Belgian filmmaker Gust Van Den Berghe was in Mexico City giving a Master Class, making friends and falling in love with the country when the concept for a film took shape in his mind: en route to the underworld, a fallen angel happens to pass through a small town in Michoacán and bewilders the villagers who can’t quite decipher his intentions. Van Den Berghe’s own Mexican pilgrimage provided the right backdrop from which to write the third installment of a trilogy of films that deal with Christianity: Little Baby Jesus of Flandr, Blue Bird and now Lucifer.
Lucifer is played by Mexican actor Gabino Rodriguez, whose chiseled features render him unmistakable and layer his performance with charisma. Rodriguez was born and raised in D.F., and started acting at a young age. His relationship with Van Den Berghe began when the director saw Rodriguez in a film by Nicolás Pereda but that wasn’t the reason Van Den Berghe decided to work with him. “It’s not so much that he impressed me on film but that he impressed me as a human being,” he says, “That was the most important thing for me.” Their collaboration and personal friendship recently brought them to the Tribeca Film Festival.
“Gust would speak in English, someone would translate it to Spanish and then another person would have to translate to Purépecha.”
In interpreting the dark angel, Rodriguez opted for simplicity. He didn’t try to live up to the myth and instead played a figure that is morally ambivalent, “The character of Lucifer is one that accompanies us throughout our lives,” he says. “It’s hard to pin him down so I created a skeleton that was more-or-less the character and then added elements from the script.” Rodriguez is the only trained actor in a cast full of natural actors, all locals to the town of Anagahúan. In order to strengthen collaboration with the untrained cast, he geared himself more toward listening and away from planning, “The North American school of acting of Strasberg and Adler has impressed upon us the importance of preparation before going to set. Working with natural actors, however, completely goes against those principles,” he says. Ultimately, shooting scenes with his inexperienced co-stars proved to be constructive and the less challenging aspect of production as the villagers were all inspired to do their part for the benefit of the story. Really it was the getting the international crew to understand each other that was difficult. “There were people in the village who only spoke Purépecha. So Gust would speak in English, someone would translate it to Spanish and then another person would have to translate to Purépecha,” recalls Rodriguez, “and the cameraman spoke Flemish.” Van Den Berghe reckons, “It was Babelian.”
Lucifer is a technical feat for Van Den Berghe, who, in trying to represent a perfectly idealized world, ditched standard gauge and shot the film in tondoscope. From the Italian “rotondo,” a mirrored cone was custom-built for the film and placed in front of the lens, which captures the scene in a circle. There is some warping along the edges due to the flexed mirrors and an edged glow, however the effect is consistent with the story: to give the audience the perspective of god, looking down on this perfectly spherical world full of imperfections.
Lucifer is the agent of sin and thus, for both Rodriguez and Van Den Berghe, an ideal protagonist. Rodriguez explains, “Lucifer was the first actor; the first to try to convey an alternate truth.” And Van Den Berghe agrees, “He wanted to be better than God. He’s a very ambitious character so in that sense, for me as an artist, he’s very intriguing.”
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 15 – 26, 2015. We partnered with Tribeca to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the Latino talent at this year’s fest. Follow our coverage on remezcla.com and tribecafilm.com.