The thrill of a short film can sometimes come from taking advantage of its runtime to pack a tightly wound punch. That is definitely the case in Cadena Perpetua which uses a 15-minute meeting between a psychoanalyst and a client to stage a fascinating conversation about the law, and the lengths we’ll go to get the justice we think we deserve. Set in a nondescript prison, the short follows just two characters: Dr. Gutierrez (played Alfredo Huereca, who also wrote the film’s screenplay) and an inmate Mauricio (Moises González), who is being accused of having raped a mentally challenged neighbor. But the more these two men talk, the more complicated the issue at hand becomes. Conversations about consent and justice unearth a surprising twist that’s best left unspoiled.
Born in Mexico and active in both the Miami and New York scene, Huereca is an established theater presence. Cadena Perpetua began as a play produced by Bridge Playhouse, a company that Huereca began and which he sees as being a “cultural bridge between the United States and the world, particularly with Latin America.”
We chatted with writer-star Huereca, who you may recognize from Eva La Trailera, about the heady two-hander drama which is headed to the Cannes Short Film Corner this week.
You’re a very busy and prolific actor-writer-director, what would you say you look for when you sign on to projects?
“I believe one of my responsibilities as an artist is to make people aware of their own human condition.”
The text is the backbone of the project, no matter what platform you are choosing, whether it be film, tv or theater. Basically, I need to feel challenged by the script in whatever capacity, be it actor, writer, director, producer — that I hold on a particular project. Compelling, complex characters and drama can only be created when you have in your hands a text that reflects three dimensional characters with flaws, ambition, insecurities, kindness and drive. All these elements combined make the exploration of a character exciting, turning it into a journey that in reality never ends. Context is another element I look within a text. I believe one of my responsibilities as an artist is to make people aware of their own human condition, to create a certain level of consciousness about the society we live in that leads to questioning prejudices, norms, collective beliefs. It is the entertainment business, yes, but as long as the audience leaves the theater with perhaps a different perspective, with a level of awareness of a theme or topic, as in Cadena Perpetua, I feel I have done my job.
What do you look for in terms of collaborators?
The people involved in the project is also very important. I like and look to work with professionals in their own area of expertise, creatives that also have a message to relay to the audience, people that truly respect their profession and craft. Cadena Perpetua is a film adaptation of my own play. Even though I directed the stage production, I looked for someone else to direct the film. I met with several directors before inviting Jesús Alarcón to direct the piece. He understood, respected and enhanced my existing vision of the film. Bringing onboard Louis Febre, Emmy award winning music composer, Mexican Actor Julio Bracho and Juansa Avalos, director of photography, were also great assets for this production.
Where did the original idea for Cadena Perpetua (the play) come from and what inspired you to turn it into a short film?
“Compelling, complex characters and drama can only be created when you have in your hands a text that reflects three dimensional characters with flaws, ambition, insecurities, kindness and drive.”
I had worked with Moisés González, the other lead actor of Cadena Perpetua, in a play I produced in Miami, titled Solo, by César Sierra and I enjoyed working with him due to his discipline, dedication and talent. After that production, I was offered a space to produce and direct a play that, unfortunately did not fit my criteria, as I explained above. It was then that I decided to write an actor-driven piece for both of us. The response of the audience to Cadena Perpetua was extremely positive, some people saw it several times. Many of them used to tell me it seemed they were watching a film, something very real and were struck by the theme, the plot twists and the story. The immense majority wanted to know more about it and about the characters. At this point I decided to write the adaptation of the play. The text is filled with imagery and symbolism that translated beautifully to the big screen.
There’s a specific rhythm to your dialogue and I was curious to hear what you think this adds to the feeling of the play, and to your own performance.
It’s very interesting you ask this question. When I directed the stage production, I used to tell Moisés that we were creating music and used classical music as analogy, where sometimes you barely hear the instruments for what it could seem a long period of time, and then you have a crescendo, followed by an abrupt pause. The rhythm of Cadena Perpetua is fundamental to its success. One of my most influential playwrights is British author Harold Pinter, winner of the Nobel Prize of Literature. When you read his plays you can perceive an undercurrent message and dialogue, where the subtext is much more interesting than what is actually said. Pauses are intrinsic and essential to the plot and to the characters. When I started then focusing on my character, Dr. Gutierrez, from the actor’s point of view, it became imperative to create a very precise character, where everything had a specific meaning. There is an economy of movements and a clear understanding of where the character was in any particular moment of the play.
Since you’re headed to Cannes, can you tell us what your goal is and what plans you have for Cadena Perpetua?
Being selected to exhibit Cadena Perpetua at the Cannes Short Film Corner is a great honor and achievement. It will give us the opportunity to meet and connect with industry people and decision makers, worldwide, as we prepare for production on the feature film version of the film. I’m also excited and proud to represent Mexican and U.S. Latino filmmaking in this production. I believe that Cadena Perpetua heralds the expanded horizon of what is possible for Latin American filmmaking when we use our inherent talents to make films that are globally relevant yet uniquely ours.