Colombia’s Juan Sebastián Mesa in San Sebastian World Premiere ‘Rust,’ Cultures Clashes & Rituals

Credit: Alejandro Perez Ceferino

Having been unveiled at  San Sebastian’s 2016 Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum, Juan Sebastian Mesa’s second film, “Rust,” mow world premieres at San Sebastian.

It follows Jorge, a young Colombian farmer, working at a coffee plantation. Confronted by a growing plague which is ruining the harvest and feeling deeply alone –  he is the only one of his generation who has remained in the countryside – the ghost of his past reemerges as the local festivities approach, culminating in encounters with his first love and his childhood friends.

Right from the first shot – a long camera movement that crosses the skies showing the expanse of green in the valley until finally reaching Jorge – Mesa uses a clear and controlled language that patiently observes while always finding a kinetic direction for the camera.

Produced by Colombia’s Monociclo Cine and France’s Dublin Films, the Colombian-French film is an intriguing portrait of a man and the region he lives in and proof of the growing strength of the Colombian filmmaking industry.

Variety interviewed Mesa ahead of the premiere.

How did you arrive at the first script of the film? 

My parents and most of my family are from the coffee zone of the southwest of Colombia’s Antioquia and it is a place that I have visited many times. My life is basically between these two worlds, between the city and this town. The whole thing of leaving and returning and not feeling that one belongs is very close to me. I started asking myself what would have happened if I stayed here, if I hadn’t left the country, if I had stayed on this farm. And what the encounter would be if I meet someone that left, who no longer feels they belong, who is neither here nor there. From there I wrote this story, around the clash of cultures between rural and urban through the eyes of someone who stayed behind. Almost as an act of resistance, a bit circumstantial, but a sort of stubbornness that one finds a lot when going to the countryside. There are people who do not want to go and who are in a constant struggle, as the circumstances drive you out of that place. And I began to remember my childhood, the farms I visited, the workers, my cousins. I remember when I was going to help them pick up coffee. All those childhood memories were very particular and this is Jorge’s story that is inspired by a thousand people that I have met and have interviewed.

Open and loose, the film follows a structure that is less concerned with set up and pay off, and centers around a character that doesn’t have a clear goal. Could you comment on it?

During the process, many people told me these are two films, dividing the film in two. As it is filmed, it is very much like this. There is a matter of language that differentiates the two moments, these small brushstrokes of the character’s daily life that make a portrait of his context, of his way of seeing the world. I was very interested in talking about those rituals, how reality is traversed by a lot of beliefs, syncretism, that make you see things in some way. The syncretism of the countryside seemed very interesting to me because it is a response to many inexplicable events from their way of understanding the world. I wanted to make sense of the reality that they are seeing as it is confronted by the space of the city.

The camera is always finding movement through the spaces Jorge traverses. What was your approach to its staging? 

I was very interested in fragmenting the spaces. [I wanted] to frame the countryside in a different way than the city and to move ever closer to him, wide shots and close up on him, seeing his perspective. That was our approach. I see the film as a sort of descent: the camera starts in the sky and slowly descends into fire. The camera descends until it eventually finds some darkness. A tour of Jorge’s ghosts.

Could you talk about the production?

Every change from one location to another was highly complex: Landslides, mud, trapped cars, it was a nightmare. Every day it was a car in the mud and it was a car of lights, a photo car. It was very complex to reach certain areas and it is very contradictory because we want to portray a the very daily life but that very daily life was our worst enemy. We were shooting on a mountain and suddenly a chainsaw sounds and the sound engineer asks us to stop because the sound will not work. And it is the most daily thing that can happen in the fields, The casting was very complex because we were looking for an endangered character who is a young peasant, but the countryside’s full of old people and children. Elderly people who can no longer migrate and children who cannot wait to leave in many cases, due to the same conditions, but realizing that there are no opportunities.

Lazy loaded image
Rust Credit: Alejandro Perez Ceferino