The 18th Santiago Int’l Film Festival (Sanfic) is paying tribute to Chile’s most internationally renowned and arguably hardest working actor, the peripatetic Alfredo Castro who will attend Sanfic’s inauguration Aug. 14 to receive his lifetime achievement award and kick off a retrospective of his films.
Also a playwright and theater director, Castro has worked across Europe and Latin America, acting in French, Spanish, Portuguese and a number of accents and dialects from Latin America, including neutral Spanish. “I haven’t worked in English but I certainly hope to one day,” he said. Meanwhile, he has won a boatload of awards from festivals and award events across the world.
Yet, he would also be high up the order of figures who have helped shape Chile’s post-Pinochet film, theater and now TV scene into one of the most vibrant, surprising and constantly questioning of any country in Latin America.
Castro, 66, estimates that he has been working on an average of five to six films a year, and thanks the number of co-productions and streaming platforms that have brought him so much work. “I think the pandemic also saw a lot of projects suspended and they’ve now been reactivated,” he added.
He’s now on the set of Pablo Larrain’s dark comedy for Netflix, “El Conde,” where he plays the assistant, a Chilean Igor if you will, to the character of dictator Augusto Pinochet as a world-weary 250-year-old vampire.
“El Conde” is Castro’s seventh film with Larrain, a storied collaboration that began with “Fuga” in 2006 to “Tony Manero” where he played a demented imitator of John Travolta’s “Saturday Night Fever” character, followed by “Post Mortem,” “No,” “El Club” and “Neruda.”
Asked if they’ve developed a shorthand after so many films together, he mused: “I don’t think so; Pablo approaches each new project with what he’s learned from past projects at home and abroad, with new intentions, new ideas.”
“I find such great pleasure in working with someone so creative, so productive that I submit myself to him; I will blindly follow whatever Pablo tells me to do,” he added.
That admiration is a two-way street. “For me, understanding the work of making films is related to Alfredo, an actor who is the person with whom I’ve worked most in my life and who at the same time has shaped me, first in his school and then down the years,” Pablo Larraín told Variety.
“As an actor, Alfredo has many layers, and then another layer, and another. In each film you discover another, a vision, life and humanity completely different to what came before,” he added.
Who is Alfredo Castro? How to classify him as an actor? In the ultimate analysis, Larraín argues, that’s a mystery.
“The interesting thing is that it’s so difficult to classify Alfredo, which may be why it’s so effective working with him. It’s enlightening that somebody who’s so cultured and complex and generous works with the essence of acting in cinema which is mystery,” Larraín reflected.
“In the final analysis, of all the visions of Alfredo Castro, all his characters, the most probable is that it’s impossible to define who he is because that’s the way it goes. It’s about being elusive, which Alfredo achieves with a human and cultural aesthetic splendour which I haven’t seen elsewhere in this world,” he added.
The Sanfic retrospective includes “Tony Manero” “El Club,” “Blanco en Blanco,” “Algunas Bestias,” “Tengo Miedo Torero” and his latest, Claudio Pinto’s “Las Consecuencias,” which opens the fest.
Among them are two of the films which posed the greatest challenges to him as an actor: “The Club” and “Algunas Bestias.” In the former, he plays a pedophile priest and, in the latter, he’s a grandfather who abuses his daughter, not physically but verbally.
“’El Club’ dealt with a delicate subject matter and came out just as the massive priest abuse scandal exploded in Chile,” he recalls, adding: “It pained me to play such a part.” In “Algunas Bestias” the use of his voice to mistreat a child was more of a challenge than doing it physically, he recalls.
Castro stands out not only for the nuance he brings to roles, his chameleon physical turns and sense of humanity he brings to even the most ethically warped of characters but also his willingness to work with an even younger generation of directors than Larraín.
“It’s important that the scripts that come to me have a political context, that they make one reflect and have some impact on the audience in some way,” he comments. “There are so many directors I’d like to work with but as long as the film resonates on a human, emotional and political level, I’ll work on it, happily.”
Castro, who trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art as well as studied assistant directing with renowned French theater directors George Lavaudant, George Lavelli and George Lassalle, also runs his own theatre, the Memory Theater (Teatro de la Memoria), in Chile where he directs and performs when he can. In November, he directs stage play “The Mother” with Antonia Zegers, who starred in “Post Mortem.”
Castro will next be seen in Diego Lerman’s “El Suplente” (“The Substitute”) which vies for the Golden Shell at the 70th San Sebastian Film Festival.
The 18th Sanfic runs Aug. 14-21.
John Hopewell contributed to this article.