At only 31 years of age, filmmaker Nicolas Pereda has already amassed a slew of critical acclaim in Mexico, yet he remains largely untalked about in the country he originally went to University in. A graduate of the York University film programme, Pereda has been one of the most artistically notable names in the Mexican film industry since 2007, but only now are Toronto audiences getting a comprehensive look at his works with a retrospective at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this coming weekend. From Thursday, November 22nd to Sunday, November 25th, Where Are the Films of Nicolas Pereda? showcases the filmmakers award winning work to the city he called home for a while, making his low key and often intensely observational works to a greater audience.
The series comes named after Pereda’s first film Where Are Their Stories? (Thursday, November 22nd, 6:30pm), a film that in many ways establishes the general tone and form for everything in his career to follow. The film about a young man travelling away from his rural homestead to find his mother in a last ditch effort to save his dying grandmother’s farm is almost playfully ambiguous with the title instructing the audience to fill in the blanks in storytelling.
No answers as to what is being seen are provided in the first 20 minutes or so of the film. We simply see a young man looking worried as he paces his grandmother’s bedroom at night. We watch as a woman is asked to get into the back of a truck when a friend of the driver picks up a friend on the side of the road. We don’t know why these things are happening and we see them exactly as they are before the film gets to its eventual title sequence and the proper film takes shape. It’s not that the film lacks narrative, but Pereda has always been one to let the audiences fill in the specifics beyond the structural framework. The author is the picture isn’t absent, but rather purposefully unreliable; only making the viewer privy to specific points and moments in time.
In his first film, Pereda established what would become a long working relationship with actor Gabino Rodriguez and actress Teresa Sanchez, who would team up to play mother and son throughout most of the director’s works, but only Rodriguez returns for a large role in his follow-up Juntos (Thursday, November 22nd, 8:45pm), a much more structured character based study that actually takes away more story than his previous film gave. In return, Pereda crafts some of the best characters of his career in this portrait of a crumbling relationship suffering from the loss of a dog, the perennial presence of an unwanted and boorish houseguest, and a plumbing problem that somewhat metaphorically has no answers or solution. Once again, Pereda allows the story plenty of room to breathe, but the characters here come with far more baggage and less ambiguity. Their wants, desires, and needs are made apparent from the outset.
Often compared quite favourably to other post-modern auteurists like Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Jia Zhang-Ke, Pereda would also trod on the same landscape as Errol Morris and Werner Herzog in his blending of documentary material with fictional recreations. In his hour long docu-drama All Things Were Now Overtaken by Silence (Saturday, November 24th, 3:15pm), Pereda steps a bit more outside his comfort zone as he takes a darkly lit black and white look at what goes on behind the scenes of a staged poetry reading by actress and performance artist Jesua Rodriguez. It’s a parallel work to a production he already helped construct that asks the audience to question where the reality ends and the fiction of the process begins. His most visually ambiguous story, this fairly direct documentary calls to question the process of editing and the progression of time with regard to pacing more than anything else.
More of a straight line can be drawn between Herzog and Pereda in the short film Interview with the Earth (preceding Summer of Goliath) where he blends first person interviews with staged recreations of childhood moments spent between a young boy and his recently deceased best friend. It captures quite nicely the awkwardness of youth running aground of tragedy, and the filmmaker’s desire to blur the lines between the obvious and the implied.
Pereda would find his greatest success with Summer of Goliath (Saturday, November 24th, 7:00pm), a film that would net him the best film prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2010. Once again largely a reenactment of a real family’s turmoil, the film also reunites Sanchez and Rodriguez as a soldier and his mother going through vastly different hardships set against a real life backdrop of an alleged childhood murder and abuse told through first person account. It’s a lot to take in thematically and structurally and wildly different from anything else he’s made, but it’s also quit striking on an emotional level. Even a viewer who can’t be asked to think too much about what they are watching can find plenty to relate to in this work.
The series will close out on Sunday with the Toronto premiere of the director’s latest work, the cheekily titled Greatest Hits (Sunday, November 25th, 4:00pm), which takes a step back towards the familiar for Pereda before going in a new direction. This mother and son story (Sanchez and Rodriguez, once again) takes on a lot of Pereda’s core themes: perpetual adolescence, masculinity, lack of communication and takes it to an almost Lynchian extreme part way through the film, but without making things overtly strange. It becomes, almost instantly not a film about a young man selling bootlegs and his strained relationships, but a story that makes the audience question not only the backgrounds of the characters, but their very identities.
Pereda will be on hand to introduce all of the screenings of his films throughout the weekend. For a full list of titles and showtimes, head on over to tiff.net and have an adventurous look into one of North America’s most unsung visual and moral eyes.