GODS - DIOSES by Josué Méndez, Peru
The idea to make a film about a brother and a sister who belong to the upper-class has been hunting me since way before making DIAS DE SANTIAGO. Having spent a privileged childhood, I always felt myself a witness to a reality that overwhelmed me, and which now gives me the opportunity to say what I want to say about it. Nevertheless, it was probably the international experience that DIAS DE SANTIAGO gave me, what allowed me to have a clearer idea of how our reality in Latin America and our films are perceived by foreign audiences. That perception definitely made me more willing to try to make this new film now.
I feel there is a huge void with respect to the visual representation of this social group, without clichés or stereotypes, considering that the majority of Latin American cinema which gets distributed internationally deals mainly with the opposite aspect of our reality, the poorer sectors, the forgotten ones, the grey and the sad, including of course DIAS DE SANTIAGO. But the truth is that our reality is much vaster, and it is definitely as important and urgent to show the other side, the side of the powerful.
Peru is a country with no dialogue. We are a society that doesn’t know itself, that doesn’t understand itself, that doesn’t accept itself. Historically, however, none of the social classes has ever dealt with these issues nor proposed real solutions. The upper class in Peru, even more so than any other, has not been able to fulfil its political and social responsibilities. It is a group which has decided to remain indifferent to the great social urgencies in the country, and instead create its own “country”, isolated geographically from the rest, where they could raise their kids safely and protect the social structure which rules the country. They are outcasts, but out of their own free will. That is, precisely, the big irony and the great tragedy of that sector. Peru is not only an economically poor country, but it is also a morally poor country.
Thematically, that is the starting point for DIOSES, the starting point for a cinematographic exploration of a social group, in order to know, analyze and understand this reality, raise questions and propose ideas.
Dramatically, I always think the family is the beginning and the end of it all. Family is the microcosm which represents the world, and through it, historically, it’s been always the best way to analyze dramatically an era, a social group, an environment. This is the reason why DIOSES is proposed as a study of a family, a dysfunctional family for sure, but a family after all. It is through the members of this family and the relations between them that the story will deal with the issues I want to deal with as the author.
In DIOSES, we are face to face with characters who carry in their manners and their thoughts the sign of their surroundings. They are characters who seem to have come from some kind of mythology, who live in a world where all fantasies and wishes can be accomplished. They have created for themselves a social structure based on lineage, power and money. However, the biggest irony is that they live in Peru, a country with the sign of poverty and social injustice wherever you look. Unless you have chosen not to look.
But there are other characters who bring closure to this irony: the servants. The presence/absence of the servants, maids and butlers in the story, end up painting a complete portrait of all the subtle paradoxes that make up this social environment.
And of course, as a background character, impossible to avoid it, the surrounding, Lima. But “another” Lima. Not the Lima of DIAS DE SANTIAGO, nor the Lima we usually see when we walk down the city’s streets. This is the exclusive Lima, the Lima which is forbidden for the majority of the country, the Lima that protects itself, that is afraid, that doesn’t trust anybody, that doesn’t tolerate, that excludes itself voluntarily.
The Peruvian high class is a social group which has developed its own manners, even its own dialect, its own rules and its own fears. As such, the cinematographic treatment should be analytic, sensitive, aware of all these subtleties. The mise-en-scene will prioritize the strong points along the drama, bringing up to surface the subtext in the right times, and trying to transmit the tone and the rhythm of the social environment we are trying to portray. In the same way, the direction of actors will reinforce those particular manners of this social group. The particular way they talk, their slang, their gestures, everything will be portrayed in the most natural and authentic way possible.
DIOSES is, above all, a choral film. That is, it’s four characters who are equally important for the structure of the film. Obviously, some characters, like Diego and Elisa, have more complex conflicts and are potentially more interesting for an audience. Nevertheless, without characters like Andrea and Martin, who are more like catalysts of the whole film, the other two wouldn’t find it possible to develop or express themselves as they do.
DIOSES is a contemplative film. The movie is not the subjective following of a character. That is, there is no intention whatsoever to make the audience sympathize or “live through” one of the character’s experience, an intention that clearly marked DIAS DE SANTIAGO. In DIOSES, the camera will be contemplative and descriptive. The cinematography will never be mysterious, it will instead try to “show all”, as if it were an excessively lit portrait. It will try to be distant, to observe whatever happens in front, as if the idea were to make a cold analysis of the reality being witnessed. The intention is for the camera, and the audience, to stay as a distant observer of what is happening, so that, thanks to that distance, be able to not limit themselves to the main action going on, but to be able to look “through” it, “across” it, and realize the problems that lie behind everything, the subtext of the film, and discover inside the frame the problems of Peruvian reality: the social injustice and the rest of ideas I have previously mentioned.
I think DIOSES does, in fact, deals with some melodramatic elements, just like DIAS DE SANTIAGO did. There are family secrets and discoveries, emotional excesses and denials, etc. And just like in DIAS DE SANTIAGO, the idea with DIOSES is to show these melodramatic elements trying never to lose the connection with the world I am trying to portray. DIOSES is a film about a country with no dialogue, like I’ve said previously; therefore, one of the stylistic aspects will be precisely in the shooting of dialogue. How do you shoot dialogue in a film, which is precisely about the lack of it in the society it portrays? This is, in fact, a nice challenge. Dialogue is many times a decorative element in the film, just like a nice living room, or beautiful paintings, and it will be treated as such. And where the dialogue is crucial, as it also is in many scenes, the visual treatment will be distant, cold, never conventional.
I will try to keep away as much as possible from conventional shot-reverse shots. I will try to choose in each scene one of the characters, or a telling element in the set, and stick with him/it throughout the whole scene, diminishing the melodramatic aspect of the scene, and actually trying to point at the issues which I want to point at, i.e., the subtext.
Because there is a very rich subtext under the film, the servants, the things unsaid, and these are the important things the film will show. Instead of having on-camera the people talking, most of the time I will show what’s going on behind, while we just listen to the conversations.
Production Design will be taken care of thinking always about the subtleties that dominate this world. The right location is crucial. The beach house has to be the right one, just like everything that’s inside. The colors, the structures, the finishing, everything has to reflect the lightness of this world, the concern there is for appearance, for surfaces, for formality. It is by no means a film of warm colors, it is instead cold and impersonal, at moments sad and lonely, even considering the apparent happiness and joy the cinematography or art direction could give at first glance.
More than being a paradisiacal place, filled up with modern “gods”, it has to be a place that at the end shows it real face, its deepest ironies and paradoxes, its contradictions and incoherencies, its most sublime and most condemnable aspects. The priority of the mise-en-scene will always be to show all this, with the intention of making the reality presented more comprehensible
FILMMAKING AS A CREATIVE PROCESS
What I enjoy about filmmaking is the creative process, of course, and that means letting screenplays grow and shape themselves, sometimes recovering old ideas, sometimes looking for new ones. It’s a search that doesn’t end until the film is edited, really, a search for the best way to show my intentions. And this is a search which is not limited to my participation, since it will be later enhanced by the participation of the actors, the director of photography, the art director, the rest of the crew, and finally the editor. And it is through this search that one tries to give universal meaning to a film.
Our compromise is to always show ideas in a visual way, trying to use all the cinematographic resources we can. Sometimes these resources are difficult to define in a screenplay, which depends more on literary resources than on cinematographic ones. In DIAS DE SANTIAGO there are many examples of cinematographic resources that were found during the production process, after the screenplay had already been written, given that I think this first process of writing is the least cinematographic of them all, and one in which the priority is to clear up the concepts that I want to communicate, not the visual resources I would like to use. This is, at least, my view and my working method. When I write, I try to think about the film’s over all objectives, more than about the visual resources I want to use, which I know and trust that if I don’t find while writing, I will find them in a later process of production.