Año Uña (The Year of the Nail) is the debut film by Jonás Cuaron - son of Mexican director Alfonso (Y tu mamá también), who executive-produced the film. Covering a year in the life of an American student and her relationship with the young Mexican boy she meets on her travels, it is made completely from still photographs. Empire chatted exclusively to the Cuarons about the film and what comes next for the Mexican directorial dynasty.
So what made you want to make a whole feature film in stills?
Jonas: Well when I started working on this project, I had seen this movie called La Jatée by Chris Marker, which is a film that uses a similar format. It's made out of still photographs, but I wanted to grab this format and push its boundaries. I wanted to make the narrative engaging enough so it could work as a feature film and people could sit through 80 minutes of photographs, and also I wanted to break the way in which film is normally done. In the case of La Jatée and all other films, people write the screenplay first and then post the photographs; I wanted to play with that. So what I did was during a year of my life I took candid pictures of my everyday life, family, friends, and then at the end of that year I used those pictures to write a fictional narrative, playing with the boundary between fiction and reality. I must have been like 21 when I started making it, then after that year it took 3 more years to put it all together.
So all of the people involved in the pictures are your friends and family?
Jonas: Yes, and all the events in the pictures really happened: it's just the narrative and the dialogue is fictional. I used the actual people to voice it, but then the dialogue they said were fictional. Like, the little boy's my brother and the older girl's my girlfriend, but it the fictional narrative they became romantic lovers.
From films that you’ve both made, you can see there's a bit of an obsession with older women and younger men. Is that something of a family feature?
Alfonso: [All laugh] Yes, it has been in our family for generations; it's been going on for generations.
Jonas: I guess in this case it just came organic, because I took the photographs in that year, and I realised that most of the photographs ended up being of my brother and my girlfriend, because they were the people around me when I was taking those photographs. I mean, I guess a lot of the difference between a relationship between a younger boy and the older girl, and this case, is that the boy is younger so the approach is more innocent, it’s more romantic and it’s less aggressive so...
Did you ever have that kind of relationship when you were 14 or so...?
Jonas: Yeah, erm...
Alfonso: Oh, you did?!
Jonas: …With many girls: younger, older…
And how big a part of the process was your dad?
Alfonso: Well, years ago, like over 20 years ago, it was night it was dark (laughs) I guess that was my only direct involvement…!
But did you help at all with getting the project to screen, or did you let him do the creative part and just give him moral support along the way?
Alfonso: I didn’t know he was making a film until he showed me the film. He was going around with his camera, so I thought he was doing some sort of photo project. But then he edited everything on his computer, so it was really between Erin, his girlfriend, and himself. When Jonás showed me it, I though it was going to be a short. Then he started playing the whole thing with photos, I said, "How long is this going to be?!"
When he told me that this was going to be a feature film I said, "Ouch!" But that was the last time I thought about the stills, because suddenly I was submerged into a film, and it was a great experience for me. I was very impressed with the whole thing. I guess my only involvement was to show it to people that you trust and to get some feedback and comments.
And how was the reception? Watching stills is potentially quite difficult to adjust to.
Jonas: Overall, in festivals, people told me that for the first 7 minutes they really felt uncomfortable with the idea of having to sit through 80 minutes of stills. But then by minute 8 they'd forgotten they were watching photographs and were more interested in knowing if the little boy got with the older girl.
What kind of relationship were you trying to build between the two main characters Molly and Diego (obviously bearing in mind that this is actually your girlfriend and your brother)?!
Jonas: I felt that a lot of the story is in this platonic romanticism and less on the physical. So that’s why a lot of the movie has thoughts to convey their feelings. I just felt that some kind of physical manifestation of their attraction wouldn’t have worked with the tone of the movie.
How difficult do you find it to portray 'the thought' as opposed to the dialogue when you were doing it all with voiceover?
Jonas: We did many versions of the voiceover, and it was more towards the end of recording voices when I realised that to break the boundaries of thought and voice it was very helpful to use whispers to portray the thoughts. I really like hearing the thoughts, because it is a narrative device that is not used in film that often. It allows you to have a really intimate relationship with the characters.
I want to talk about some of you future projects - what do you have coming up after this?
Jonas: Well right now, I'm developing a screenplay for a film I want to do, and my father and myself are collaborating on a screenplay for his next film.
Alfonso: I’m going to start shooting next spring. It’s called 'A Boy and his Shoe'. I'm very, very excited about it. I can’t talk about cast, but all I can say is that it deals with young people and that it’s a road movie covering England, Scotland and France.
We’ve also heard a rumour that you are working on a version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches? Is that true?
Alfonso: Well I am involved with Guillermo Del Toro, but as a producer, not director. I think it started because I've always wanted to do a version of Roald Dahl's very naughty Uncle Oswald. So we were talking to Lucy Dahl, when we got onto the subject of The Witches. Then Guillermo wrote this amazing screenplay really quickly. It won’t be like the original Nicholas Roeg version, which was a beautiful film- because Guillermo wants to do it completely in stop- motion animation. I'm excited about it- I really hope we can put it together.
Año Uña is released Nov 28th