In general, we Latinos can be pretty damn funny, but few countries in the world can come close to Mexico’s long tradition of cinematic comedy. Cantinflas, Tin-Tan, Resortes: the list goes on and on. Yet even 60 years after Mexican cinema’s Golden Age, there’s still plenty of room for new voices and approaches to the genre. Just this year, the Guadalajara and Guanajuato Film Festivals introduced Mexican audiences to director Anwar Safa’s personal take on the American indie comedy tradition, taking cues from directors like Wes Anderson and quirky films like Little Miss Sunshine for his debut feature El Jeremías.
But make no mistake about it: this Torreón, Coahuila native was also deeply interested in the cultural idiosyncrasies of the great Mexican north, and managed to weave these influences into an Hermosillo-based family comedy that is both deeply local, and wholly universal. El Jeremías chronicles the misadventures of an 8-year-old boy of humble origins, who learns he has an exceptionally high IQ. While his bumbling father tries to find some way to profit off of his child’s gifts, Jeremías begins to look for his calling in life.
Oozing with visual style, El Jeremías is also noteworthy for its wholesome, family-friendly take on a genre that usually goes the way of dirty jokes and heavy sexual innuendo. It’s a quality that earned the film an Audience Award at this year’s Austin Film Festival and effusive praise from Mexican audiences relieved to see such a positive, optimistic national product.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Safa, and put together some highlights both from our conversation and his numerous encounters with local and international press for your reading pleasure.
On The Geniuses Among Us
“Many of us have never been to Paris, but we know what it looks like, thanks to cinema. I hope to put Hermosillo on the map with this film.”
The story was an original idea by Ana Sofía Clerici, our screenwriter. She pitched me the idea 8 and a half or 9 years ago, and I loved it…What would happen if a genius kid with an IQ over 130 came from an ignorant family with few resources, who were also kind of dumb – just to add a little flavor to the comedy? Ana Sofía started doing research first, and then I also researched before shooting. We found that almost 3 percent of the population is highly gifted, and they’ll never know it unless there’s some clue that tells them there are other kids who think like them.
On Finding the Universal in the Norteño
We definitely wanted to write a universal screenplay, with problems that could take place anywhere in the world, but we also made it very Mexican – specifically, very norteño. It’s not like other Mexican comedies where there are a lot of double entendres and puns, we didn’t use much of that [style of comedy].
On Putting Hermosillo on the Map
“Since the film takes place in the north, the palette of instruments is very norteña, but all of a sudden we throw in a cover of Devo’s “Whip It.”
I’m convinced film helps to foster a cultural identity in certain places. Many of us have never been to Paris, but we know what it looks like, thanks to cinema. So in a way, I hope to put Hermosillo on the map with this film. I mean, on the map in the minds of those who have the opportunity to see this film. I’m certainly not saying it’s going to change the whole world.
On His Love for Wes Anderson
He’s my idol. He was my biggest influence for this film together with a little bit from Billy Elliot, and some things from Little Miss Sunshine. It is in the style of American indie comedies, but a very Mexican version.
On Being a Frustrated Musician
I consider myself a frustrated musician who was never brave enough to pick up an instrument. But yes, I listen to a lot of music, and for this film I wanted to take elements of rock music and also translate the regional banda sinaloense and banda norteña. Since the film takes place in the north, the palette of instruments is very norteña, but all of a sudden we throw in a cover of the Black Keys, or of Devo’s “Whip It.”
Interview conducted in Spanish by Vanessa Erazo and translated by Andrew S. Vargas.