The Tears director Pablo Delgado Sanchez
Though many of this year's Latinbeat directors are screening their feature debuts, Pablo Delgado Sanchez is the only director whose film was made in school. The Tears (Las Lágrimas), Sachez' graduation film at Mexico's prestigious Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica, explores the strained dynamics of a broken family. The director spoke with FilmLinc Daily about his improvisational approach to writing, his interest in family dramas, and the importance of ambiguity and its ability to transform film into a “neverending story.”
The film has very little dialogue. Was there a set script, or did you improvise on set?
One of the things I wanted to experiment with in Las Lagrimas was the idea of a non-academic script. So, I wrote a little story without dialogue—it was more like a little story with little chapters. Each scene, each part of the film, each sequence had its chapter without dialogue. So the film was completely improvised during the shooting. That was with the idea of searching for a realistic tone and surprising ourselves during the shooting of the film. We wanted to do that to get very natural performances from the actors.
The performances were, indeed, very naturalistic, which was surprising and impressive in the case of the actor playing the younger brother because he was so young. How did you make him feel that comfortable on camera?
I have to say, I don’t believe in the regular casting process. I think it’s very cold, very distant, sometimes disrespectful. I prefer to do some exercises. I’m not very comfortable having a list of 20 actors to see. So, first of all, I wrote the film for Fernando, the older brother. I had that actor in mind. I wrote the story with him in my head. With him, it was a lot of table work. To see him, to talk excessively about the film. With the younger brother, Gabriel, it was more difficult. I had never worked with kids before. It was my first time, so I was a little nervous about that. Gabriel was the second child that we saw. Like I said, I don’t like to do the regular casting process. I prefer to give them more tools—a more enjoyable process. I took the camera with Fernando and the kid and we had some rehearsals; we did some improvisation exercises. Gabriel was the second [actor we saw], and the first time I saw him on camera there was something there. Fernando and Gabriel were alive through the camera. They looked real and complemented each other. So I decided, Gabriel has to be the younger brother. And it is very tender because they developed a relationship during the shooting of the film as though they were real brothers because Gabriel admires Fernando a lot. He wanted to cut his hair like Fernando. They had a very cute relationship during the whole process. And we were all taking care of and supporting Gabriel. He’s a real talent. He’s amazing; he gives such an amazing performance. It’s not easy to capture all those emotions and vulnerable moments of a child during a film. It was such a challenge.
Did you go into the film with a specific story outline? And were the characters already in your head, or did you build them with the actors during the rehearsal process?
The story was very clear on paper. If you watch the film, you’re going to see 96% of what was written. So that’s kind of ironic because, even though I wanted to improvise a lot, I wanted to improvise through a very specific guide, which was the writing process. But at the end, I gave Fernando and Gabriel a lot of blank pages so that they could also transform and build their characters with me. I only did a couple of rehearsals before shooting. I don’t like to rehearse a lot. I mean, as a filmmaker, if I think and I trust that they’re doing something real, why use up those elements and resources before shooting the film? If I trust in my actors and in my decisions, I prefer to keep the magic until the camera’s rolling.
What did the table work entail?
With Fernando, there was a lot of talking. Maybe I didn’t rehearse a lot before shooting, but there was a lot of talking with Fernando because I was telling him, “I am the director, I am the guide behind the camera. But during the shooting of the film, while the camera’s rolling, you are my guide in the frame. You have to help me to guide.” It was kind of difficult sometimes with Gabriel. All the work with Gabriel, as he’s a child, you can’t go to him and explain, “Now you’re coming from a very, very devastating moment in your life.” No, he’s a child. So, you have to work with his tenderness and his natural elements and how he really is. You have to use those resources he can offer to you.
So, the film starts in the house, then opens up into these gorgeous natural environments. How did you find your locations?
The house of the film was demolished. It’s a shame because it was a really incredible house. And it was the house of a friend. The forest was near the camping house of Guillermo, my producer. So everything was there. It was important, now that you’ve talked about the house and the natural world, to create a very claustrophobic and tedious feeling during the scenes in the house. There, I wanted to make the presentation of the film very slow, to pull the spectator into this boredom, this tedious feeling. And as the film goes on, I like to think that we are kind of a third brother, a companion to these two brothers. I like that because I think at the end we also free ourselves with them. The film is called The Tears, which is a very dramatic concept. But at the end of the film, there is a smile. There is hope, there are possibilities for this family.
The absence of the father was very notable in the film. Was there something specific about mother-son relationships that you wanted to explore in the film?
For me, it’s a film about brotherhood, but it’s also about family ties. And I like to think that the father and the mother are also protagonists of the film, but in their absence. I think what I wanted to explore is the possibility of information. I have realized that, at the end of everything, filmmaking is about deciding how much information you’re going to give to the audience and how much information you’re going to hide. In that respect, the films that I most love are the films that present a challenge because [as an audience member] I have to create, and I have to build, and I have to end this story by myself with my concentration, with my emotions, with my sensibility. So with The Tears, I wanted to do something like that. To bring the audience some blank pages, some unfilled spaces, so they could feel useful while watching the film—so they could come to their own conclusions about what is going to happen with this family. At the end, the smile of the mother to the child suggests a lot of things in very few seconds. It suggests that it is not a distant family, that it is a very close family, very emotional. And that even the father is not a bad person. But that is my perception. I want audiences to come to their own conclusion.
There has been, during the life of the film, several very funny ideas of what the film is about. Once in Mexico, there was a guy who was very shaken and trembling at the end, and was like, “So, at the end, I understand the father is a lucha libre wrestler.” So, I was like, “What? Really? You understand that?” “Yes!” “Well, that’s your conclusion, that’s good. If that’s what you want to think about the film, it’s cool for me.” But I think that is very important. In cinema right now, I feel very bored when a filmmaker gives me all the information. I feel useless when watching the film. And in Las Lágrimas we wanted there to be an opportunity, first of all, to feel close to the characters, secondly to see a mirror through the screen so you can feel more empathetic with the situation and you can go into the situation more easily. And at the end the people make their own conclusion. I like to think that film, as an art form, is an endless writing process. The first process is the writing process on paper, the script. The second is shooting the film. The third is the editing room. But at the end it is an endless writing process because each mind, each person in the audience is going to have their own conclusion. It’s a neverending story.
This was your film school graduation project. How did that make the process different? Did you have a lot of support from your school?
CCC, my school in Mexico city, is the largest film school in Latin America right now. It is one of the three most important, with Cuba and Buenos Aires. So the production value of the school is very respected. And it’s fun, because it works more like a production company, but with teachers. So there’s kind of a comfort zone in the school. Now that we are facing the next projects, we are facing something different. We’re learning that it’s difficult to get involved in a normal production process outside of school. But in the end, we were making a regular film. We budgeted, we had to present the strategy of how we were going to spend on the film. It is not very different to produce a film without the school.
Was this a summing up of your experience as a film student?
I think that I was searching throughout my six years of film school. I think I have been on an exploration of the human condition, particularly family issues. This is the climax of that exploration. And for me it is the result of a lot of learning through the years. At the end, I can say that film school was very helpful for me. Because you can see my first short film and it’s terrible. You can’t image how terrible it is. Then, the second, there’s a new learning and a new lesson. Then, with the documentary, there’s a new lesson and a new exploration. And I think that Las Lágrimas concentrates everything I wanted to tell during that moment in the way I wanted to tell it. Because, for the first time, I realized that I am capable of directing actors. With the previous films, I was more focused on the visual style and I maybe abandoned my characters a little. And with this one I wanted the opposite. I wanted to work with actors and I wanted my cameraman to do his work, because he has been my eyes for six years. So I trust him; I don’t have to be with him creating the frame. Now my real work is to tell the story. That for me, with Las Lágrimas, was what I learned in this process. And I don’t think that, even though this is my graduation project, I know everything. I love cinema because I think it’s an art that provides you lessons in each film. And that with each film you can grow. I think we, as filmmakers, will be learning with every project. Even if we are 80.
So you tackled the visual style and you’ve tackled working with actors. What do you want to tackle next? Is there a specific challenge you’re looking forward to exploring?
Yes! For my new project, I think I want to make a more complex story with more complex characters. It is also about two characters. I can’t tell you the story because I’m kind of superstitious. But I think Las Lágrimas is very minimalistic. It’s just a moment in life. And the next film portrays more time. The conflict is deeper. I think that provides more complexity to the characters and to the way I want to shoot it. I am very attached right now to very classical storytelling. Kelly Reichardt is right now one of my biggest influences. From Old Joy to Meek’s Cutoff, I think she’s a genius of minimalistic, very classical, very academic storytelling, but with a very fresh tone. So, I think that’s my challenge, to create new and very powerful and complex characters with real dramas. The challenge will always be to create characters that you can touch.