Dialogue: Carlos Reygadas


Considered one of Mexico's most talented new filmmakers, Carlos Reygadas has enjoyed remarkable success on the international festival circuit. Though he has yet to become a household name in Mexico, his features have received accolades from renowned Mexican directors and critics. Reygadas gave up a promising career as an international conflict lawyer to take the plunge into filmmaking several years ago. His Mennonite love story, "Silent Light," Mexico's foreign-language Oscar submission, showcases his work with non-actors and atypical narrative style. Reygadas spoke with The Hollywood Reporter'sMexico correspondent John Hechtabout his career thus far and how he has developed his unique style.

THR: How and why did you make the leap from international law to filmmaking?
Reygadas: The truth is that since I was a teenager I started liking cinema very much, but like most people at that age, I didn't really know what my true vocation was. So I got into conflict law and I really liked it, but eventually this great love for cinema that I had started growing stronger and stronger.So I decided to quit my job and I moved back to Brussels, where I had lived as a lawyer. It was there where I started doing some short films with some people I met. I did four short films in a year in Brussels. Then, these people helped me do "Japan."

THR: So you are completely self-taught as a filmmaker and screenwriter?
Reygadas: Yes. I went very often to movies and paid a lot of attention to the shots that were made. And I have read three books about film in all my life.

THR: Your approach to screenwriting is unorthodox. Can you explain that process?
Reygadas: I write a total technical script, I don't write a story because for me cinema is not about telling stories, which are much better told orally. Of course, you do tell a story, but it is not about that, I describe visually what you are seeing. I tell the actors what the film is about, but they don't see their lines. So just before the scene is shot, I tell them what to do and what to say. We do no rehearsals, only technical rehearsals if the scene has movement.

THR: Why do you like using that approach?
Reygadas: Over time, I learned that there are all these manuals about writing screenplays, like the famous Syd Field manual. But it is something that I am not interested in because I'm not interested in making products for consumption as a main purpose. Nowadays, you see all these Hollywood films, and it doesn't matter if it is a comedy, a war film or a drama, they are all so similar.

THR: Your films elicit very mixed reactions from the audience. What are some of the typical comments you hear?
Reygadas: Some people say it is really what they want to see on screen, that the person behind the camera is following his instinct rather than applying the book of instructions on how to make a film. On the negative side, I hear comments like, "Who the hell does he think he is, trying to break the conventions of Mexican cinema?" But I never tried to break the conventions of Mexican cinema. I just try to follow my own feelings.

THR: For better or for worse, Mexican moviegoers have cultivated a taste for American movies, making it a hard market to crack for non-commercial pictures like the ones you make. How do you see the situation for independent filmmakers in Mexico?
Reygadas: I think that taste is something mostly created, what you get is what you learn to like. So, yeah, most of what Mexicans get is American movies, and traditionally the few Mexican movies they get have not been very well crafted. So people tend to react against that craft, especially after they see American films, which are the best crafted in the world. I think that traditionally there has been a rejection of Mexican cinema and that creates the fact that few Mexican filmmakers are known.

THR: What does it mean for you to have the support of respected Mexican filmmakers like Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu?
Reygadas: Something that really makes me feel good is that I see the solidarity of my colleagues, and in this case, solidarity of colleagues that have had a lot of success. They give me a lot of insight into the industry and it touches me deeply to see these kinds of attitudes.

THR: Your films have relatively small releases in Mexico and abroad. Would you like to see them gain wider appeal?
Reygadas: Not necessarily. For me, that would be nice if it came naturally. But for me, success is about doing what you want to do, and doing your best. I'm not trying to say money's bad or anything like that, I believe in economic via- bility. But for me, success is about being true to my profession and doing it as honestly as I can, and I will fail very often, but I will try to stand up again and do what I have to do.