Fernando Guzzoni On How a Tragic Hate Crime Changed the Screenplay He Was Writing

'Jesus' Film Still. Courtesy Breaking Glass Pictures

When Chilean filmmaker Fernando Guzzoni began writing the script for his new drama Jesús in early 2012, he planned to tell a story about a broken relationship between a father and son and use it as a metaphor for the strained political history of his South American home country.

A couple of months later, Guzzoni’s narrative began to evolve when four Chilean men brutally killed Daniel Zamudio, a 25-year-old gay man, in San Borja Park in downtown Santiago. The hate crime led Congress to pass an anti-discrimination law, which had been dormant in the legislature for seven years.

In Jesús, Guzzoni tells the story of that murder through the eyes of the title character (played by Nicolás Durán), an arrogant young man searching for his own identity, who turns to his father for help after the crime despite sharing a tumultuous relationship.

During an interview with Remezcla, Guzzoni talked about why the 2012 murder resonated with him so much, attempting to create a more complex portrayal of the aggressors than Chilean media, and whether or not he considers Jesús an LGBT film.

Jesús had its US premiere at Neighboring Scenes, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Latin American film showcase.

On his inspiration for making Jesús

At the beginning, I wanted to create a broken relationship between a father and son. I feel like it’s one of those archetypical stories. I felt like it could work as a device because the son grew up in a democracy while the father was born in the 50s, so it was like an analogy of the Chilean society. I started writing the script in early 2012.

Later, I heard that four boys killed another boy in a public park in Santiago. The victim was homosexual. When the news covered the story, they said the killers were neo-Nazis. Out of curiosity, I did my own research on the killers and found out one of them was bisexual. Another one was a Michael Jackson impersonator. They were all into Japanese animation. The one element that really captured me was that the killers and the victim had an absent father figure. The father figure has been lost in our society since la colonia until today. For me, it was a match between my original idea and this event. I felt there was a strong connection.

On not accepting the media’s portrayal of the killers at face value

[The killers’] problems were more complex. They weren’t like the stereotypical bad guys. It wasn’t about a group of crazy people following a crazy ideology. I was really mad with the point of view of all the media because they wanted it to be like a war between good [people] and bad [people]. For me, it’s also a problem about how our society works.

On shooting the brutal murder scene in the film

For me, the crime was a random situation. I wanted to build a long scene with the characters just playing at the beginning. They’re playing and laughing and drinking and then suddenly this game becomes something else that you can’t return from. The scene took three days to shoot. The actors and the crew were really sensitive with it, but I still wanted to be really hardcore with the scene. It was important that when you watch the scene, this kind of violence feels really organic and true and without any effects. I wanted it to be the type of violence that you could see in your neighborhood or school.

On whether he felt his film would suffer because the title character has no redeeming qualities

I think [Jesús] is the kind of character that you can shape from the beginning. For me, he was a reflection of this generation—this nihilism—and how he grows up in this fractured family without and values and support. When you don’t have your father or mother, all you have is society and society is ill—it’s sick. In a way, [Jesús] is a symptom of our society. If you reject Jesús, I also feel like you’re rejecting your own life. When you’re young, sometimes you cross the limit as you’re looking for your identity and suddenly can find yourself in the worst place at the worst moment. Jesús is not a criminal or a killer. He’s a young boy looking for affection and his identity.

On the idea that young men think they are invincible

I think it’s a part of this generation. You feel like you’re Superman and can do whatever you want. You see something you want and you go for it. You don’t reflect. That was an interesting thing for me in the film because after the crime, Jesús suddenly feels he is alive. Everything changes. He feels guilty. He wants a second chance. Before the crime, he’s living an empty life. Suddenly, when something strong happens, he like, “Fuck. I have to do something for my life.” For me, the film is a portrait of the process of becoming an adult.

On whether he considers Jesús an LGBT film

We’ve been selected for some LGBT film festivals, but for me, it’s not an LGBT film at all. For me, the sexual content in the film is just a reflection of how sexuality works in this generation. It’s just a body. It’s the way you get the desire and love and affection. There’s not a political statement about their sexuality. They don’t need to label themselves as homosexual or bisexual. They can have sexual relationships with a boy or a girl because it’s just a body. These characters are really free an uninhibited. It’s something pure. It wasn’t my idea to make an LGBT film, but I can understand why they say it’s in that kind of framework.