“It’s one of the best films at Cannes,” I argued with my revolted US peers. They’d been turned off by Reygadas’s graphic, unseemly sex scenes. An unhappy, mechanical blow job is administered by hot señorita Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz) to her numb, big-bellied chauffeur, Marcos (Marcos Hernández). Later, the homely Marcos screws at length his extremely overweight wife (Bertha Ruiz). “Exploitation!” said the Americans.
But the Mexicans at Cannes were more perturbed by Reygadas’s attitude toward his native country. “I don’t deny his visual intuition,” Leonardo García Tsao, a Mexican critic recently told the New York Times, “but his contempt for Mexicans in general — low or high class — nullifies any idea of a social critique.”
At the Cannes press conference, Reygadas, who lives mostly in Spain, did nothing to placate the Latin American press in the room. “When I make a film, when I watch a film, I feel closer to Greek cinema, or Japanese cinema, than to Latin American cinema.” Also, he dismissed accusations that he’d exploited Marcos Hernández, who’d been a chauffeur in real life for the filmmaker’s father. “I’ve known Marcos for 15 years, and I like the way he is, the way he acts, the way he speaks. He worked in the Ministry of Culture, and we played basketball together. He’s rather special, but at the same time he embodies a universal idea. Based on knowing him, I wrote a screenplay. No professional actors, please! Then Anapola came along. I preferred the real person to a person of acting technique.”
“I’m a normal, silly girl,” Mushkadiz explained. “I like doing plastic arts. I paint, I love doing pretty pictures. I went to a casting because Carlos really wanted to meet me. I never asked to be an actress, but here I am!”
But how could Reygadas put the obese, flabby-bodied Hernandez into bare-all sexual scenes? Including that blow job from Mushkadiz?
“There’s a kind of mask, except with the body,” Reygadas said. “The way to know people is through their bodies. People making love, things happen when they make love. How do they communicate? I love the Rubens-style paintings, and Marcos is like a Rubens, quite beautiful. But fat people making love, that’s not my object. And this is not a sexual film, a porn film. In porn, there’s fellatio aimed at sexual excitement. Here, when you see the girl [performing oral sex], she looks into the camera and cries.” I’VE BEEN WRITING WITH PLEASURE about the talented Newton documentarian Irene Lusztig since her Harvard undergrad days. ForBeijing with Love and Squalor (1998) showed rock-and-roll slackers in the bowels of China’s capital; Reconstruction (2002) uncovered Lusztig’s bank-robber grandmother, enemy of the Romanian Communist Party. She’s globe-hopping again past the former Iron Curtain in The Samantha Smith Project, which screens at the MFA this Sunday, March 12. In 1983, young Samantha, pacifist American, visited Communist Russia as the guest of Soviet premier Yuri Andropov, cheerily promoting peace and friendship between the Cold War countries. Twenty years later, post-Communism, Lusztig travels to Moscow and finds that Russian-American relationships have deteriorated completely. The Russians she encounters are fed up with know-it-all Americans. Not only do Russians not want to “live free” in the USA, it’s the last place on earth they’d consider visiting.