Chilean writer-actor-director Bernardo Quesney does not have all the answers. If he did, he says, he would not be making films. “If someone is very clear about what they mean or intend to mean,” he told Variety, “they should write an essay, not a script.”
Quesney’s third feature, “History and Geography,” is screening in the Works in Progress sidebar at this year’s Guadalajara Film Festival. It tells the story of Gioconda Martinez, an aging actor from an iconic theatrical family, who is trying to shake the comedic image that became glued to her when she starred in a highly successful TV series. Now, she wants to be taken seriously. She returns to her hometown to stage a play about the Mapuche, an indigenous people who were abused not only by the Spanish conquerors but by more modern-day Chileans, as well. To her chagrin, she quickly discovers that her turn as a TV star did not endear her to the public as much as she thought it did.
Before the start of this year’s Guadalajara Film Festival, Quesney made clear to Variety that what is described above is just the plot of “Historia y Geografia.” There is a lot more going on in the film.
Did you base the main character, Giocondo Martinez, on a real person? Is she someone you know?
When “A Fantastic Woman” won the Oscar for Best Non-English Language Picture in 2017, a Chilean comedian, a man around 60 years old, produced a play called “Una mujer fantastica,” in which he dressed as a woman and completely ridiculed the LGBTQ movement. At first, I just couldn’t believe it, but I decided to try and understand exactly what he was doing.
Was it an attempt at humor that had fallen far out of fashion? Is it possible for someone be so disconnected with the world around them? And what exactly were we laughing at?
I have spent many years in the company of actors and actresses, and they all seem to live in a very fragile world, full of insecurity and instability, both emotionally and economically. From the time they enter drama school, they live in a storm of personal dissatisfaction that is with them for their entire lives.
This can be seen in everything they do, in their decisions, in their social networks, in their fear of disappearing and no one knowing who they are. The idea behind the film was to take these fears and incorporate them into a character that truly wants to change.
The protagonist’s reaction to the Haitians in the film is both confusing and contradictory. Is this a reflection of Chilean society? Are the Haitians modern-day Mapuche?
Although there has been a social explosion that has cemented the foundation for enabling new perceptions of our identities, for much of this time Chile, a country at the bottom of Latin America, has suffered an identity crisis.
For a long time, being Mapuche was a synonym for mockery and their suffering was regarded as something in the past. What I am saying is nothing new. But to fully understand it, you have to apply this not just to the reality of the Mapuche but to the reality of Chile and to the distortion of who we are.
In the film, the protagonist makes a contradictory comparison and takes the term “cultural appropriation” to the extreme. But the idea is not to mock her, even though, generally speaking, Gioconda is an actress on the edge. And at some point, her comparison, however basic, unites two worlds that are otherwise segregated. Isn’t this what Don Francisco did when, on his program “Sabado Gigante,” he mocked those people who had been detained and then disappeared?
In the end, I think that Gioconda’s logic will always be tied to her past in television, cynical and capitalist.
“God gives bread to those with no teeth” is a line that is repeated throughout the film. Do you know where it comes from and why do you use it as something of a refrain?
“God gives bread to those who have no teeth” is the central concept of the film and of our protagonist. A Chilean translation could be “está mal repartido el chancho” or “the pig is badly distributed.” When the protagonist of a sitcom says that all the time, it is referring to an epoch, to a humor that reflects the dictatorship and Catholicism. It evokes an acceptance of that which has touched you and it’s just fine. It’s the humor of mockery.
Until recently, the comedy that we saw on TV was mocking gay people, the poor, even dwarves. I’m not talking about years and years ago, I’m talking about very recently. That is changing and I love it. But our protagonist is situated on a hinge. She is between her heritage and the Chile that is changing.
This is your third feature. Could you explain how/if the three films are related to one another and how they are different?
I think all three films encompass representation in various forms. In “Efectos Especiales” and “Historia y Geografia,” the representation is clearer because we talk about themes and putting them on-stage, albeit in a way that is erroneous. In “Desastres Naturales,” the idea is to represent the student movement in the span of 70 minutes. And in those 70 minutes we could see every aspect of those years of mobilization.
In the three films, the main character is lost and what they are looking for contradicts who they really are. But this time, I wanted to give it a spin and question other things. Generally, in cinema, accepting oneself is seen as something positive. Could that actually be something negative? Is being disconnected something really bad or to be judged? Is it possible that, in the end, our narratives and the logic of our scripts end up being moralistic? What I want to do least of all is teach or lecture.
I feel that cinema has to distance itself completely from delivering sermons. I understand the power of discourse, but I prefer the game of telephone in which we say something that is then passed from person to person until it returns to us completely different.
That is how I see the decoding of discourse.
Additionally, if someone is very clear about what they mean or intend to mean, they should write an essay, not a script.