Chilean director Rodrigo Sepúlveda Urzúa, whose latest film “My Tender Matador” world premiered in Venice Days at the Venice Film Festival, is developing a story inspired by his parental nightmares. Variety spoke to him at the El Gouna Film Festival, where he is serving on the Feature Narrative Competition jury, as well as presenting “My Tender Matador” out of competition.
In his new project, which has the working title “Bomb Girl,” a doctor working in a public hospital finds out her child has planted a bomb and hurt another person as a result. But here is the twist: it was all according to what she has taught him over the years.
“I am a left-leaning person and I have told my children what I think about capitalism, for example,” says Sepúlveda Urzúa. “But what if one of my sons had planted a bomb in a bank, only to say: ‘That’s what you taught me.’ What would you do as a parent? Would you defend your child no matter what, would you try to hide him? You are always asking yourself: ‘Do I really know my son, my daughter?’
He adds: “My generation keeps saying that changes need to be made immediately, but we haven’t really done it, and our children want to make different choices. You can choose peace or you can choose violence. For young people now, both choices are valid.”
While he ponders these issues he continues to promote “My Tender Matador,” which is in the running to become Chile’s Oscar submission this year. Based on the only novel by Pedro Lemebel, it stars “The Club’s” Alfredo Castro as La Loca del Frente, an aging cross-dresser who falls for a young revolutionary in Santiago de Chile in the 1980s.
“Back then, homosexuality was banned by law. You just couldn’t be gay. It’s a beautiful love story, and we have seen many beautiful love stories in cinema, but it has a homosexual protagonist and a political background, which makes it different,” says Sepúlveda Urzúa, underlining that he was hoping to paint a “very real character” in his film.
“The lonely woman that sits inside of her house listening to old songs, the woman who prostitutes herself in the porn cinema, the woman who tries to seduce a young man – they all live in this one person,” he says. “I wanted to leave all the clichés behind, to work with her fragility. Even though La Loca practically lives on the streets, deep down inside she is actually very tender. It’s like the last breath of a whale – I was thinking about these whales we see on the beach, they pour some water on them and then they breathe for the very last time. This is what I told Alfredo: ‘This is your last chance to be loved, your last chance to give and receive this kind of emotion from another person.’”
Despite brief moments of levity and joy, La Loca soon becomes entangled in politics, as protests against Pinochet’s reign grow louder. To Sepúlveda Urzúa, capturing the essence of that troubled time became essential as well.
“There is a certain nostalgia now toward how life used to be. People think it used to be so much better, that families were more united. But these years were awful! I tried to give people the truth, and the truth was that we were in danger – everyday, all the time,” he says. “The writer of the novel, Pedro Lemebel, was also an activist. In the 1980s, he would put on high-heeled shoes, some make-up and go out – that in itself was already a protest. Because of that, 30 years later we have new laws in Chile, which are just beginning to be enforced. But he planted the seed. In Chile, our politicians used to be very homophobic and I think they still are, even though they are hiding behind this official political discourse.”
There was another occurrence that helped him to understand the story a bit better: an earthquake that happened less than a year before the story begins. “That was a very big clue for me. There is always something lying on the floor – it’s a beautiful metaphor. I wanted to show their poverty but also their dignity,” he says, while also enlisting the help of the families of the detained-disappeared who went missing during the dictatorship.”
He adds: “When we meet La Loca, she is listening to old songs and doesn’t want to know anything about reality. Then she meets Carlos and begins to see what is going on outside of her ‘castle’. She sees tragedy. She has been broken before, but that breaks her in a new way,” says Sepúlveda Urzúa, comparing the central relationship to a “dish cooked on a low heat.”
“Even a kiss would be too much from them. That was the challenge of the film. When they meet for the first time, Carlos has his political motives, but when they look at each other they know something is beginning. They just don’t know what this ‘something’ is.”