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Lucia Puenzo Talks Fabula-Fremantle’s ‘The Pack’ – ‘La Jauria’

CANNES —   Produced by Chile’s Fabula, headed by Pablo and Juan de Dios Larraín, and Fremantle, and showrun by Lucía Puenzo (“The German Doctor”), “La Jauria” (The Pack) cuts excruciatingly to the chase.

In its very first scene, a teen girl student sits down, back to the wall, before her male drama teacher who is video-taping the class . “Pretend I’m your boyfriend,” he enthuses off camera. “Pronounce an ‘A,’” he goes on. She doesn’t know how to react but does. until, coached by her teacher, she seems to be groaning in orgasm. When the girl leaves the class, she goes straight to the washroom, sits down and bursts into tears.

The teacher’s gross abuse sparks a student takeover of the elite school in Santiago de Chile. When its leader, 17-year-old Blanca Ibarra, goes missing, a gender-based crime specialist police unit formed by Elisa Murillo (Daniela Vega, “A Fantastic Woman”) and Olivia Fernandez (Antonia Zegers, “The Club”) is brought in  to find her before its too late, which it may well be already.

Prefaced by cool feminist Chilean rap, this full-on but informative psychological thriller delivers a knowing depiction of Chile’s youth. “The Pack” also builds into a near overwhelming vision, at least in Ep.,1, screened at the Zurich Festival, of toxic masculinity. This permeates every level of Chilean society, from abuse and bullying at schools, to parents the police and social media. “The Pack” is, understandably, one of Fremantle’s big swings at this year’s Mipcom, which kicks off today in Cannes. Variety talked with showrunner Lucía Puenzo about one of the most anticipated of premium Latin American series.

The opening scene, of a teen girl student subjected to gross psychological and physical abuse by her drama teacher, is immensely discomforting. It’s also as if you want to lay it down the line: Show exactly what the special unit is fighting.

In recent years, much of the fight being championed by women, and very young girls especially, has had to do with exactly where the notion of abuse begins. Before, one often had to deal with situations in which there was no actual physical contact, which were not considered abuse. One of the issues we wished to broach and highlight as a problem, and focus upon as a dilemma in the series, is that this is precisely what these young girls are up against. In this case, we were particularly taken by the dramatic strength and remarkable acting power of both actors in that first scene. It was such that simply showing the way an adult might look at an underage child, a look charged with sexual intent, in a class where that adult is the teacher, was enough for it to be viewed as abuse, when it is thus perceived by that child. That’s why we chose to begin with that scene.

Coming back to that scene, which is very well acted by both actors, also suggest that one problem for the victim is that she doesn’t know how to react. She’s a deer caught in the headlights if car. What the series may lay down we suspect, even in the first few moments is the importance of education: a) How to react to abuse; b) Psychological counseling in the case of denouncing abuse, which is already suggested by Olivia when she takes teacher Ossandón through the psychological impact of abuse.

One of the things we consciously strove to do in the series from the moment we started the writing, and throughout development, shooting and editing, was to steer clear of stereotypes and simply present characters in all their complexity, because abusers – those in positions of power vis-à-vis underage girls – often are great psychopaths, in all their atrocious splendor. The young girls are bowled over by them; they’ve got them eating out of their hands, magnetically hooked to them. In this case, that’s what happens with a teacher whose young girl students are hopelessly seduced by him, and that’s why it’s so difficult for them to know how to deal with things when that line starts being crossed.

But, with regard to stereotypes, we didn’t want to err on the other side either when it came to the construction of the male characters. As we’re beginning to see, there is a growing tendency towards falling into stereotypes as far as male characters go as well. So we worked very seriously with the La Jauría group. One of them, Benjamin, grapples with a terrible dilemma with regard to what he did, and with the task of building that character as a kind of looking glass, tackling all the enormous complexities of a boy who is driven to commit a criminal act. Ditto the character of the teacher, Ossandón. We worked very diligently with the actor who plays him: on how he gradually comes to see what he did, becoming aware of his abuse, of having done something criminal, reprehensible.

The credit crawl is impactful. What did you aim for with the use of black and white animatics-look animation and the hip-hop soundtrack? And who’s singing? Is that Ana Tijoux?

Yes, it is Anita Tijoux, who also plays a part in the series. She’s a feminist hacker, who operates in the shadows, working with young girls and helping them. There was never any doubt in our minds, once we decided to call the series “La Jauría,” that we were not only talking about “the male pack” as it were, or the most sinister aspect of that online game where young boys are transformed into violent creatures that attack women of different ages. We were also talking about the female horde, groups of young girls, the policewomen hounds, packs of different groups of women who get together to defend each other and defend their daughters and baby creatures the way lionesses defend their cubs. In a way, that fight, as the character played by Ana Tjoux says at one point, is not a fight between wolves and lambs; it’s between lions against lionesses, wolves and lionesses, all defending themselves and their own with the same ferocity. In a way, this addresses the issues of the empowerment of women, which is what’s been happening over the last few years – the ever-growing power positioning of women as a collective, increasingly willing and able to wage battle as a collective.

From that approach, we gave a great deal of thought to the credit sequence, which I think is fundamental in series and films. We always wanted to embrace that graffiti technique, which is so important in the series because it’s the technique used by the young girls to leave traces of Blanca, the girl who disappeared, who they go out to look for. In a way, we wanted that animated technique to underline what the series was talking about, on the surface and at a much deeper level.

Immediately, you broaden out the theme of sexual abuse to students bullying Olivia’s son, and another instance of toxic masculinity. Could you comment on this parallel plot, its dramatic and thematic use?

When we started work with the group of writers and began to delve into how those online games function, and started studying them, we also roped in a group of advisors who were real hackers, specialists in the Web and Deep Web. We began to look into whether they reach misogynistic men predisposed towards going out and attacking women, as well as their impact on very young boys, who were more innocent, and who, due to some lingering scar, some weakness, are fragile and easily drawn into indulging in those dangerous games. We wanted the different storylines of the series to gradually build the different strands of the extreme danger in this game. In some cases, some of them weren’t criminals at the outset. That’s why we included Olivia’s teen son: to show that insofar as the group of policewomen go out to attack and hunt down those behind that game, the game also turns against them and attacks them.

They can’t simply quit and run away, since they now have the monster in their own homes, which is the most dangerous thing that’s happened in recent years, because of the way danger has crept into ordinary households. Young boys are now so fragile and literally a click away from something very sinister.

“We’re suffering forms of psychological abuse which didn’t even exist a few years ago.” “La Jauría” is in fact ultra-contemporary in its portraits of school shut-down protests, teen sex at parties, Internet social organization and exposure, and hacking. Again, could you comment?

During the process of writing “La Jauría,” there was a kind of constant dialogue with reality and with events that were taking place. That only shows just how poignantly the series taps into events teenagers and families are grappling with today, things to which we are all vulnerable. That’s why the character of Petersen is so important in the series: He’s a criminologist, a who, 20 years ago, at the advent and swift take-off of Internet, was in a way already forecasting the dangers of viralization, the way things could go uncontrollably viral. That’s precisely what happens in the series and what’s happening in society today. The wild-horde phenomenon is upon us. It’s there in online games like “The Blue Whale Challenge”, which has wrought such havoc in Russia and across the entire world, and other games that are still being invented today, which are basically targeting the Achilles heel of the Internet, given its massive reach and spread, and which, with its millions and millions of users, has reached the heart of virtually every household.

Lucia Puenzo 'Wakolda' film photocall, 66th Cannes Film Festival, France - 21 May 2013
CREDIT: Photo by REX/Shutterstock

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