to be great for your friends, surprise them, help them: In this sense it’s fantastic.”
Gael Garcia Bernal

But Carlos and Adan’s ethical arcs play out in “Here on Earth” in a fast-moving, genre-blending thriller narrative, which Garcia Bernal hopes will attract millions of viewers.

Working with Alfonso Cuarón and Iñarritú, Garcia Bernal learned the importance of friendship “as a strength and a trench” in film and TV.

“A shoot’s a great excuse to spend time with friends, combining that with work. Friendship works much better. You want to be great for your friends, surprise them, help them: In this sense it’s fantastic,” he says.

Luckily, Garcia Bernal’s friends include a stacked assemblage of Latin American talent. The series’ directors feature, for example, Alonso Ruizpalacios, whose 2018 Berlin competition player “Museum” merited a rave Variety review.

Garcia Bernal directed “Here on Earth’s” first episode “to establish the atmosphere of actors and characters” of a series that also looks toward the future.

It is no coincidence, for instance, that “Here on Earth” premieres just two months after FNGLA presented its Fox Plus package in Mexico, a direct-to-consumer on-demand app.

In terms of production values, “Here on Earth” is designed to compete with the best of worldwide high-end drama. Garcia Bernal films a simple sequence — a governor leaving by car a meeting with the president of the Republic — in 14 stylized shots, capturing the pomp and luxury of his office.

“Here on Earth” portrays the wealth of Mexico’s elite as “pretty ridiculous,” Garcia Bernal says. “I just hope it connects with a large public.”

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