The successor to Sebastián Hofmann's debut Halley (nominated in 2013 for a Tiger Award) premiered in mid-winter at IFFR, but the nationwide summer release is not such bad timing either. In this Mexican drama a middle-class family's visit to an all-inclusive holiday paradise turns into a hellish nightmare, where paranoia and capitalism go hand in hand.
Halley made quite an impression, but this film has a more commercial vibe to it.
"It is a kind of dark comedy with twisted humour, and that makes it more sellable to a wider audience. The main actors are huge stars in Mexico, known for broad comedies. At Sundance we got a really good response, the critics gave it amazing reviews and we picked up an award. Not bad, given the fact that the story makes fun of America quite a lot. The American character is the bad guy, and the way the American corporation takes over the Mexican organisation is a sort of new colonisation. The film is a satire, a sort of farce. If there is any country that can really take a joke, it's the USA. They take a lot of punches, from every side, especially with the current political situation. But they can take it. And America is not the specific target: Tiempo compartido is a critique on globalisation."
What's the film's message?
“The film is about many things. It is not a political film, although there are some political elements in it, and neither is it necessarily a critique on capitalism, like some critics suggested. The starting point was that I wanted to make a movie about organic beings trapped in this inorganic environment, this artificial paradise where they can't show true emotion – and by that I mean negative emotions, like sadness and despair. Because in the context of vacation, this sort of all-inclusive perfect bubble paradise, you are expected to have a good time, to laugh and smile the whole time. But what happens if you are going through difficult times? This sort of machinery represses these characteristics. If anything I think it is a critique on patriarchal society in Mexico. It is a tale of neuroses. We thought it was very interesting to set a film in a hotel much like The Shining, but we took out all the supernatural elements. All you are left with is these human beings trapped in this microscopic hell with their own emotions. Unable to connect with their families, it is ultimately a family crisis film, if anything."
Funny that you mention The Shining, because watching your film I thought I noticed a number of references.
"Movies that are set in a hotel are like a genre in itself, no? There are a million of them. But the quintessential movie, the one we always refer to if you want to make a movie in a hotel, that takes place entirely on one location, is Kubrick's film. There are a lot of references – homages if you will. Like the villa where they stay at the beginning of the movie has the number 237… same as the famous room. The Shining is a tale of dementia and paranoia, and Tiempo compartido is too. In The Shining it is also the father figure who goes shit crazy and starts killing everybody. But we decided to take that element away. No demonic possessions, no ghosts and no killings. But you are still left with these two father figures who go through a crisis and don't deal with it in the correct way."
The mantra of estate agents – 'location, location, location' – seems to be true for Tiempo compartido as well.
"The hotel itself is quite beautiful. It is set in front of the pacific ocean, with beautiful beaches and sunsets on the horizon. Which we don't show you in the film (laughs). I thought it would be a lot more interesting if we didn't show the ocean, because the sea is a sort of an exit. I hope the unconscious effect on the viewer is that the architecture tightens the frame. The film contains a lot of interiors and night scenes, the opposite of what you would expect from a film that is shot in a holiday paradise. The hotel is historical, it was one of the first of its kind. Howard Hughes occupied the two top floors and this is where he lost his mind and died. As a child I used to come here all the time; Acapulco is the nearest beach from Mexico City. I spent most of my childhood here, like most middle-class children."
And how was it to come back to the place, not for relaxation this time but for hard work?
"The cast and crew stayed in this hotel for two months. It is a massive hotel. There were one hundred of us and there are 6000 rooms... we were a minority. Some of them really liked it, and had their families over for the weekend. As the weeks progressed I got that sort of isolation sickness. I never got the feeling that I wanted to kill anybody with an axe, but it did become suffocating and claustrophobic. Because of the situation in Acapulco – one of the most violent places on Earth – we couldn't leave the hotel contractually. The day we arrived they had just murdered a guy at the entrance of the hotel. In a way it was like doing time in prison."
Photo in header: Interview: Anton Damen