Since his debut was released in 2002, Carlos Reygadas has cemented himself as one of world cinema’s most acclaimed and controversial figures.
That first film, Japón, which followed a painter in Mexico City, received a special mention at Cannes in 2002.
His next feature, Battle in Heaven, generated controversy and debate worldwide.
The next film, Silent Night, about a married man who falls in love with another woman, won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2007.
Post Tenebras Lux, his fourth, won Best Director at the festival in 2012.
We caught up with the Mexican filmmaker following his masterclass at MIFF 2022.
You’ve said in the past that you have problems with industrial cinema. How difficult is it now for independent productions?
“I’ve never had a liking for (the industrial, ie. commercial cinema). Like some people don’t like sport or dancing…
“I can finance my films and they have a public. And I am happy with that. I don’t care about this popularity issue. What I care about is what I consider deeper quality in the expression of the personal vision and the expression of something mysterious, at least an approach to the mysteriousness of existence. That’s the only thing I care about as a filmmaker.
“As a viewer, I wish I could see more cinema in theatres, rather than going to multiplexes and see something more closer to the circus. The circus is all right, but maybe every three years. Or maybe every 10. The commercial cinema, whatever you wanna call it, it’s not something that appeals to me.”
Would you agree that your films have always stood in contrast to that industrial model?
“In reality, yes. I don’t even have an intention to be against ordinary cinema. It’s just that, my (movies) are just in natural opposition to it. So, if I have the chance to make films, I certainly will not make them that way, but it’s not that I wanna oppose that system. It’s just that, I do something else.”
Are you finding the landscape for independent films tougher under the current environment?
“Yeah. And what I think they’re doing, is ruining cinema, basically. Because cinema has an amazing capacity of transporting reality, and expanding it. Cinema is an invitation to see. And to be present, and all this so-called cinema, it does exactly the opposite. It abducts you, so you disappear and then you can be loaded with emotion. You need directional emotion as I said, as in the circus. And that’s something that can be alright every once in a while. But something that I’m not particularly fond of. I’ve loved certain cinema in my life, certain films that have made it richer, not only more entertaining for a while. Just richer. And those films, those moments, even sometimes it’s not a whole film – it can be a moment – accompany me at all times. And make life better. They’re not just distraction.”
How is the climate in Mexico for independent films right now?
“It’s similar, these (distributors) belong to huge, powerful companies that contribute together with pharma, with television, to shape our minds and our desires and our role models and our aspirations. So, they’re all over the place, it’s a whole system of social organisation. It’s all over the place, but at least in Mexico, and this will probably disappear too, there’s always been a long tradition for supporting the arts and financing the arts. And one of the arts is cinema. If you can keep your films below a million dollars, you’ll find the money, and people can make films.”
You’ve said you’re not a fan of entertainment in films. Do you think there’s an increasing pressure for films to conform to expectations?
“Oh, yes. Indeed. (You look at) the definitions of cinema today… Journalists are a big, important part of the system because they are like the curators for the public of what is good and not, and it seems like most of them are just lovers of this system itself. Even the ones that pretend to be deep intellectuals, and they are probably like the petrol for this machine. It’s like we’ve lost the taste. There are so few people that go to film school, or make cinema, or whatever, today. And they’ve never even seen the films of [Carl Theodor] Dreyer, for example. It’s like people just want to see the show business, The stars. The dresses and all the music, just the circus part of cinema.
“You just go to the bathroom on a plane, and you come back from the toilet and you see all the screens and you see what people are watching. And you see that most people are watching Toy Story or something like Spider-man.
“I like entertainment, but like the AFL or something. But nothing that is ruining some other capacity. I mean, if you do entertainment in cinema, you’re ruining a capacity. You are basically blowing up a potential for something really special. And therefore, you are diminishing a power. Entertainment itself is all right. Going to an AFL footy match here, that’s alright, just entertainment.”
How do you feel about the state of film criticism?
“A lot of critics are dedicating a lot of their lives to watching TV. Few of them read, few people understand that today more than ever, we need again, a little more of an encyclopaedic approach to life. So we can really cross references and cross ideas, and make something, with our thoughts and with our actions, that can be a little meaningful.”
You tend to take time between films, which you’ve spoken about in the past (there was a six year gap between your last film Our Time). How important is that to you?
“It’s been important lately. Because my children and I live in the countryside, I have a lot of work to do there on the country. And I like to read, and I like to build and spend time doing things, but I have to tell you that I now have a feeling that I want to pick up making films faster. A little faster. It’s not a matter of amount, but, if you can, quality. I hope I will be able to improve my films, make them better if possible. But I will only make a film whenever I have some burning need to make it, otherwise it’s just like a job. But I have this feeling that I want to make more films now. So, more often. I’ll take breaks that are shorter.”
You’ve spoken about the Mexican countryside, as being a critical place for you to reside in. How crucial is that to you?
“It’s something I appreciate very much and I am grateful for. As you know, the sound, the noise of cities and just so much going on, so many colours, so much movement, especially cars, is something I don’t like very much. I don’t like cars. I don’t like the sound of cars. I don’t like to see these things moving around all over the place. So, the less you see of that for me, the better (laughs). I think we need social contact, but the amount we have in the cities today is probably too much. And at the same time, ironically, that causes a great sense of isolation. And there are so many people that are lonely being among so many people at the same time, too. That’s weird. Very weird. It’s alienation. Social alienation.”
Do you think the countryside has been important to your films as a location?
“Yeah, definitely. (Because), that’s mostly what I personally experience. Most films, the cities are very present because most people that make films live in cities. And you tend to reflect upon whatever is close to you. The important thing is, not the subject matter or the place where things take place, but the synthetic abstraction, the quality of the synthesis in the abstraction, which express a certain vision or a certain way of feeling a certain way of suffering, understanding, that has to be an abstraction. And that abstraction has to be a good synthesis. And whenever that happens, then a film really can be a small button or a small box, but that holds a big thing in, because it’s all in the abstraction. Not in the actual direct production of things. Or even in the representation of things. No, it has to be all in the abstraction. It doesn’t matter where you film, what matters is that you manage to put together in an abstract form, a strong sense of subjectivity.”
How has your creative partnership with your frequent editor and partner, Natalia López Gallardo, impacted your films?
“Basically, the creative partnership with someone, whenever this person is a friend or a family member, or even your partner, is something that goes beyond the actual products or the actual creations that each one of you, or the people that work together, make together. It’s something that is relational. So, it goes along, every day, happening. What I appreciate most of Natalia is her love for cinema as a form, not as history, not as a collection of stories or anything like that, or names, but just the love of form that she has. And I also connect to cinema in this way. So, what is most important for me in my relationship with my wife is cinema, talking about her impressions, discussing, not even discussing, just feeling, feeling the other one’s impressions of cinema and also questioning certain things together. And that doesn’t mean that we agree all of the time at all, actually. We don’t necessarily agree, but I appreciate, and I admire her sensibility towards this form.”
Your last film, Our Time, was a little bit of departure for you, allowing you to act in one of your films for the first time. What did you take from Our Time?
“In this sense of acting, I hope I learned, how to talk to, let’s call them actors. It doesn’t matter if they’re non-actors, but the people that are going to be embodying the people in the film, or lending their souls, their bodies for something else. I hope I became better at that. And now that I’m preparing a new film with non-actors again, I feel like I can work better with them. I hope that we will see now that I make my new film, which is due in very soon, in a month and a half, I will be shooting.
“Also, it was very interesting to see, on a different level, that whenever you film something, even if it’s yourself or your children or things that are very close to you, once things are shot, they become filmic material. They really become just a matter with which you work, basically existence in time. And I never felt I was really working with myself or my children, or whatever, this was very abstract, and these things just became filmic entities.”