admin On maggio - 16 - 2013


Estela is a 12 year old girl who has just fallen crazy in love with a young policecadet who wants to run away with her and get married. Trying to achieve thisdream, her family will have to live the violence that is devastating the region.


HELI is your third movie after SANGRE (2005) and LOS BASTARDOS(2008). They could be seen as a trilogy about contemporary Mexicansociety. Is that how you envisaged them?

Not consciously, at least! Of course, you can draw links between them.I noticed that in each film, I’ve tackled more or less directly the way Americanculture impregnates Mexican society. SANGRE showed the perverse effectsof this globalization, and how the American spirit infiltrates everything:television, food, and so on. In LOS BASTARDOS, we saw two Mexicans whowent illegally to the United States and tipped into murderous violence. Thenarrative in HELI takes place in a city which is like the one where I grew up:Guanajuato, five hours’ drive from Mexico City. General Motors decided tobuild an automobile plant there. People moved in to be close to their newplace of work, so homes had to be built quickly to house them, leading togreat deal of unchecked development. The ecosystem, the landscape, andthe atmosphere of the place were transformed. Watching HELI, I notice thateverything that relates to the auto industry in the end remains on the fringesof the narrative. Nonetheless, the environment that I depict is marked by thatpresence. Since I’m American from my mother’s side and Mexican from myfather’s, the presence of this power relationship in all my films is fairly logical.

The environment and also the social context you describe are veryprecise. Do you make films motivated by the desire to show a realityfrom your own country?

My aim isn’t to deliver a message, nor to develop some sort of thesis.I’m more obsessed by the particular atmospheres that I can create throughmy direction. Not having experienced the things that the characters in HELIexperience or undergo, I had to extrapolate and use my imagination. It’s thepsychological dimension that interests me, more than the specific facts. Howdoes one live in a permanent climate of fear? My characters suffer violentacts, and as a result find themselves under tension. It’s this tension thatI’m trying to show and to share with the spectator. I show extreme situations.In Mexico, everyone lives with a kind of fear in their gut. Violence is a realityat every moment even if it doesn’t affect you directly.

How does your own story overlap with that of your protagonists?

Once again, I haven’t experienced anything comparable to what is shownin the film, despite growing up in a fairly similar environment. My parentsdivorced when I was young. My father is both a painter and musician, butabove all he’s a great handyman. He helps me on every film, notably inmaking the rail systems for tracking shots. My mother is nowadays a socialresearcher for a university. While I don’t specifically mention the cityof Guanajuato in the film, certain details like the mountain range in thebackground are very representative of the area. On several occasions youglimpse the statue of Cristo Rey, the equivalent of Sugarloaf Mountain inRio de Janeiro. This region is very religious. During the shoot, we had to stopfor four days because the Pope was visiting the city. The religious aspect

is very present in the film. Here, abortion is banned and severely punished.That’s why lots of very young girls – like the heroine in my film – becomemothers when barely teenagers. To give you an idea, the real mother of theinfant in the film was on set, and she’s only 14. Recently, seven girls whohad accidental abortions were sent to prison. With HELI, I wanted to showhow families live on top of one another under the same roof. The notionof community is very strong, as is the absence of intimacy. I, myself live nextto most of my family. That’s common in Mexico.

You mentioned the atmosphere that you like to breathe into each film.How do you establish this?

It’s the cast which determines the overall mood. Everything starts from thechoice of the bodies, the faces and the looks of my actors. They dictate thetone of the film. The actors remain the vector through which a filmmakertransmits emotions and feeling. The sets also dictate the overall tone. That’swhy, at the time of writing the script, everything remains abstract. I neverknow in advance what the whole is going to look like.

That said, was it straightforward to cast the film?

No. Finding the right person to play HELI was a long and difficult process.I’d seen at least 3,000 people. I couldn’t make up my mind. I didn’t have anyparticular profile in mind. I was looking for a face or personality with which

I felt a connection. I had perhaps invested and projected too much ontothis character. Turning down every suggestion was a way of rejecting myself,of putting my ideas to the test. Armando Espitia was one of my favorites, allthe same. So I picked him, thinking: “OK, let’s go for it, otherwise I’m nevergoing to make this film!” So I set Armando up in the region where we wouldfilm so he could absorb the local vibe. He lived with a family for a while.He had long hair and pale skin. We cut his hair very short and had him getsome sun. It was while we were making all these changes that I realizedI’d found the right person. That’s often how it goes with my actors. My firsttask with them is to change the way they look. Without this modificationprocess, – I can’t project myself. This method is so much easier, which is whyI rarely work with professional actors. In HELI, only the actor who plays thefather of the family had previously worked in film.

Was the choice of the name HELI a way of linking this story to anyparticular mythology?

No. I read a short article in the newspaper about a boy aged 10, called HELI,who was involved in a shoot-out between his gang and the police. That storyleft a big impression on me, so I used the name in my film. I liked the sonority.

Do you always adopt the same working method?

Yes. In order to throw myself into the shoot and find the right rhythm forthe film, things have to be well organized from the start, otherwise it goesall over the place. I know what I’m like, I tend to be a bit chaotic! So I writea very detailed script, then I make a complete storyboard. All the shots inmy film are therefore imagined and thought out in advance. With that as mystarting point, I modify and explore new avenues during the shoot. On set,we improvise a lot. The important thing is to always shake up the routine.You have to be able to break something to move forward. Each day has itsown rhythm, its own pace. The script and the storyboard are like actors; theyare at first fantasies that go on to be transformed by the reality of the shoot.

HELI is the first film you have shot on digital. Why did you chose this format?

It was a way of going as far as possible with my actors without worryingabout whether there was going to be enough film. I wanted to reallyexperiment with things. I did a lot of takes, perhaps too many! I also knewthat, unlike my other films, there were several action scenes that would bedifficult to film, with complicated camera movements, and digital allows forunrivaled flexibility.


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