Sebastián Silva on Rotting in the Sun and the Joy of Dicks

Sebastián Silva finds himself in a sea of shit and dicks in Rotting in the Sun. The zany and very NSFW farce sees the Chilean filmmaker play a variation of himself during a mid-life crisis. Silva looks at the perfect metaphor for his life when the film opens. He catches his dog, Chima, scarfing down a stranger’s feces in the park. Grossed out and dejected by all the literal and figurative crap around him, Sebastián leaves town for a fun in the sun getaway at a gay-friendly resort.

While relaxing on a nude beach, Sebastián encounters an acquaintance: influencer Jordan Firstman, who eagerly tells him about watching his film Crystal Fairy and the Magic Cactus recently with a Grindr hook-up. The conversation, which happened in real life (as did the hook-up), is a spark of inspiration for Silva’s wickedly funny satire.

Rotting in the Sun, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is now playing on MUBI, offers zany, wacky, raunchy fun from Silva after comedies like The Maid (2009) and Nasty Baby (2015). Once Silva and Firstman connect on the beach, the filmmaker finds himself caught up in the influencer’s narcissistic lifestyle, becoming a hashtag, business partner, and future husband for an Instagrammer who just never shuts up. (Firstman is spectacularly funny here, but also a really good sport about being in on the joke.) Rotting in the Sun takes a very dark turn, though, when Sebastián’s fatalist drive collides with Firstman’s relentless pace. A shocker of a twist leaves the film in the hands of Silva’s The Maid collaborator Catalina Saavedra, who plays Sebastián’s housekeeper and takes the film to even darker places as Rotting in the Sun looks at our sex-crazed, self-absorbed culture that leaves us all decaying in broad daylight. Rarely has a film with so much sex turned into such a boner killer, if a satisfying one.

We spoke with Sebastián Silva ahead of the MUBI release of Rotting in the Sun.

Jordan Firstman in Rotting in the Sun | MUBI

Pat Mullen: So, this film has a lot of dicks and I had to laugh over how literally in your face everything is.

Sebastián Silva: The dicks are there because we’re shooting in a nude beach. When there’s no clothes, there’s genitals. That’s how, organically, the dicks came into the film. And then Jordan is such a slut, so the dicks will just follow him or he will follow the dicks wherever he is.

 

Was it hard to cast people to do these scenes?

It’s not an easy call, but you’re reaching out to people that you think would be down. We talked to a lot of guys who had Only Fans or people who were into public sex, or friends of friends who wouldn’t care. We didn’t hire porn actors, just people who were very comfortable with their bodies and exhibiting themselves.

 

One thing I like about the film is that we’re not seeing all these stereotypical gay men. People in this film are very attractive, but they generally have natural bodies, they’re quite hairy.  

I would have never gone for the muscle gym-bunny kind of guy or big cocks. That’s something that I could watch while watching porn, not that I’d want to. If I’m going to show guys at a naked beach, I’m not going to care for their bodies or not. I didn’t reject any muscular person, but I didn’t look for any muscular person. I personally am not very attracted to muscular guys or fashiony standards of beauty, so I guess I’m unaware of it. Even when people are like, “Why is every dick so weird in your movie?” I’m like, “Oh, aren’t dicks like that?” I don’t know. That’s how dicks look to me. PornHub dicks are amazing, but not all dicks look like that, unfortunately.

Jordan Firstman in Rotting in the Sun | MUBI

Your character goes to a lot of really dark places. How do you blur the line with fiction and biography since you’re playing Sebastián Silva, filmmaker?

I don’t. That is my dog, Chima. I lived in that apartment building in Mexico City. That was my painting studio. That’s my actual friend Mateo from Mexico, who’s never been in a movie. A lot of things are brought in from my reality, but I fictionalize them in a way that seems like an overreach or unreal, but it is true. We are all playing terrible versions of ourselves. But the moment you say, “Action,” it’s all a farce.

 

Your character has a lot of anger and his relationship with the industry, like HBO, is kind of shaky. How has your relationship with filmmaking changed since the success of The Maid and the films you’ve made through the past 10 to 15 years?

I feel that I’ve remained pretty much in the same spot. Not spiritually–I hope that I gained some wisdom in 15 years, but I feel that professionally and artistically, I’m developing the same things I’m interested in, which is class disparity, otherness, social alienation, death, suicide, and death as an alternative to a life of suffering. My themes come back over and over in different shapes. Of course, I’ve questioned myself and had moments of feeling stuck or not growing. Since The Maid, my movies go to Sundance and then they go onto a random streamer. There’s never been an Oscar run or collaborations with huge actors. The business pushes you to think that should be your direction. The Maid, for instance, a lot of people watched it and it went to the Golden Globes, but how The Maid was made is very similar to how Rotting in the Sun was made. I co-wrote it with the same guy I co-wrote Rotting in the Sun. I am not here to grow professionally by the standards of the business, but to grow spiritually through my own goals.

Sebastián Silva in Rotting in the Sun | MUBI

Rotting in the Sun takes a pretty dark turn with what happens to your character, and it completely catches a viewer by surprise in the way that Nasty Baby had a pretty dark turn as well. What drives your interest in these unexpected, pretty abrupt twists?

I have made nine movies and only in two has this happened, so while it’s there, it’s not necessarily a tendency. In Nasty Baby, the plot twist comes in the second half of the third act, which is actually very unorthodox. That twist, to me, is not so much a change of rhythm, but more so an epilogue. He kills the homeless man and he gets away with it, and it’s like, “What do you think about that?” In this case, I think it actually resembles Psycho where she’s murdered at minute 42, which is exactly where it happens in Rotting in the Sun.

People are like, “We were really invested in your bitterness and we thought you were going to fall in love with Jordan Firstman.” The character of Sebastián plants the seed that we are rotting in the sun. We are disgusting. Jordan is ridiculous. Why the fuck am I having meetings with HBO? I need to escape into a gay hole, or I hopefully I die. He establishes this mood and we see that he thinks the world is terrible. Under that point of view, you can witness this comedy of errors where social disparity is brutal and then self-obsession, social media, complete obliviousness to the other ,and gentrification are at the centre of the story.

 

Jordan is such a good sport. His character is so ridiculous in the film. How do you feel about influencers in general?

I’m not very versed on influencers. I don’t follow them. I didn’t know about Jordan until he approached me in that plaza, really. I was there with Chima, who was eating shit, and I was just sitting there on my phone Googling myself, then Jordan shows up and he’s like, “Hey, man. We know each other.” And we had dinner. The character that Jordan played wasn’t necessarily going to be an influencer. I thought he could be a real estate gringo who was in Mexico buying houses. But when I met Jordan, I was like, “This is so fucking colourful and it’s so wrong.” But it’s also so obviously coming from an insecure place. For me, social media and being an influencer is a symptom of an insecure generation where ‘likes’ and being influential are all that matter, being heard and being seen.

That part of Jordan is so profoundly rotten to me, which I’m a part of. I do have my little Instagram and considering the scale, it’s, like, whatever. I have no followers, but I do care. I post and I’m like, “Oh, he liked it.” I find that to be so profoundly petty for any human being with a brain, but it’s happening to everybody.

Catalina Saavedra | MUBI

The film is such a great performance from Catalina Saavedra, and it seems like you have a connection with her that is pretty rare among director-actor pairings. How do you get these great performances from her? 

She was in my first movie Life Kills Me, which is quoted in Rotted in the Sun, and we became friends there. Then we made The Maid back in 2009. She had a very popular role on a sitcom Chilean sitcom where she played a maid, so when I called her to do The Maid, she was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” And I’m like, “No, I swear it’s very different.” She read it, she liked it, and then she really killed it.

She really is the most amazing actress. Whenever there is a role that Catalina could play, I would go to her for it. In this case, it was a little weird that I wanted a Chilean actress to play a Mexican working class cleaning lady. It felt almost politically wrong, but she’s incredible. She’s so funny and I knew she could come across as bitter. I asked her if she could pull off a Mexican accent within four months, and she did. She is extremely committed to the role, very present. I think that’s her biggest quality. She’s extremely present when she is acting.

 

Rotting in the Sun is now streaming on MUBI.



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