WE ARE THE FLESH Interview: Emiliano Rocha Minter Discusses His Corporeal And Twisted Debut
Budding Mexican filmmaker Emiliano Rocha Minter shot a bit twisted, albeit daringly corporeal, feature debut We Are the Flesh (Tenemos la Carne) at the age of 26. Minter showed a promise in his shorts efforts, a promised that did not go unrecognized by filmmakers like Carlos Reygadas and Alejandro G. Innáritu, who backed his feature debut.
We Are the Flesh starts on a grim note, unspooling a tale of two wandering siblings whose encounter with a Luciferian figure, resembling Charles Manson, changes their worldview. As much as Minter employs a dark, twisted and corporeal approach to substance and form, the film is less apocalyptic and more celebratory, blossoming from a paranoid and deranged drama into a liturgy of freedom and against ossified thinking shackled by inbred boundaries and conventions.
A daring and provocative film, channeling Gaspar Noé on occasion, did not go unnoticed by ScreenAnarchy, which had the opportunity to sit down with Emiliano Rocha Minter to discuss We Are the Flesh, the impetus behind, the domestic situation the film is mirroring, and more.
ScreenAnarchy: You were supposed to make another film as you feature debut, not TENEMOS LA CARNE. Am I right?
Emiliano Rocha Minter: I presented the idea to some producers and after that I started to write this script and at one point, Tenemos la Carne became a lot more interesting than the previous project. The first one was more boring for me …
You mean intellectually?
I mean when I wrote the other one I was thinking about cinema another way and Tenemos la Carne was just so alive and original that it made the other look so ugly from the distance.
What was the motivation?
Since I was around 13 years old, I wanted to make a film so bad. That was my only dream. The first motivation was to make a film. It could be whatever, Tenemos la Carne or anything else. And then….
TENEMOS LA CARNE is very specific film, in terms of aesthetics also substance and the message…
I was seeing a lot of films at several festivals and at some point those films started to make me feel very depressed, of course there were exceptions. I started to be a little bit worried that arthouse cinema was lacking life and that was the impetus to abandon the first script. I feel that film festivals might be a bad influence on me. I was not able to find a true motivation of why those people where doing those films. I have the impression that in this time there is a lot of self consciousness that is blocking a healthy sincerity, no one wants to take the risk to miss a shot, i felt completely trapped, so I really want to burn something and fly away.
It is very sensual ,visceral and corporeal experience…
Completely! I just found out that movies have a body, cinema is a really a corporal experience.
And the leading actor is very wild. How did you find him?
I met him while I was doing the making of Miss Bala by Gerardo Naranjo where Noé starred. I thought this guy has an amazing face, I mean, I could look at him for hours and in the moment I had my script done i was thinking about who could play the part of Mariano. I had no idea, a lot of Mexican actors were going through my mind. And this guy just popped up and his face was so powerful that I called him, and that was the only person I did a casting with. And knew he was perfect.
What was his reaction to the script and the character he is supposed to play?
I think he was very happy. In my opinion, he is one of the greatest Mexican actors but he has always been typecasted as a bad guy because the color of his skin, the narco, the police man, the bodyguard … and I knew he was an amazing actor that could play anything.
So the role of Mariano was really open and free and I think that’s what you want as an actor, break your own limits and start to work in the dark. So he was super happy and we switched to make it more like a theatre process so we made a workshop with the three actors and a dancer named Esthel Vogrig, she was our body guru. So these workshop helped us to understand that acting is a beautiful landscape of possibilities.
Was there a space for improv on the set?
Well, I think we were really faithful to the script but were always leaving the door open, for instance the ending you see in the film was not originally in the script.
Why has this ending made it to the final cut?
I wrote like ten endings and neither of them truly worked. But i have the feeling that in the last day of shooting the ending of the film was going to magical appear, we believed in that. We had a camera, we had the actors, we had a set and we could shoot whatever we desired.
So I was talking to photographer Yollótl Alvarado, my best friend and tiempero of the film, about how we were going to end the movie. And we came up with the idea you see in the film and it was like thunder, it was so obvious that it was the only possible ending of the film.
And we shot it in one take. We tried to not tell anyone about what we were going to do, not even producers or the whole crew because we wanted to be as spontaneous as possible.
Didn´t you have problems with your producers over the unclear ending?
Not at all. My producers are completely amazing from Moisés Cosío, Julio Cahvezmontes, Sebastían Hofmann, Yann González, and Celia Iturriaga it was like a dream come true in every way, they were always super supportive and they knew exactly the film we were doing as well the risks that it took, so not having an ending was more fun, it is boring to know how the party is going to end, right? You just arrive with your best clothes hoping that something magic will happen.
TENEMOS LA CARNE leaves enough space for interpretation but is it supposed to be a social commentary on the actual situation in Mexico?
I am not so sure about the social commentary. Imagination is always linked to reality. We might think that a film that is talking about the reality is always realistic style, especially when are you making a social critique. I have seen plenty of Mexican films dealing with Mexican reality this way.
You see, you have these third world problems you have to translate for the first world, like you have to show the problem but with a lower volume in a supposedly elevated elegant way that is a readable code for the bosses of the empire, and this is a very old and boring colonialist issue. Tenemos la Carne is a social commentary but more in a way of reality hitting the imagination. It is exploring what reality is doing in ourselves, inside us, in our own caves.
The art design is really intriguing. How did you come up with the cardboard cave?
Andrés Villalobos and Johnathan Miralda are the guys who make the cave and are very good friends of mine and they are both artists. One of them, Andrés have a visionary brain that always is ten steps ahead you. When you start to talk to him, he is saying just the right things you want to hear and sometimes you don´t understand anything until two years after, he is kind of a guru.
Three or four years ago, I went to his house and he asked me if I want to see one of his art projects. He showed me photos of himself and his friends building a cave in his apartment. They made the cave of cardboard and they lived there for some weeks. I found that such a beautiful idea and I became obsessed with it.
DENTRO was monochromatic, full of grain, and TENEMOS LA CARNE is saturated with color. Why did you opt for this?
In Dentro, I really liked the black and white, really dirty but I feel that Dentro was a short film of old man and at some point I started to think more in colors. You see, putting the life wherever you can and I wanted to make a delirious film. Tenemos la carne is an affirmation of life, and that means explosions of color.
TENEMOS LA CARNE is surprisingly graphic. How did this happen?
When I was writing the script, I had only one rule. We would never leave that building/cave, so with that simple rule everything could happened. During the writing I wanted a movie where a journey going backwards until we arrived to that cave, the first house of a human being and then to the womb.
So for me that cave was a scenario where all our dark fantasies could happened, it was an scenario of possibilities that rises in several directions and one of them was to go back to the body to the flesh and animality that is inside of us, in this cave I was available to be free and not judging my self so hard, to be able to confront these visions and never close my eyes, always looking.
In some moments i was afraid thinking “oh fuck this too much” but it was too coward to stop, so I keep moving, diving into that world and never stopped to think too much just going back and inside my self. Maybe somethings in the film are explicit, like a dick or a vagina but every person sees this everyday. So there are rare images in the film but I think we have to take the risk to keep watching and enjoy the ride, in art we can explore chaos.
But in some passages TENEMOS LA CARNE closely resembles a porn film.
I think the issue here is that as a society we have left the imaginary of sexuality in to porn, and porn is a very specific thing that is different from film because porn has to make you feel horny and maybe make you jerk off, so I really think is important that cinema is available to work with this imaginary in a different way, to explore this vision fearlessly because sexuality is a big part of every single human being and most of the time sexuality is in our head, as fantasy and imagination.
Maybe you are right, but it seems you are stepping into the territory of Gaspar Noé.
I really like Gaspar´s films and for sure he is a reference for explicit and intense. I think my film is more naïve, and is more about telling someone the dream you had last night but you are afraid to tell it because people are going to think you are crazy. So I think the territory of my film is the dream, because dreams are islands where the imagination doesn’t have limits, our interior police in dreams is sleep and your desires arouse and connect directly with your imagination in a very free beautiful and disturbing way.
Was it hard to shoot those scenes, especially when the actors look quite young?
When we finished the two months experimental acting workshop, we became an army that could do anything, we could make the revolution, robe a bank or make Tenemos la carne. Maria and Diego are amazing and they know acting is about being free from yourself and that is a healthy possibility.
When you hear action, you have an opportunity to be someone else without limits. You can suck a dick or have this strange sexual delirium or cry like a baby, fiction is place to fly away and break your own moral code, its a place of freedom to say what the fuck, our normal lives are so controlled and boarded in different ways that we need a space to break free and one of theme is acting. I would love to be an actor.
But they were not underage?
No, they are almost my age.
And are they both professional actors?
Diego isn't but Maria is.
You made a casting call for siblings?
Yeah. At first, I wanted them to be really brother and sister. And I knew Diego and he had a sister, almost his age, they are super cool and a nice sibling duo and lovely guys. But in a moment, I thought it was too much to demand from real brother and sister to do those scenes…
Marylin Manson wanted to do something similar in his unrealized project Phantasmagoria …
Oh, wow, I didn't know that.
So you thought it would be too much…
Yeah, to have real brother and sister having sex scenes it was too problematic for my first feature film. It was already difficult to make a feature film…
Why was it difficult exactly? Last time we met, you told me it is not a problem to make a film in Mexico but the problem was to distribute it.
That´s correct. I am saying that to make a film is a long journey of catastrophes.
…yeah, everybody says that…
... exactly. So, it is difficult to make feature film and to have a real brother and sister, you are producing problems for yourself. It was already a challenge and I did not want to make it even harder.
How long were you shooting?
Around five weeks.
And it went smoothly?
Yes, it was as smooth as a dream. There were more scenes we shot which were originally in the script but eventually did not work.
You found that out in the editing room?
Yes. I think the most important job that I did with the editor of the film Yibran Asuad it was to find deep meaning of the film, I learn with him that the material has the last word, sometimes you think you shot something but the truth is that you shot something else and probably it was more interesting then what you where looking for, so we did not cut a lot of material out but we really got into finding the meaning of the the film, it was a great experience.
Have you had in mind any particular audience for whom you were making the film?
I was writing a film that I truly wanted to see, that made me feel alive and my skin crawl. I would love to see this films when I was 15 years old. That’s an amazing audience, the teenagers, it is the moment in your life that the films really hit you so hard. So that is my dream some youngsters seeing this film at 2 am in the morning thinking what the fuck...
There is this motive of resurrection. Does it relate to a religion sort of? Or even occult, esoteric?
It is indeed kind of religious and has a lot of meaning in that direction. I really like the idea of this guy dying when the cave is born, and then born again from the cave to cause more trouble.
But why did you choose to make it a bit comic?
I consider Tenemos la Carne serious but not so serious. In the end you should not take yourself too serious. That´s why I always try to put a humor in the film.
When were you writing the script or shooting the film, you were not thinking that you are making a genre film?
Not at all. I just recently started to watch some horrors from 80s and what I really loved about them was that they were really free, you know Carpenter´s stuff and so on. You can sense he was free and they could do basically whatever they wanted and really explore language of cinema.
What I consider is one of the best horror films is Argento´s Suspiria, he is really playing with cinema in a really joyful and amazing way. Horror is an abstraction, it could be anything, that’s why genre film has explored so much cinema but I did not think, not even for a second, I was making a genre film. I always feel that Tenemos la Carne is about the family.
Is the theme of isolation specially linked to contemporary Mexican society?
For sure, México its out of control and you need a shelter. Maybe the characters want to isolate themselves but the madness filters in from the walls, similarly to that of a womb, madness enters in a very distorted way.
But you were not making a political film?
I hope that Tenemos la Carne is more like a insurrectional political energy that hits you in a level of emotions and sensation that walks into your body and sticks deeply into the back of your mind and seeds something inside you, like electricity that makes you heart shudder and trigger some questions from inside your flesh.
I think that's a more intriguing territory to play, the politics of the inside, so maybe is more like an intimate intestinal political film. I am tired of the average political film trying to complain about the outside, and we cannot forget that films should be first of all cinema.
So art should be apolitical?
Art is political but should not be moral. You see, those political commentaries are more moral than actually political commentaries. It should not be moralistic, you should not channel into the film that you think you understand something better than others. I think art is not a tool for that, its not even a tool.
TENEMOS LA CARNE came suddenly out of nowhere. Are you already thinking about your next project even thought your feature debut is just starting its festival cycle?
I want to do a tropical film noir.
So are you thinking about playing with genres?
It should be a Billy Wilderesque ride.
Photo by Joke Schut at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.