Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson on ‘Summer White,’ Making a CCC Opera Prima

Summer White
Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson

LOS CABOS  —  The first scene of the first feature from Mexico’s Rodrigo Ruíz Patterson sets up the whole drama: Adolescent Rodrigo flicks on his cigarette lighter to see his way down a passageway, knocks on his mother’s door, says he can’t sleep. She lets him in, he clambers into her bed.

“Blanco de verano” (“Summer White”) – a title taken from a tone of paint used to redecorate the house – is not an incest story. It does point up, however, the dangers of a fragile emotional dependence which a loner son in a one-parent family has on his mother.

When his mother’s boy friend moves in, and sidelines and subjugates Rodrigo with his every action, the young son fights back with seething violence, an attempt to make his own home in an abandoned trailer, and incremental acts of arson, a cry for his mother’s attention.

Ruíz Patterson’s short “Australia” was about a desperate character in a normal situation, a woman who can’t conceive, befriending neighbors. Here, the only son of a single mothe, who has invested all her emotional life in bringing him up,  suddenly has to confront losing part of her love.  Ruíz Patterson chatted to Variety about his debut, now bound for Ventana Sur’s Copia Final showcase:

Growing up means cutting an emotional dependence with one’s parents. If “Summer White” is a coming of age film,  it’s a traumatic one because of Rodrigo’s singular situation as the single child of a single mother who’s never had to share her love before. Can you comment?

“Summer White’s”  a coming of age film because it’s about the end of childhood (infancia in Spanish), which etymologically means “The impossibility to speak.” It’s a film about how we deal with complex emotions such as love, dependence, jealousy, that we experience for the first time in our lives. If we can’t speak, in what clumsy ways do we express them? I believe that’s the final goal: To observe in an intimate way how difficult human relations are.

The heart of the film is its psychological observance, especially in the battle between Rodrigo and Fernando, his mother’s boyfriend. Fernando’s ever seeming act of generosity towards Rodrigo – teaching him to drive buying a trailer van – in also an act of subjugation and celebration of Fernando’s superiority. Rodrigo himself seems to be unable to really accept sharing his mother. In this sense the film could be seem as a study is unyielding masculinity  Again, could you react?

In my films I like to get into the heads and hearts of the characters, as the first step to find empathy. There’s large psychological observation in this one and it’s as Freudian as it can get. This is of course is reflected in Rodrigo and Fernando’s relationship, driven by male ego, which we tried to make complex and tridimensional, with no good and bad characters. They try to like each other and from their point of views they’re both right, but sadly for them (but not for the sake of the drama) there’s a clear and very classic conflict between them: They love the same woman.

Summer White is a paint tone which reflects light better. Would you say that your film is in any way reflecting a broader social situation in Mexico of children brought up by a single parent, usually the mother?

We’d like to think that the film has a universal theme. This is a story that can make sense either in Mexico, Moscow or Australia. That makes it easy to identify with the characters, with their flaws and conflicts. I was raised myself by a single mother when this wasn’t very common in Mexico. So I wanted to discuss some thoughts about modern union and new ways to be a “family”.

You’re an alum, as your producer Alejandro Cortés, of Mexico City’s Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica (CCC). “Summer White” forms part of the CCC’s Opera Prima program, in a long lineage of movies which includes such celebrated titles as Carlos Carrera’s “La mujer de Benjamín,” Jorge Grau’s “Somos lo que hay,” and “La vida después,”from David Pablos. How did that influence the film?

All three are films that I like a lot and I feel close to. I even worked as the 1st AD on “La Vida después” so I was very close to David and to the process of what it takes to make Opera Prima CCC and what that means, creative and production-wise. Jorge and Carlos were both my teachers at some point in the CCC and I learned a lot from them about making films. So I guess the influence must be somewhere in the film.

What are you doing now? I believe you have a documentary in the pipeline….

The documentary you mention is called “Bad Hombres.” It was screened in competition at the last Morelia International Film festival with good reactions from the audience. It’s a direct cinema piece about the daily life stories of a group of deportees who intend to cross back to the U.S. making their way in a homeless community that lives just about two hundred feet from the border. Right now I’m finishing the writing of my second feature screenplay: a black comedy set during Mexico City’s 2017 earthquake.

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Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson