“A Male” (“Un Varón”) by Fabián Hernández, who plays “Directors’ Fortnight,” underscores how much Colombian cinema has evolved in recent years, both in technique and in storytelling style.
A meditation on manhood, sold by Dubai-based Cercamon and shown at WIP Latin in San Sebastian last year, revolves around 16-year-old Carlos (Dylan Felipe Ramírez Espitia), glimpses of his deep turmoil brought about by a stoic facade shines.
His mother in prison, his sister in the game, Carlos lives in a homeless shelter in central Bogotá. He wanders his local streets over Christmas, dominated by the ideal of the alpha male and an eye for an eye of revenge. Sensitivity is conspicuous by its absence. After being insulted, Carlos must prove he accepts a gender model alien to his nature.
Manuel Ruiz Montealegre’s Medio de Contencion Producciones in Colombia is producing with French In Vivo Films, Fortuna Films (Netherlands) and Black Forest Films (Germany).
diversity spoke to Hernández when his Directors’ Fortnight debut was bowed.
A key aspect of the film is of course its music: it works against tradition and bleeds emotions. What were you looking for in this design? Did you have references?
I tried to avoid cinematic references, even in the soundtrack. We found the music through constant dialogue with musicians, whom I trusted deeply. We pushed and pulled a lot to find the right tone for it. I was determined to score the film with the music I know from that context, the music that’s played in the neighborhood, in homes, at parties: lots of salsa, merengue, rap and rancheras, which was an important part of world building.
Many Latin American films are bound by a realistic fidelity to the light of places not intended for filming. Often places look horribly flat with no depth at all due to real light. In your case, with cinematographer Sofía Oggioni, you found an immensely cinematic look for the film while engaging with what the place already offered. How did you find the right look?
It would be easy to fall into violent handheld cameras that emphasize the danger the characters are in. But I wanted it create distance for the audience so that they have space and time to observe, to listen, to understand and above all to let the actors be. So our shots were mainly filmed from a tripod, which made them stable. What interested me was the sensations, the emotions that seep through to capture what these guys were trying to say to the world. In terms of lighting and camera, we tried to always be eye to eye with the characters and never look down on them.
For many Latin American filmmakers, this repeatedly raises the question of how to portray Latin American society with its difficulties, absurdities and violence without fetishizing or re-victimizing. Any thoughts?
Good intentions don’t always translate into accurate representations. I’m from this area. That doesn’t mean I can portray it in the right light. But at least it allows me to avoid clichés. Then you’ll find dimension, both in dialogue and in the characters’ internal deliberation about their problems. I wanted to make a film where the characters think, reflect and make decisions about their lives instead of being pushed by situations. The focus is on emotions, fears, the will to express yourself in more subtle stances rather than falling into simple, superfluous shock levels.
From its title and beyond, the film is very clear and precise about the themes it deals with, the most important being obviously masculinity. How did you come to develop this topic?
I grew up in this area of Bogota. The film is based on my experiences at a very young age and questions that I could only ask as an adult. I was immersed in this universe. I had to hit other guys because that’s how you earn respect. Likewise, we stole to prove it [ourselves]. Just like I treated women. This notion of masculinity is a fundamental answer to so many dilemmas we face. It is not in vain that our country lives in constant war, [where] our social and political positions are locked in right or wrong as much as masculinity and femininity are trapped in a binary dichotomy. We often dismiss these uncomfortable questions. In order to feel good, we need to address them.
https://variety.com/2022/film/global/directors-fortnight-fabian-hernandez-a-male-1235280408/ Directors’ Fortnight ‘A Male’ broken down by director Fabian Hernandez