Mexican Director José Paredes on Making His Punk-Driven Coming-of-Age Tale ‘Amir’

Stories of artistically stifled young men brooding over the coming responsibilities of adulthood are a dime a dozen. Making them distinctive in this day and age requires an added element. Take the “dudebro” comedy of Apatow, or Linklater’s sense of time passing, or even the youthful exuberance of Cuarón. In the case of José ParedesAmir, the film’s pared down narrative is colorfully bolstered by the local Tijuana music scene.

The plot may be familiar enough: a boy finds himself torn between a pregnant girlfriend and a dreamy younger woman who inspires him artistically; but the film’s music — not to mention its black and white cinematography — help it stand out. Paredes, who worked mostly with Tijuana residents and local bands to furnish the film’s soundtrack, credits his cast (including his lead who’d never worked professionally as an actor before) with giving the project an authentic TJ sound. Which is to say, some of us who speak Spanish fluently still welcomed the subtitles to follow the slang-heavy dialogue.

Ahead of the film’s screening at the Cine+Más San Francisco Latino Film Festival, Remezcla called up Paredes to discuss the film’s punk-rock vibe, his decision to shoot in black and white, and taking tips from Alejandro González Iñárritu. Check out some highlights from our chat below.

Amir screens as part of the Cine+Más San Francisco Latino Film Festival which runs Sept 16-Oct 1, 2016

On the Finding a Universal Story

[I like] stories about dilemmas and how the character has to make a difficult choice. In this case he didn’t know which one of the two girls to choose. Whoever he chooses there will be consequences. And in the end, what the character was dealing with was: you either do what you want or you do what’s right. That type of story has always been really interesting to me. Everyone asks me if it is in any way autobiographical. I’ve never been in this kind of situation, but the feelings the character is having are very universal.

On Being Inspired by Alejandro González Iñárritu

“I wanted to be as authentic as possible. The movie is set in Tijuana and people have a very peculiar way of talking there.”

For me [shooting in black and white] a creative choice that felt right. And the montages with the music and all that. I get asked about those and get asked where I get the inspiration, and a movie that I really love and that does that a lot is Babel, by Alejandro González Iñárritu. That’s a movie that does a lot of montages. What it does with the images is tell a lot. It becomes more profound than doing it with dialogue. Especially at the end of Amir, there’s not much dialogue when everything starts crashing down — you just see his face, his expressions. For me when it comes to the character, that seemed like the best approach.

On Getting The Film To Sound Authentic

The script did have some of the slang but at the same time I did tell them to say whatever felt more natural — because I wanted to keep it more natural-feeling with the performances. I wanted to be as authentic as possible. The movie is set in Tijuana and people have a very peculiar way of talking there. I guess that’s everywhere, right? I go to Hermosillo, Sonora and they talk a certain way, with words I don’t understand. I get the gist. To me, it was important that the TJ slang was there. The script originally had some but I really told the actors to do their own thing.

José Paredes (right) and crew on the set of ‘Amir’
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You know, a director that did that a lot is Martin Scorsese. He does that a lot. Especially in his earlier and some of his best films: like in Goodfellas. I tried to do something similar to that. There are people who have complained about. I mean, there’s a lot of cursing in the movie. I mean, I get it. There wasn’t that much cursing in the script but again, it just feels more authentic. You know, a person like Amir with his background, that’s the way he would speak.

On Finding the Right Music

Well, Tijuana is a very cultural city. There’s a lot of musicians and a lot of music comes out of it. When I was writing the script and created Amir, he was very connected with punk-rock, or light punk music. Fortunately, I have access to that world because one of my brothers who also assisted with the film — his name is Marco — he knows bands and some of the songs are his. He’s actually in the film very briefly. The band that’s playing at the beginning, that’s his, he’s the drummer. There are also all types of genres. I chose them depending on the theme and what the character is feeling. There’s very acoustic music as well, especially near the end. Most of it was originally made by a musician called Miguel Romo. But a lot of it was also from musicians from TJ.

On Creating An Acoustic Gay Novelty Song

That song wasn’t originally in the script. The script said: “They write this song about this homosexual character” who we never meet. A couple friends of mine did it and they never played it anywhere. Considering the fact that you have two musicians kind of about this subject in a funny manner, I took the opportunity to play that song to the world for the first time. But I had to make sure beforehand — I played it to a couple of friends that are gay. I asked them, “This is not offensive, right?” And they were like “No. It’s funny.” Because I don’t want to create a problem, you know? “No, it’s funny, you should put it in the film, man.” And so we did and there’s always a big reaction to that scene. People laugh a lot. And at the same time it shows those characters bonding in making this silly song.

On Striking A Chord With Today’s Youth

You know, at one of the screenings before the movie came out there was a big discussion about what’s going on with today’s youth. “With so many ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies why is it still happening?” They even asked me if this was a cautionary tale. It really wasn’t. That wasn’t my intention. More than that, my focus was on the character growing up, or not wanting to grow up. As part of being an adult and growing up you have to make those decisions. He’s not a teenager either, but at the same time he’s not ready for something like this. You know, all of us make bad decisions and bad calls, so in that universal sense, I hope that Amir speaks to a lot of young people.