Bolivian-Mexican filmmaker Natalia López Gallardo enjoyed tandem careers in editing (“Jauja,” “Post Tenebras Lux”) and acting (“Nuestro Tiempo”), as she made her debut as auteur with the short film “En el cielo como en la tierra.” In her first feature-length project, “Robe of Gems,” she tackles the parallel individual struggles of three women against a backdrop of unrelenting cartel infiltration.
What lured you into directing after careers in editing and acting? Was it a natural progression?
Definitely, yes, it was there, but I think maybe it took time to accumulate the big necessity. I think it’s very important to have that need to do a film. It’s not a desire; it’s not an objective; you have to need it because that impulse that makes you start a film has to last maybe five years with the same power. The necessity has to be big.
“Robe of Gems” not only deals with the way in which people handle extreme trauma but with the pervasive drug trade in Mexico. What called you to tackle this topic?
I think that all Mexicans, all the people, the dynamics of this beautiful and powerful country, I think that we all feel the presence of that tragedy, I think that we learned to live with that, like in normal life. Because it changes, it’s been years and years, and as humans we’re very good at getting used to things. I think that those years have created a spiritual wound that we’re not aware of, a psychological approach to things, and also a kind of rupture of the values in the community. I perceived that during the last 15 years living in the countryside. I think that was my main motivation at the beginning.
The film uses an extensive cast to relay its narrative. How’d you decide to veer from the focus on one or two protagonists to an ensemble?
This tragedy was so underlying that people would suffer the consequences and also participate somehow. I never wanted to do a film about one character, but a film about a universe. I tried to construct a film drawing a universe and that universe was composed of many people. It was a web, all the time. I was thinking about the same woman in three or four bodies. It’s a very complex country. It’s beautiful for that complexity, like a Hindu god with a lot of faces, a lot of contradictions too.
How important is it that a director find the proper team for a project?
Maybe it’s the most important thing to have creative collaborators that you can communicate with, the same with the casting. For me, casting and finding the location is as important as writing the script. You pay attention a lot when you talk to your collaborators, when you hear them, when you share ideas. It’s the most important thing and it’s difficult. Everything’s difficult in life. You make good coffee, it’s art. Everything has a difficulty, and that’s the beautiful part, you know?