May 23, 2013
The talented Mr. Darín
Bumping into a film director without noticing it must not be uncommon, for filmmakers are supposed to be behind the camera and not in the spotlight, save for moviemakers with higher social profiles. Standing by the side of writer-director Hernán Goldfrid you’d never think this lanky, long-haired, easy-going young man is a film business personality and the person to talk to these days, as his new movie, the much-awaited Tesis sobre un homicidio, rolls into theatres today.
It’s late December, the 27th, to be more precise, and the PR team handling Tesis sobre un homicidio are busily at work three weeks before the film’s release, making sure it gets due publicity ahead of its première. Interviews with printed media and television are being held at a classy auditorium at the Four Seasons Hotel mansion in the posh Recoleta neighbourhood, the same district of town the fictional murderer in Tesis sobre un homicidio ambles around during his entire stay in Buenos Aires. His haunts — the Law School, the boulevard cafés and chic restaurants — are a stone-throw away from the Four Seasons, but the prevailing mood is clearly distant from the gloomy interior inhabited by the clinically obsessed murderer in Tesis sobre un homicidio.
A few minutes after chit-chatting with Golfrid a chirpy man looking not a day older than early forty makes a slow entrance and greets everyone with the kind of enthusiasm and warmth normally associated with family, relatives and close friends. His hair close cropped and wearing a white T-shirt, tight-fitting blue denim jeans and a pair of red sneakers any fashion-conscious teen would kill for, Mr. Darín’s attitude and demeanour — decontracté, physically fit and playful — belie his chronological age, 56. His birthday is January 16, so today’s release of Tesis sobre un homicidio must surely make a wonderful, well-deserved present.
Tesis sobre un homicidio marks Darín’s return to a thriller, and it’s Golfrid’s first foray into the genre after his unanimously praised rom-com Música en espera (2009). Darín and Golfrid sit back and relax, ready to field the Herald’s questions about the genesis and actual process of profiling a murderer, his hunter, and a film that, other than the narrative development, poses ethical and moral questions for which there seems to be no easy answer.
Is the confrontation — contradiction, at times — between Law and Justice at the core of Tesis sobre un homicidio?
Darín agrees, up to a point: he rather sees the film as illustrating humankind’s unwillingness and failure to put into practice, through legislation, what the dictums from other fields, such as religion and ethics, take for granted.
“The two rivals in the film may be seen as the two sides of the same coin, two facets of human nature that need to be reconciled or accepted on their own terms,” Darín says. “Professor Bermúdez, who’s previously served as a judge but gave it up for law writing and postgraduate seminars, sinks deeper and deeper into his ingrained belief that humankind will always reach a compromise solution, only occasionally serving justice according to its own position.”
Golfrid, for his part, was equally committed to illustrating or clarifying these points while at the same time developing an arresting story.
“After devoting much thought to it, I reached the conclusion that the two issues are inextricably linked in the moviemaking craft, especially in this genre, film noir, which inevitably raises this type of questions,” Golfrid adds.
Having made his directorial début with a 1950s-style comedy like Música en espera, what prompted Golfrid’s change of direction, such a turn around in terms of genre? In the filmmaking business, it’s always said, not without reason, that making your opera prima is difficult, but coming up with a second film is an even bigger challenge. But instead of sticking to the same successful “formula” of his first film, Golfrid made a daring choice — a movie genre that stands at the opposite end of the thematic structure.
“It was (screenwriter) Pato Vega who read the book and, in spite of its stream of consciousness style, decided it was more than suitable material for a movie,” Golfrid says. Vega ought to know, for he penned perfectly engineered comedies like Música en espera and Mi primera boda (2011).
“The process of adaptation was not without its difficulties, other than the natural transition from printed word to filmed action,” Golfrid explains. “We felt the need to shift the narrator’s voice from the student to the professor, we had to see things through the eyes of the world-weary Bermúdez and the line of thought and preoccupations stirred by his rival,” he continues.
“I liked every aspect of the screenplay, it was moving and inspiring, especially when the director explained to me his vision of the storyline and the genre,” Darín says.
There’s one striking thing about Tesis sobre un homicidio that sets it apart from other thrillers: the story is built on information which, in other detective stories, is normally omitted. In Tesis para un homicidio, viewers effectively guess who the murderer is.
“It was definitely the point of view of the film we had in mind. It’s quite an original narrative device when audiences share the same information as the hunter. We finally decided the story itself should point in that direction, inevitably playing around the notion of certainty,” Darín says.
But this is not necessarily so, otherwise whatever suspense there is in a film would be fatally disrupted.
“Tesis para un homicidio reminds me of a lawyer’s wise observation with regard to a personal litigation. ‘Whether you’re right or not is immaterial, what really matters is being able to prove it.’ We humans tend to believe that, come what may, justice will be on our side, but the structure of the judiciary functions in such a way that the truth is not as important as being able to prove it,” Darín reflects.
In Darín’s view, what are the conflicts torturing Professor Bermúdez?
“There’s unresolved personal issues, apart from the professional clash with his peers. I think the weight of his personal and his professional life pushes him to cross the boundaries of legality,” he muses.
Is this in line with the conventions of film noir as a genre? Is it possible to bend certain rules?
“In this type of story it’s always better to go for the ‘economic’ approach, that is, giving viewers only partial information, because thriller fans like to mull things over by themselves. In this sense, one must be careful not to overload them with information. Omission plays a key role, this way viewers have a sense of complicity with the characters, sharing the same uncertainties and doubts,” Darín continues to explain.
Thinking back to The Secret in Their Eyes and Elefante blanco, it could well be said that Mr. Darín again sides with the good guys in films where justice is the surrounding context, the universe.
“I’ve been playing court officers and lawyers, but they’re all different because their perception of morality is different too. Professor Bermúdez has some similarities with the court officer in The Secret... They both share the relentless need to seek the truth in spite of societal constraints.”
As for the professional relationship with director Golfrid on the set of Tesis sobre un homicidio, Mr. Darín has no hesitations and asserts that “It couldn’t have been better. Golfrid really enjoys coaching his actors, testing their limits, especially when your character is present throughout the whole story. He was always there for me, made me feel more confident, and never left me to fend for myself,” Darín concludes.
In the same manner that audiences ask, “Shall we see the new Darín movie,” will there come a day when they say, instead, “Let’s see the new Golfrid”?
Golfrid smiles unassumingly, and it’s Darín who answers.
“I hope so. It would take a burden off my shoulders.”