Son of the acclaimed mexican director Alfonso Cuar
Jonás Cuarón, the son of acclaimed director Alfonso Cuarón makes his feature debut this weekend with the Año Uña. Constructed out of photogtaphs from his own life, the film is based on a series of everyday shots taken by the director over the space of a year. Cuáron and his girlfriend Eireann Harper then arranged them to tell a story with voiceovers and sound effects. Harper plays an American student visiting Mexico where Diego (Jonás real half-brother) , the teenage son of the family whose house she is renting, falls in love with her. He’s cute, she feels – but a bit too young. Cuarón traces this not-quite-love affair through the seasons to make a touching and refreshingly different film…
Q: Can you explain the concept behind the film?
Basically the movie is constructed out of still images. I wanted to break down the way film is usually structured. Normally in film you start with a screenplay and out of that screenplay you host the images. In this case I wanted to take the images first. So during a year in my life I took snapshots, candid photos of my everyday life – mostly my family and friends. Then, at the end of that year, I figured out what the best story would be using these photographs.
Q: What was inspiration behind this style/concept?
It started after I saw a movie called “La Jetée” by Chris Marker. It was such an unusual style and I found it deeply inspiring. My girlfriend and I decided to work on a film in a similar format but to push it, to try stretch its boundaries. I wanted to use an experimental format like Markers but to make it as accessible and engaging as possible.
Q: You both wrote and directed the feature – how did you come up with the story?
That was one of the more distinct aspects of the film. Unlike its original inspiration (La Jetée) I was interested in capturing scenes from a candid reality and forming a narrative around them – really blurring the line between fact and fiction. Looking at the photographs, I noticed that the majority of the images were of my younger brother and my girlfriend. It seemed obvious to cast them as my two main characters and the story became a sort of love story between a 21-year-old girl from the US, and a 13-year-old Mexican boy.
Q: How did your brother and girlfriend react to that?
(Laughs) Well they both knew that the story was a work of fiction. One of the few names I changed in the film my girlfriends because I knew my brother would have to say some very sexual things about her and I wanted to create some additional distance for the two of them.
Q: Are there other themes or subplots were you keen to tackle in the film?
I think the film explores the arbitrary boundaries that separate people from one another and which ultimately define us as individuals. So, for example, in the film the boundaries are present in the age of the characters, their culture, their nationality, and their language. Also, because the film is made using still images, it naturally explores the concept of time passing. That is why the film is structured around a year of the characters’ lives. The passage of time becomes very apparent in the character of the teenage boy, since adolescence is an age in which everything moves very fast. And it is also felt in the grandfather’s illness and death.
Q: You are asking an audience to watch still images for over 90 minutes; what is it that you think makes this feel work on a cinematic level?
I think it’s a mixture of many elements but I think predominately it is the narrative that allows the audience to be engaged in the film. A common thing I’ve heard from people after they have seen the film is how they were nervous about watching still images for 90 minutes but after five minutes, they’ve forgot that its photographs and they are interested in what’s going to happen with the boy and the girl. In that respect, I wanted to highlight the power that storytelling can have in film; after all it is one of the oldest art forms. Another element to create a dynamic relationship was the sound design. When I started working on this I knew that the sound would give me what he images would lack in movement. When I was about half way through I brought it to a sound designer I really admire Martín Hernández. I asked him for his support and thankfully he was very interested in the format. He recognised the space it allowed him to explore different sound design techniques.
Q: Did you ever consider using voice actors?
I did but part of the concept of the film was to capture the real essence of these people I photographed and using voiceover actors never seemed to fit with the faces. Unfortunately my grandfather could not speak after he’d had his jaw removed and I was never able to record his voice. I am lucky that my brother, Diego Cataño, had previous acting experience. For him this was a very interesting and different experience because he had to re-envision himself and give his character life only through voice.
Q: The production notes for the film make reference to the novel “Elsinore” by Salvador Elizondo?
Yes he’s my grandfather, who plays a very big part in this film. Many of the themes explored in Año Uña are echoes of themes that he explored as a writer. He himself made a short film constructed out of still images called Apocalypse 1900.
Q: And what about your own father, was he involved?
I mainly tried to keep the project to my girlfriend and myself. We kept telling people – we were doing a film with photographs, but because it’s such an uncommon method they really didn’t understand it – even the people in the photographs. When I eventually showed it to my dad, first off, he assumed it was a short. When he realised it was a full-length feature he was like many other people – dreading watching still images for two hours (laughs). But after a little bit he started laughing and he enjoyed it.
Q: Did he have any advice or suggestions?
As I said, I’d pretty much completed the film when I showed it to him. The only advice he offered to me was to show it to people I trusted, which I did.
Q: Do you plan to stick to experimental films in the future?
In general I want to keep pushing the boundaries of filmic language, but I don’t think I have to go as extreme as this. I’m working on two projects at the moment. One narrative driven pieces about a young pregnant couple and the second is a collaboration with my dad – an English-french production he plans to direct next year.
Año Uña opens exclusively at Light House Cinema on December 5th