Dialogue: Gael Garcia Bernal

First-time director's 'Deficit' screens in Critics Week

Gael Garcia Bernal is a familiar face on the French Riviera, having spent time here as an actor for "Amores Perros" and "The Motorcycle Diaries." For this year's festival, Garcia Bernal is in Cannes not just as a pretty face but because of his first sojourn behind the lens. He also stars in his directorial debut, "Deficit," which unspools in Critics Week here Monday. The actor-turned-director talked to The Hollywood Reporter about coming to Cannes wearing two hats, the pressures of directing and the political implications of making films in Mexico.

The Hollywood Reporter: Your movie details the story of a spoiled rich kid from a politically and socially privileged background. What made you want to pick this project as your first directing job, and why cast yourself?

Gael Garcia Bernal: There were practical and subjective reasons. It has a lot to do with synchronicity. The story appeared in front of us and we concentrated on it with (writer) Kyzza (Terrazas), and it really started taking shape. And then the possibility of doing it was much more plausible and easier if I acted in the movie. I knew how difficult it would be, but not quite that much to get a movie made. We made everything quickly and it was an experiment at the beginning that became an adventure with friends. Some might call it brave, some might call it naive. It's a thin line that the film and we as filmmakers tread. It has freshness and innocence, which is either positive or not, depending on what you like.

THR: Your acting roles often deal with sociopolitical issues, and your debut behind the lens does. Does that reflect your tastes?

Garcia Bernal: One of the biggest problems Mexicans have here (in Mexico) is everything you are doing in a country like this has a huge political impact. Even deciding to live here is a very personal decision because my friends and family live here. And that decision comes with political implications and in poorer countries you can't escape that. You are much more in touch with the priorities of life we have here. The money is so scarce that whenever there is a problem you are affected by it much more immediately. It's ("Deficit") a film about the end of impunity and it's a fable about that and its consequences.

THR: How was shooting "Deficit" in Mexico?

Garcia Bernal: Everything was done with friends and with a very small crew on high-definition video. And we had a really good time doing it. We were in total control and it was a very free experience because we were free in exchange of having very limited resources. Films with a personal point of view work here in Mexico and we all knew what story we wanted to film and it worked.

THR: Was "Deficit" the smallest-budget movie you've ever been involved with?

Garcia Bernal: Yes, it is the smallest-budget film I have ever done, which was an enjoyable thing because we were in complete control, and it frees you from some of the burden of 'being the director.' I don't want a directing career, I want to act all my life. I am interested in directing only when I have a story to tell. We could throw ourselves into experimenting with no black clouds hanging over us.

THR: The pic stars you. What's it like directing yourself?

Garcia Bernal: It was good. Very good. Actually, it was one of the weirdest experiences of my life, and it's a huge learning experience, and I can't put my finger on everything it has taught me. It was huge, and the (learning) process is still going on. It was nice to be in front of the camera because I could develop an energy with the other actors as a director, too.

THR: What is it like making a movie as a director having been an actor for such a long time?

Garcia Bernal: Energizing the cast was really nice. It was good to be able to set the tone in an interactive way rather than just bringing it to the part yourself. But sometimes I would want to experience something differently, and when you are doing it in front of camera you are not aware of what the camera is seeing.

THR: You set up a movie production label, Canana, with your friends Diego Luna and Pablo Cruz in 2005. Why?

Garcia Bernal: We wanted to concentrate the energy that was going around in our group and try to put it into some sort of shape and make them happen. It's kind of the battle we can take on to organize a company to get films done and find new ways of marketing and distributing films. So far (the company) has done well.

THR: You also have a passion for documentaries and are involved in Ambulante, the festival in Mexico. Is the truth more interesting than fiction?

Garcia Bernal: The festival has done really well and really grown quickly. It's becoming better and better. They (fact and fiction) are two different ways of filmmaking. With fiction it is all about choice and with fact most of the choices are made after in the editing room after it's been shot. They are a different language and there is still a mystery surrounding what makes them so different.

THR: You've been to the Festival de Cannes in the past. What is it about the festival that appeals to you as a filmmaker?

Garcia Bernal: The first time was with "Amores Perros." It was a huge whirlwind experience and I had never seen myself on screen before. The film spoke for itself and, without any massive machinery behind, it it became a monster around the world. I think that Cannes has that magic to make a little film that no one has heard of in Critics Week become a monster that galloped around the world like a freed beast.

THR: You have a Critics Week slot, which always carries a sense of future talent about it. What hopes do you have for your film and you as a result of being there?

Garcia Bernal: I just hope the film has a good reception. I wish us to have a good screening. I want to have fun and for our movie to benefit from a synchronicity of all the things that can happen at Cannes.

THR: Are there other movies you are hoping to catch during this year's 60th festival?

Garcia Bernal: I hope I get to see Carlos Reygadas' ("Silent Light") and also Harmony Korine's "Mister Lonely."


Nationality: Mexican; born: Nov. 30, 1978

Selected filmography (as actor): "Amores Perros," "Y Tu Mama Tambien," "The Motorcycle Diaries"

Notable award: Male Revelation Chopard Award at the Festival de Cannes (2003)