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Guest Post: Making a Magical Realist Film About a Boy Who Smells Like Rotting Fish

Guest Post: Making a Magical Realist Film About a Boy Who Smells Like Rotting Fish

There are countless films with unique ideas and storylines, but I believe my first
feature film, “Treading Water,” is the only one about a boy who smells like fish. This idea caught my attention several years
ago when my co-writer, Javier Gullón, showed me a folder filled with news
clips he had for possible scripts. In the folder, there was an article titled
“First Case of Fish Odor Syndrome Detected in the Country,” and it
immediately captured my interest. It sounded so strange, like a fantasy — smelling
like a rotten fish! It was like something right out of a Tim Burton film. But
it’s a real disease, trimethylaminuria, and it affects not only the liver, but also
one’s self-esteem. 

A whole film about being
smelly?! Yes, and ironically, my graduation short film was also about
someone’s scent. A hotel maid falls in love with a guest because of his
smell. She sniffs his shirts and fantasizes about him after locking herself
in the closet. In the end, she tracks him down at the hotel bar by following
his scent. 

When it came time to make
my first feature film, I chose this story of a boy that smells like fish partly
because we can’t see odor and partly because the disease seemed like it was something
completely made up. For me, the fact that a smell is not visual was very
important, because the audience would have to use their imagination. For my
actors, working with something that wasn’t really there was a real challenge, and it meant that they had to totally rely on their sense memory in order to
make the story believable.

The strangeness of the
disease helped me create the style of the film, too. The “magical realism” that is
usually mentioned in discussions of Latin American literature permeates the whole film and opens up the possibility of taking the audience to a world that not everybody has access
to.

Trimethylaminuria, or fish
odor syndrome, can’t be cured. You have to learn to live with it, just as we all have to
learn to live with our flaws. As a filmmaker, I used the
disease as a metaphor in order to explore the differences that we all have as
individuals. That way, the audience would be able to relate to it. Also, the
fact that most people haven’t heard of this disease made it more interesting.
The first question I get during Q&A’s is usually about the disease and if
it’s real. I like the audience’s uncertainty about it. But the interesting
thing is, real or not, the ambiguity works for the story.

Finally, I’m proud to say
that this film is the first official Mexican/Canadian co-production. Since
it´s my first feature, a lot of people made a leap of faith, especially Niv
Fichman, the Canadian producer. As a Mexican woman director, I’m still amazed
that it actually happened at all. “Treading Water” initially started
with the intention of making a small and simple comedy in one location and ended
up being an international co-production with a wonderful cast, including
Carrie-Anne Moss, Zöe Kravitz, Douglas Smith, Ariadna Gil, Don McKellar, and Gonzalo Vega. Not even in my wildest dreams did I ever think that would happen.

Analeine Cal y Mayor is a Mexican screenwriter and director currently dealing with the
beauty and horror of living in Mexico. “
Treading
Water
,” her feature-film directorial debut, is a romantic, modern-day coming-of-age love story told through the eyes of a sensitive
boy who is forced to face life with a rare condition that leaves him smelling
like a fish. The film
will be released in theaters nationwide through The Orchard beginning this Friday, March 13th (at
the Cinema Village in NY, Laemmle Music Hall in LA, Sundance Cinema in Seattle,
Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Harkins Shea 114 in Phoenix, and Sundance Cinema in
Houston) and on iTunes, Amazon Watch Instantly, VUDU, Google Play/Youtube
Rentals, Xbox and PlayStation, and all US cable and satellite platforms
beginning March 10th.

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