Interviews

Eduardo Villanueva about Penumbra: 'A sacrifice for art'

In Penumbra, the zone between day and night, the daily activities of the main characters seem to be carefully executed rituals. Eduardo Villanueva was inspired by the untouched landscape in the west of Mexico where he lives. Nominated for a Hivos Tiger Award.

In a nutshell

'Painterly portrait of an elderly couple who, facing death, fill their days with simple, repetitious activities in the unspoiled Mexican countryside.'

Inspiration

'The excellent Mexican author Juan Rulfo, who only published two novels during his lifetime, was my main source of inspiration. However, this is not an adaptation, but a film in the spirit of Rulfo. His book Pedro Páramo is set in this rugged part of Mexico. I moved here nine years ago and wanted to record the characteristic atmosphere of its nature on film, as Rulfo did in writing.'

Mexico

'I filmed at a breathtaking location where the land rises precipitously from the Pacific. A desolate, timeless area. The inhabitants are an integral part of it, so I wanted to recruit actors from the local population. They are amateurs which makes things authentic. So authentic in fact, that someone thought it was a documentary, but it really is fiction. Just like Robert Bresson, I only work with non-professionals. The lead is played by Adelelmo Jimenez who I have known for 10 years and who has this amazing , aged face.'

Style 

'The omission of background music also heightens the authenticity. Only at the very end, after the credits have started rolling, do I use a dash of Arvo Pärt. The sounds of the environment alternating with silences constitute a piece of programme music. Everyone will recognise that. You know you're alone if you can't hear anything other than your own breathing and footsteps. I tried to underscore that atmosphere with the camerawork – always the principal element for me. The word ‘penumbra’ stands for the dark side of the margin between light and dark that I try to capture in my films. Like the painter Caravaggio did. This is why I constantly filmed in the contrast-rich hours when light is scarce.'

Rituals

'The people here live on the boundary between our world and that of the spirits. This manifests itself in all manner of rituals that connect the two worlds. The deer hunt ritual is based on the rituals of the original Mexican peoples, the Toltecs and the Aztecs, who worshipped Mixcoatl the god of the hunt. Deer are sacred to them. In the film, Adelelmo actually kills a deer, it's not a trick shot. You can view it as a sacrifice for art. The hunting and slaughtering rituals are contrasted to the woman's Catholic life of prayer. There is no violence there. The Christian god sacrificed himself for humanity.'

Bright Future

'I habitually tinker with over 10 scripts at a time which is a really fruitful working method. The current top plan is set in Mexico City. A radically different setting to Penumbra; from silence to hustle and bustle. A recurring theme is the lead living between dream and reality.'

Penumbra – Eduardo Villanueva
Sat 2 15:15 Pathé 6

This is an article from the Daily Tiger dated Thursday 31 January 2013.
Photo: Nichon Glerum
Text: Paul van de Graaf