Two brothers head off into the French countryside for a weekend. The aim: to reconnect and perhaps even to reconcile. Something that happened back home (that would be Mexico City) has shaken their relationship, forcing each into a sort of exile. One goes to boarding school in England, the other is now settled in Paris with his girlfriend. These details alone should tell you that Pablo (Dario Yazbek Bernal) and Alonso (Güeros’s Sebastián Aguirre Böeda), the leading characters in Rodrigo Cervantes’ chilly existential parable Los paisajes (Landscapes), are members of the Mexican upper class.
The mystery at the heart of the brothers’ estrangement and of the scandal at home that precipitated it, would be — in other films — at the center of the plot. But Cervantes, along with his co-screenwriter Santiago Mohar Volkow, is interested more in seeing the two siblings come to terms with the life they have lead and the privilege it’s afforded them. As they drink and converse, there’s the sense that what we’re watching is a family drama coming to a close. Except that the frosty landscapes around the brothers, the hunting rifles they swing around while walking around the old country house, and the pregnant pauses that bubble up whenever Alonso tries to bring up their father suggest otherwise. By the time cruel tragedy strikes, there’s no doubt Cervantes and Mohar Volkow have set their eyes on bigger questions about maturity, privilege, and, wouldn’t you know it, corruption.
The specific details are best left unspoiled but know that Los paisajes, which first screened as a Work in Progress at the 2015 Los Cabos Film Festival, and which screened in its finished form at the same festival just this year, is a thought-provoking look at a specific slice of the Mexican establishment, one as keenly observant of its characters as the landscape artwork its title evokes.
Following the world premiere screening at the Los Cabos International Film Festival, Cervantes and Mohar Volkov joined Yazkbek Bernal as well as actress Pía Laborde Noguez for an audience Q&A where they discussed how this story came together, what the movie says about contemporary Mexican society, and why at the end of day, it can be seen as a coming-of-age narrative. Check out some highlights from that conversation below.
On the Film’s Origins
Rodrigo: It all started with Santiago who was about to film Los muertos and he started to write up a couple of workshop exercises called “Los cuentos crueles” (the cruel tales). They were brief shorts that would follow upper class characters and would always involve some sort of tragedy. Talking about it he said if you ever have a similar idea just let me know. So the film began as a short film where two friends skip out from their boarding school to go hunting and an accident happens. But slowly, as we started working on it, it became bigger and bigger until it couldn’t be a short film after all.
On the Political Subtext of the Story
Rodrigo: At the end of the day, it’s a film open to interpretation. Yet it portrays the political and social situation we live here in Mexico. It should leave you open to think about what you saw. There’s something we’ve all heard at one point or another when thinking of Mexican cinema: “We’re sick and tired of these films about corruption.” Well, this is a film about corruption. Quite openly it’s about the corruption at the highest levels of our society but in essence it’s also about human corruption, man’s corruption. It’s an existential film that doesn’t just talk about privileged rich kids but it speaks to how we betray our own principles and how we start to lose ourselves as we grow up into this world that is undeniably corrupt. I think that’s the core of the film: the process of corruption.
“This is a film about corruption, and there’s no corruption without lies.”
Santiago: Rodrigo always wanted the film to have a sense of tragedy, in its most classical sense. So we wanted there to be a set of good intentions at the beginning that could be corrupted. When we first meet our leading character, he’s not lying to outright hurt anyone. But that same lie, which he cannot control and which seemed so innocent at the time, is what ends up unraveling the story. And that’s really what’s at the heart of tragedies. As Rodrigo said this is a film about corruption, and there’s no corruption without lies. That’s where it begins and where it ends. To see that process of how a person abandons his own principles we had to see him get to the point where he has to lie, where he has to come up with another narrative.
— LosCabosFilmFestival (@CaboFilmFest) November 24, 2016
On the Film’s Seemingly Simple Title
Rodrigo: In the 17th century, landscape painting became a prominent art. And it’s because the industrial revolution allows the bourgeois class to head out to their country estates and see and define what is aesthetically beautiful. Throughout the film you see our characters observing those landscapes around them. So the use of those landscapes is practically the visualization of distance: not just the distance that exists between Mexico and Europe, but between the characters as human beings, and between yourselves and the film you’re watching.
On Wanting Cinema to Be More Than Entertainment
Rodrigo: Why read a philosophy book? Why read a novel? It’s not just about entertainment. We have a duty as human beings to question ourselves. What this film is trying to do is getting you to reflect. If you leave the theater and think what he did was good or it was bad—because really, you know that this character will end up being an important businessman or a famous politician—the story you’ve just witnessed, that humanizes him, affects our own country. It’s not just about coming to the theater to entertain yourself and to distract yourself from the world right outside. You have the responsibility to encounter things that will get you to question your world.
On What Drew the Cast to the Story
Pia: There are a lot of relevant issues in the film. I think it’s a very honest way of looking at how us young people face relationships. It frustrates me a lot. Either before or after shooting the film, I can’t remember, a guy who I was seeing broke my heart in a similar way as to what you saw on screen, very suddenly. He just cut me off, ghosted me. So it feels very relevant.
Darío: What I was most interested in and what I saw really in the film was this “coming of age” narrative. That transition into that grown-up world which can be very painful. And especially for the character of Pablo, it’s even more painful. So it’s a story that presents a very tragic version of that transition we all go through because we can’t avoid it. That’s what most drew me to the film, that inner tragedy that I think a lot of people can relate to.
The Q&A was conducted in Spanish and has been translated by the author for Remezcla.