Larraín Brothers’ Fabula Mexico Sets First Feature, From ‘The Club’ Scribe Guillermo Calderón (EXCLUSIVE)

Paulina Gaitan. Ilse Salas, Guillermo Calderon
Copyright: Esteban Calderon/ Emilio Valdes/Sandra Then/Sergio Valenzuela

Fabula, the Chile-based film and TV production house of Pablo and Juan de Diós Larrain, is set to produce “Maquíllame Otra Vez,” the first feature film to go into production at Fabula Mexico, launched to complement Fabula’s Santiago de Chile H.Q. and Fabula U.S., run out of Los Angeles.

Slated to go into production from October in Mexico City, “Maquíllame Otra Vez” also marks the directorial debut of Guillermo Calderón, Chile’s foremost living playwright as well as screenwriter of films – Pablo Larrain’s “Neruda” and “The Club,” and Andrés Wood’s “Violeta Went to Heaven,” for example – that have helped propel Chile into the vanguard of Latin American cinema.

“A comedy for our times,” Calderón told Variety, “Maquíllame Otra Vez” will star three Mexican actors who are at the forefront of their generation: Ilse Salas, the female lead of Alonso Ruizpalacios’ “Güeros” and Alejandra Márquez’s “The Good Girls”; Paulina Gaitán, female star of “Diablo Guardian,” Amazon Prime Video’s first series in Mexico; and Regina Blandón, famed in Mexico for her TV roles in high-profile shows such as Televisa novela “El Hotel de los Secretos” and its sitcom “Renta Congelada.”

“Maquíllame Otra Vez” turns on three young women in their thirties, all makeup artists in Mexico City, two unemployed, the other getting by making up Mexico City’s upper crust for big society weddings.

The three have had a big fall out, part caused by the envy and resentment sparked by one having scored a job. The movie kicks off, however, with the two receiving a call from their estranged friend asking if they’d like to help her out at a fancy wedding.

When they arrive they realize, however, that their friend is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, risking the few contacts that allow her – and potentially them – to go on working. For better or worse, the two friends have to find a way to work with their new boss and former friend, despite her derangement.

“A comedy that has to be light enough and joyful enough to lift us from this terrible situation that we’re still in,” said Calderón, “Maquíllame Otra Vez” aims for something of the humor of Mike Leigh and Judd Apatow, he added.

“For Fabula, to hit the Mexican market with a mordant, nuanced, contemporary comedy where the sorority of a group of female friends is sorely tested, is a challenging dream,” said Rocío Jadue, Fabula head of Latam Films. “It is all the more so if that arrival is made with a film that’s directed by Guillermo Calderón accompanied by the hugely talented Ilse Salas, Paulina Gaitán and Regina Blandón,” she added.

The film’s title echoes Lalo Rodríguez’s 1988 salsa hit, “Ven, Devórame Otra Vez,” written by Palmer Hernández.

“Maquíllame Otra Vez’s” announcement comes just one month after Fabula Mexico unveiled it had gone into production on its first drama series, the Pantaya, Starzplay pageant drama “Señorita 89,” a Fabula-Fremantle production showrun by Lucía Puenzo.

Fabula, Fremantle and Puenzo teamed before on drama series hit “La Jauría,” now on its second season, and streaming on Amazon Prime Video in Latin America and HBO Max in the U.S.

Launched in 2004 by Pablo and Juan de Dios Larraín, few companies in Latin America have expanded so fast as Fabula, which moved from fest-winning straight-arrow niche arthouse fare such as Pablo Larrain’s “Tony Manero” to movies with a  wider audience appeal with “No,” starring Gael García Bernal.

Calderón helped Fabula directors, including Sebastian Lelio, find a first generational voice as they questioned the multiple hostages left to fortune by Augusto Pinochet’s far right and bloody dictatorship, an analysis which caused Variety to hail Pablo Larraín’s status with “Jackie” “as the most daring and prodigious political filmmaker of his generation.”

Five years on, the challenge for Fabula is how to consolidate in far larger domestic markets than Chile and in a distribution landscape ruled by studio streamers as a producer of upscale entertainment that retains its political bite and contemporary relevancy.

Guillermo Calderón chatted to Variety briefly on Fabula’s first movie production in Mexico.

You established an international reputation as a playwright of big political ideas, mixed with humor and an undoubtedly politically progressive slant. You do, however, describe “Maquíllame Otra Vez” as a comedy “light enough to lift us from this terrible situation which we’re still in.” 

Calderon: We hope that the film will be able to play in cinema theaters after the pandemic. The last thing we want to do is remind people how much they’ve suffered with COVID-19. They’re well aware of that. We want to lift spirits. So “Maquíllame Otra Vez” is a comedy. But it’s also about young women surviving in the city, about the workplace, and the struggle of being subjected to the whims and complications of an oppressor, the boss. In this, it connects to my political background.

It also seems, if you’re looking for it, to be portrait of the new economic paradigm for a young generation, an incredibly fragile gig economy where people are either working for very little or not working at all….

Calderón: Yes, that’s exactly right. This is basically a comedy about my friends: Actors, writers, filmmakers, musicians who are struggling to survive right now. When they get a job, they take it because they are desperate, even if they don’t like it. And every single one of them is working on the side, basically  delivering food or goods to people who can afford them. In the film, the three young women regard themselves as artists, but are forced to get commercial work, making up the rich for a wedding.

How much of a challenge is it to make your first film in Mexico and not Chile?

Calderón: Mexico’s enormous, complicated and full of contradictions. But, coming from Chile, we can understand at least two things: the violence and the extreme inequality. Just by being Latin Americans and coming from an extreme neoliberal country such as Chile, when we see a city like Mexico City, we understand immediately how the divisions in the city work, who is riding the bus, who is driving a car, what do people who live in that neighborhood look like and their relationship with the people who walk to work in that neighborhood. The other connection we have is with the Mexican sense of humor. We’ve been raised on at least two geniuses. Cantinflas and Roberto Gómez Bolaños, [known as] “Chespirito.” It’s a lot of responsibility to set up in Mexico, but at least we’re confident that we know a lot about the country because we’ve been educated by Mexican popular culture.

There are comedies and comedies. What kind of comedy do you imagine “Maquíllame Otra Vez” being? 

Calderón: I admire Mike Leigh and I’d love to be able to create a comedy that has a dramatic core, based on character development and situations that are absurd but are tied to a core that is dramatic, painful at times. Jude Apatow’s comedy always has a core of character development and a pace that allows for drama combined with the comedy.