Thu, May 24, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Gael Garcia Bernal rides the Latin American new wave

The star of `Amores Perros' has no interest in becoming a Hollywood star -- he's on a mission to put Mexican cinema on the map

By Charlotte Higgins  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Gael Garcia Bernal

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

It was a brisk day in London, 2005. Gael Garcia Bernal, the doe-eyed Mexican star of Amores Perros, The Motorcycle Diaries and The Science of Sleep, was walking through Whitechapel in the East End of London with a couple of friends. It was during his run at the Almeida theater in Lorca's Blood Wedding.

"We were really hungover. And all of a sudden one of us started to dance," he says. "It was very cold. One of us said, 'Imagine we were going to Tepoztlan. Imagine if we were going to a swimming pool.'" Tepoztlan is a village outside Mexico City known for its swanky weekend houses, country retreats for the capital's wealthy. "We imagined this yuppie guy who goes to his parents' place, and tries to stop his girlfriend getting there," he says.

An idle fancy born from the London chill has now become a film: Deficit, Garcia Bernal's directorial debut, which premiered in the Critics' Week (out of the main competition) at Cannes Monday. One of his pals on that east London walk was Kyzza Terrazas, who ended up writing the film. As well as directing, the 28-year-old Garcia Bernal plays the film's lead, Cristobal, the pleasant, complacent rich kid who appears to have everything at his fingertips: wealth, a place at Harvard Business School, a girlfriend, popularity. At the Tepoztlan house, Cristobal plays host to a group of friends, one of whom has brought along Dolores, an Argentinian beauty. From his mobile, Cristobal starts deliberately to feed his girlfriend false directions to the house — giving him time, he hopes, to seduce Dolores. In the background to all this runs his unsettling relationship with the gardener, Adan, once a childhood friend, now separated by inexorable class and race barriers. Over the course of one increasingly disastrous day, Cristobal's cool certainties are utterly dismantled.

The low-budget film is one of the first fruits of Canana, a new production company that Garcia Bernal has founded with friends, including his old pal Diego Luna, who starred opposite him in Y Tu Mama Tambien. "Doing films in Mexico is pretty difficult; it's not yet a self-sustaining industry," says Garcia Bernal. "But one thing you can do is manage to make films without very much money. There was an energy developing around the things that we wanted to do, and there came a point when we thought, 'You know what, why don't we concentrate all this energy? Why don't we make it in practical terms and build a company?' "At the moment, they are working "with the kindness of others," without a profit in sight. They are in Cannes seeking distribution for Deficit, "but what's nice is that things are happening, films are being finished."

As the idea for Deficit grew, he says, in his careful and occasionally oddly grandiose English, there was a moment when the notion simply stopped being a pitch with which they were idling: "We thought, 'Let's just make it, let's get the financing. Let's experiment — but let's have something to show for it at the end. And by that point we knew what story we were trying to tell."

Bernal

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That story, he says, is "about the end of impunity. A person realizes that his privileges never existed, or have ceased to have exist." In that sense, the film is a fable about the decline of Mexico's ruling class: by the end of the narrative, Cristobal's number is very much up, as it becomes clear that his parents are out of the country "sorting out their accounts" — thinly disguised code that they are evading some kind of corruption charge. The film also provides a commentary on the country's postcolonial attempts to function as a multi-racial nation. "We are trying to tackle questions you are not really allowed to ask. 'How are we going to live with each other? Why is our country so divided? Why has marginalization increased and the clash [between races] increased?' "

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