Scherzo Diabolico is a pretty great title even if you don’t know what the hell it means. You get a sense that whatever film follows will be something you maybe haven’t quite seen before. That is clearly what horror director Adrian Garcia Bogliano had in mind for his latest which focuses on what happens when a regular Mexican accountant decides to change his drab life by kidnapping a young woman.
Riffing on the work of Korean filmmakers like Kim Jee-woon and Bong Joon-ho, Bogliano’s flick quickly turns the tables on its protagonist, giving us in its female captive a much more complicated character than that of weakened victim. Fans of Bogliano’s previous works like Late Phases and Here Comes the Devil won’t be disappointed in his latest trip into the horror underworld, this time set in Mexico City.
Having premiered last year at the Tribeca Film Festival (check out our video interview below), it’s finally coming out on VOD. Ahead of its release, we talked to Bogliano, who was born in Madrid and raised in Argentina, about why shooting his latest was a harder than he and his crew had envisioned and whether he thinks there are limits when it comes to depicting gory violence on screen.
How would you describe Scherzo Diabolico in your own words?
Scherzo Diabolico is a mix of a thriller; drama and horror with a pinch of very dark humor. It’s a metaphor about the price we have to pay if we want to be successful by society’s standards, at any cost. And ultimately, it’s an experiment on how to combine a very classic structure — where every scene leads to the next and all that you see is crucial to telling the story, while dividing the film in two — with a false ending at two-thirds of the film, a bold move that toys with the audience’s expectations.
I was highly inspired by the “The Mephisto Waltz” of Franz Liszt, but there is already a wonderful film from the seventies by that title and researching for classical piano pieces I stumbled on “Scherzo Diabolico.” The piece blew me away and the idea of something that refers to diabolical music — but at the same time with scherzo meaning ”joke” in Italian — really clicked in my head and helped me set the black comedy overtones of the film. And it was perfect because I always thought that ultimately the joke was on our lead.
Casting is crucial. Can we talk about what you saw in Francisco Barreiro and Daniela Soto Vell?
“It’s a metaphor about the price we have to pay if we want to be successful by society’s standards, at any cost.”
Francisco is one of the best Mexican actors at the moment. I was very fortunate to cast him in Here Comes the Devil and he did a hell of a lot more than I expected with the part he had. I believe that, with what was written, in the hands of another actor, that part wouldn’t have had the depth and intensity he achieved. So, after Late Phases, and another project I was going to make that ultimately didn’t happen, I thought it was time to explore this idea and I decided to write it with him in mind, so I could take advantage of the many weapons he has as an actor.
With Daniela was completely different. I thought of another actress for the part, who, I never knew for sure, but I believe was a bit put off by the violence and the nudity the role involved. The time passed and we were approaching production and we couldn’t find the right person. We were actually on our first or second day of shooting when the producer of the film suggested Daniela. And even though she had almost no experience in film, I immediately knew it was her.
The mask is a key image in the film and it plays with obvious horror references. How did you and your design team decided on this imagery?
We were toying with several ideas. Some were pretty ridiculous on purpose, putting an accent on the absurd element of the film. But I didn’t know how that was going to work. My producer, Andrea, decided to dive into one of the creepiest places in Mexico City, the Sonora Market, a place that is really big for Santería and really weird stuff because she knew they also had cool masks there and she found those. I thought it was a cool touch because it is clearly reminiscent of the classic Mexican calacas so it helps to ground the film more in Mexico. I didn’t want to play the film the typical way you would expect for a thriller set in Mexico, I just wanted the Mexican culture to be the background and let the city provide the textures to give more depth to the story. But I definitely didn’t want to play the Mexican curious card in a very obvious way. The mask is probably the most obvious element but I think it works really well.
What was the hardest part of writing and shooting Scherzo Diabolico?
It was shot in a very complicated way because we used a very weird combination of digital cameras on old projection lenses, that, as far as I know have never been used to shoot any other film. And it gave the film a very unique look but made the shooting process really slow and difficult and made me and the actors be extremely precise and it made me have to re-define a lot of things of the pace and the staging.
In crafting Scherzo Diabolico (or any of your films), did you worry about limits and boundaries? About how far, in terms of violence or gore, you can take the audience with you?
The only limit for me is what makes sense to the story and what doesn’t work and if it’s just gratuitous and doesn’t add anything else. Usually the bursts of violence of my films tend to be brutal and serve a purpose of catharsis after building tension. I think you can take the audience very, very far with these things as long as they care about what’s going on and they can connect with the dramatic elements of the story. In my opinion, it all rests on not spoonfeeding the themes of the movie, but having themes that you as an artist care about and making sure that people can understand that there is something else going on other than blood and guts.
Scherzo Diabolico is out on VOD and Digital HD on May 3, 2016.