Guiding 'Light'

Mexican helmer makes imprint

Renowned Mexican directors consider Carlos Reygadas one of the nation's most gifted filmmakers. His movies have won numerous awards on the festival circuit, including this year's jury prize at Cannes. Yet despite the accolades, Reygadas remains virtually unknown in his native Mexico.

"Silent Light," Reygadas' third feature, will hit Mexico City theaters Oct. 12 with 24 prints, a small release even by Mexican standards. Considered his most accessible film, "Silent Light" tells a deeply moving love story that takes place in an isolated Mennonite community in northern Mexico.

Reygadas acknowledges his films are an acquired taste. Moviegoers accustomed to Hollywood fare might find his narrative slow-paced and sparse in dialogue. What's more, he chooses to work with nonactors, making it all the more difficult to draw mainstream audiences.

But the furthest thing from his mind is making films with broad commercial appeal.

"I'm not interested in making products for consumption as a main purpose," Reygadas says. "I think a film should do much more than just entertain. It should be something that can live in the viewer for days, months or years after they see it."

Reygadas gave up a promising career as an international conflict lawyer to take the plunge into filmmaking while living in Belgium. There, the self-taught director made four shorts in one year. Although he often is applauded for his technical abilities, he has never attended film school.

"I've read three books about film and I used to go to the cinema a lot and paid close attention to the shots that were made," he says.

The autodidactic approach seems to be working. His feature film debut, "Japon," won special mention for the Golden Camera award at Cannes in 2002. His next two films, "Battle in Heaven" and "Light," garnered Palme d'Or nominations on the Croisette, the latter taking home the jury prize.

Film critic Salvador Franco believes it's just a matter of time before Reygadas gains wider acceptance in Mexico.

"People in Mexico are starting to appreciate his work much more now that he has won prizes in Europe," he says.

Reygadas recently received a huge vote of confidence from the Mexican Film Academy when it selected "Light" as Mexico's foreign-language Oscar contender.

He also enjoys the backing of celebrated Mexican filmmakers Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

"They give me a lot of insight into the industry, and that touches me deeply," Reygadas says.

It's anyone's guess whether Reygadas' films can expand their reach beyond the art house crowd.

Daniela Michel, director of the Morelia Film Festival, feels Reygadas already has accomplished his goal of making movies that live in people long after the curtain comes down.

"Nowadays, you see many shorts in Mexico that have a notable Reygadas influence," she says.