Interview: Director Rodrigo Ordoñez On DEPOSITARIES, Mexican Science Fiction, And The Possibility Of A Remake

Rodrigo Ordoñez's first feature film Depositaries (Depositarios) opened in Mexican cinemas last Friday after three years of struggle for proper distribution, a delay that's not unusual when it comes to Mexican movies. The film had its festival run back in 2010-2011 but it seems the definitive attraction for distributors came last May when the Mexican Academy of Film Arts and Sciences (AMACC) awarded Depositarios with the Ariel for best visual effects. On September 17, I sat down with Ordoñez at a Mexico City restaurant to talk about this rare science fiction effort. 

Twitch: Tell me about the origin of DEPOSITARIES. 

Rodrigo Ordoñez: I started writing this movie 14 years ago, in 1999, when I was in my second or third year of film school, at the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica (CCC). At the time, it was a 20-minute short film. The idea got deeper, so I decided to write it as a first feature length film. I'm not sure if that was the right decision because it's a really big and complex movie, but it was the first story that I wanted to tell. 

The origin was to talk about the emotional losses and how we deal with them: what happens to us when we break up with a girlfriend or when we lose a father, those moments in life when we feel down. Then a reflection emerged: what if someone else could carry that weight for us? 

The original story was the one leaded by Alejandra Ambrosi and César Ramos. They are a troubled couple that suffers a breakup. She wants to live dealing with her feelings the way everyone else does, which is through artificial mediums generated with cloning and medicine, but he's not willing to do so. In a sort-of romantic craziness, he manages to steal the body of his girlfriend's clone and is trying to engage a relationship with this vegetative, masochistic bug that doesn't know sensations in life other than the pain of the original girl. 

Alejandra plays two characters, like in every good clone movie, and César is the wacky romantic hero. Humberto Busto (best known for Amores Perros) plays the other character that interacts with them; he's known as "el ratón" ("the mouse") and helps César's character to rob the body of the girlfriend. That's the origin of the story. 

Does the mixture of a detective story with science fiction comes from classic films like BLADE RUNNER? 

Yes, well, it comes from trying to portray the system, like they do in those films. The detectives represent order and the system, like any police force. Other characters represent the corporations, like Fernando Becerril's, who plays the representative in Mexico of an emporium that generates the technology.

There's also the press, depicted in the movie by Paola Nuñez. On the other hand, there's the anti-system, with the characters of Tenoch Huerta, Anilú Pardo, Juan Carlos Barreto and some others. Then, the undercover characters... we have every ethical posture surrounding this debate. 

The central idea of the movie is this: we are fine with our personal satisfaction and immediate comfort, buying a cell phone or clothing, as long as they don't show us the thousands of slaves at a faraway Chinese factory. And that is the story of the depositories, a part of the humanity enslaved for the comfort of others. An idea we are not far from, not at all. 

So with everything we are currently living in Mexico, DEPOSITARIES opens at the right time?

If people reflect on it, the answer is yes. It's something that's happening in the entire world, generating front pages every day. In the past ten years, there has been a lot about cloning and genetics, ever since the cloned sheep.

During the time the project was developed, I always read and collected newspaper science notes. I saw how the immediate environment surpassed the movie. Almost all the necessary technology, to see this happening, exists. 


RodrigoOrdoñez3byClaudiaAguilarTwitch.jpgI think the movie is a reflection on how we depend on technology. 

Yes, the support that technology generates, it helps us. but we are becoming much more dependent on it. We have reached some extremes, for example at restaurants you can see the signs, "don't use cell phones and look into each other's eyes". 

The level of autism that technology provokes is a very interesting phenomenon. It is making us a little bit dysfunctional, you know, there's Internet, video games, cell phone addiction. If this is tearing us apart or doing the opposite, well, that's a current debate. Talking about social networking is an everyday thing, with people having thousands of friends on Facebook but not knowing a single one of them. 

DEPOSITARIES has an ensemble cast. How was the casting process? 

Depositaries is indeed a movie with ten or so main characters. The casting process was very diverse: from the actors I was interested to work with and were available at the time, those I had already worked with (in short films or television projects), and others that went through a long and complex casting. 

For Alejandra's part (Carla), the casting took several weeks until I decided she was the right choice. The process was similar for the roles of both César (Carla's ex-boyfriend Pedro) and Humberto ("the mouse"). I called Paola Nuñez directly, as she did her first project with me. The same happened with Karina Gidi and Tenoch Huerta. 

Which was the most difficult scene to shoot? I imagine the one with all the clones abandoned in the street. 

Yes, that scene was one of the most complicated. 

There were many diverse complexities, making the 36-day filming really fun, as there was a different challenge every day. It's very difficult to lock yourself with two actors for a scene like those with Alejandra and César, using hand-held camera, following the actress' eyes, with room for improvisation. 

On the other hand, some days we were working with models, a gigantic area and tons of extras, for the depositaries' warehouse. You had to light the model, the background, to make it look huge. Add to this the digital effects and you generate a hybrid of diverse technologies. That was another challenge from the photographic and technical point of view. As usual, sometimes we worked the entire day for one single shot. 

Another difficult day was when we closed Paseo de la Reforma (one of Mexico City's most important avenues) with all these naked extras (the clones), without being arrested! We did it with permission, closed Reforma on a Saturday morning, around 7 or 8 AM. We had the naked ones up all night for makeup; there were like 200 extras and later we digitally created more. 

The movie was nominated for the best makeup Ariel (the Mexican Oscar), and I would have given that award to it. It won for visual effects but this was the Mexican movie with the most ambitious makeup work of the year. The depositaries are 100% makeup... the actors like Alejandra were "tortured" for hours!

RodrigoOrdoñez2byClaudiaAguilarTwitch.jpg
Talking about the Ariel Award and the festival circuit, how was the response to the movie?

People were mostly perplexed! 

I remember the Ariel Award ceremony; the movie wasn't out at the time and we had three nominations, all in the first half hour of the ceremony. We were protagonists of the first half, so you're in Bellas Artes (Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts), with a lot of people unrelated to the movie who every time a clip is shown look at each other like saying "What the fuck is that? What did they smoke to do that thing?" The movie was really different from the rest, creating a certain amount of curiosity. On the other hand, it has very prestigious actors, which gives it credibility. 

Now we're going to finally see the reactions clearly. They will be varied, mainly with today's social networks, which tend to easily crucify you. One must be tolerant, understanding there are people who like your work and people who don't. One must also defend the right to do this kind of work, you know, why Mexican cinema must be only comedies or movies with farmers walking towards the sea? 

What's your opinion of Mexican science fiction movies, both old and new? 

Well, the old ones were El Santo movies, like El Santo Contra las Momias (The Mummies of Guanajuato). In Mexico we have little science fiction tradition, we still have a long way to go, but always with budgetary restrictions. We will never make The Matrix (due to low budgets), even if we're good. I think little by little interesting things are being made and that must go on, not only in science fiction, but also in similar genres like horror and fantasy. 

It's sad to think we have to be like Guillermo del Toro and leave Mexico to be able to work in these genres. Maybe that's true, I don't know. And while it's sad and unfair, a bad movie in English will be seen in much more places than a Mexican movie. That's the reality and people end cheating, like they did in Spain: filming in Barcelona, with English dialog, to disguise it as an American movie.

Would you accept the offer for an American remake of DEPOSITARIES? 

Yes, definitely. 

It's a possibility I want to explore in the future, but I'm not sure if the remake would be American. Somos Lo Que Hay had its indie American remake but Jorge (Michel Grau) told me at the time that there was also a remake offer from France. I would love to share this world with more people, unfortunately that ends being the logic to work in the United States or with American capital: your ideas reaching more people. 

It would be very difficult because [Depositaries] is an old-fashioned movie, science fiction with ideas. An American remake would have a 10-minute premise and two hours of explosions! That's contemporary science fiction, so I like very few movies. I love the old ones, Blade Runner for sure, Brazil, Twelve Monkeys. Out of the contemporaries, I like Inception, a great movie, but I don't dig anything else. I love del Toro but even his latest (Pacific Rim) has five minutes of story, so you come out (from the movie theater) excited, impressed, but the following day you can't explain what was all about. 

American cinema is at its worst moment in history, in terms of creativity. It's at its top moment in economic terms but everything is just 3D, special effects, roller coasters and popcorn. All the thought-provoking material is now on television and is completely accepted that today's great American fiction is not movies but television. A Depositaries remake would be in better hands with a genius French filmmaker.

Depositaries opened in Mexico on Friday, September 27. 

(All photos by Claudia Aguilar Guarneros)

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