The making of “Rudo y Cursi” was like a big fat family reunion. This clan, though, is linked by creative affinities as well as blood ties. And unlike many families that spring to mind, the “Rudo” collective is about mutual supportiveness and the celebration of brotherhood. Hard to sort out all the team’s affiliations, but here goes: “Rudo”‘s director/writer Carlos Cuaron is the younger brother of Alfonso Cuaron, director of “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” for which Carlos wrote the script. The film’s producers – bro Alfonso, Gullermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – are long-time collaborators working on their new production company, Cha Cha Cha with “Rudo.”
If you’re still with me: the film’s two stars, Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal – reunited on screen for the first time since “Mama” – have been buddies since childhood and run their own film company. Says Luna, “we’re in it together for the journey.”
Fittingly, “Rudo,” Cuaron’s first feature, explores the dynamics of brotherhood – an “emotional autobiography,” he calls it. Luna and Garcia Bernal play Rudo and Cursi, squabbling siblings who work on a banana plantation. Rudo (Spanish slang for tough) dreams of becoming a soccer star, while Cursi (or corny/cheesy), wants to be a pop singer; and both long to build their beleaguered mom a grand house on the beach. After soccer scout Batuta (Argentine comedian Guillermo Francella) spots their moves in a local game, the brothers head off to Mexico City to play the big leagues.
But success proves fickle and eventually the pair faces off in a climactic penalty kick, shot like a Sergio Leone Western. Though soccer is the context, “Rudo” uses the sport as a filter through which to tell a story of rivaly, aborted dreams, and the primacy of family. And the film’s comic elan is infused with dark social commentary. The rough-and-tumble rapport of Garcia Bernal and Luna bounces off the screen in the manner that made “Mama” such a joy; and Cuaron has fun with a cheesy music video of Garcia Bernal singing badly.
Beneath the horseplay “Rudo” implies that soccer and singing, the ticket out for Mexico’s slumdogs, work for only a tiny fraction. And the closing images of a wedding are shadowed by the narco money behind it and the installation of a drug lord as the new surrogate father. indieWIRE recently caught up with Carlos Cuaron when he was in town with his two delightful stars to promote the film.
indieWIRE: What originally inspired this film?
Carlos Cuaron: I first wanted to make a mockumentary about a soccer player who came from a humble background, who made it big, and when he was at the peak of his success mysteriously disappeared. When I told this idea to Gael and Diego separately, they both wanted to be that guy. But I had only one character, and I realized at that point that I wanted to work with both of them. So I told them it was going to be a sibling rivalry story. I told Gael I wanted him to play Cursi and Diego to play Rudo. And their first reaction was no, they wanted to play the other guy. And I told them that I didn’t want to repeat myself and make “Y Tu Mama Tambien #2” and I wanted to cast them against type. They got it immediately and started to throw ideas at me. They’re very proactive.
iW: How did you get the project off the ground?
CC: I pitched the idea to my brother and he said great, when you have a screenplay finished, I’ll produce it. And what do you think of Alejandro and Guillermo producing it? They had just formed Cha Cha Cha. It was a surprise to me but I was honored.
iW: Does the bond between Rudo and Cursi parallel yours with your brother?
CC: Oh, besides the fact that we’re both idiots? Look, brotherhood is universal and the way you relate to your siblnig is probably very close to the way I react to mine. You can have an argument and hate him and ten minutes later it’s fine. And then sometimes it’s 25 years later and it’s like, ‘Yeah, I hate you.’ That’s what brotherhood is all about. That’s what was so nice about Obama’s gesture in Tobago. Instead of making war, which is what Bush used to do, he said. ‘yeah, we don’t have to agree, but we can be friends.’
iW: With “Rudo” as the first film up from Cha Cha Cha, did it add to the pressure?
CC: I was too stupid, like a donkey following the carrot, I just wanted to make my movie. They gave me complete freedom, but were also very demanding because that’s the way they are, and that’s the way I am. They send me their scripts, we get into each other’s cutting room – so we sort of officialized the relationship with this production company. They gave me great feedback all the way.
iW: It seems you almost go out of your way not to show soccer in the movie. Why?
CC: Because it’s not a soccer movie. It’s a movie about brotherhood. Actually, I didn’t need to show soccer. If you like the game, there’s no better place than the stadium, or TV with all its cameras and slo-mo. There’s no way you can shoot that in a movie. What I show is the human emotion reacting to what’s on the field or the sportscasters narrating the game. And I only go into the field at the climactic moments of the rivalry between the two guys, because that’s what’s important.
Also, soccer is a sport that is not easy to dramatize. Baseball has pauses; between each pitch there’s something at stake. The same with American football, or boxing, the most dramatic sport. But with soccer the ball never stops, there’s no pause, no drama. The only real dramatic moment is the penalty kick. It becomes a Western duel, two guys facing each other, with destiny, a metaphorical death at stake.
iW: Did you have to teach your main actors soccer?
CC: Yes, they were such bad players. They trained for about two or three months. I wanted them to look real with the ball and the postures – also to get fit. Gael had to run a lot and the legs won’t react if you don’t have the physical capacity. I think they had a lot of fun, especially Gael. But Diego hates to be a goal keeper, so he suffered. Gael also took singing lesssons so he could control his voice enough to sing badly. He sings better in reality than the way he sings on screen.
iW: What’s it like to work with Gael and Diego?
CC: Their complicity and chemistry is something you can’t get with rehearsals. It really helps that they know each other and that we know each other so well. We know our strengths and weaknesses and each other’s moods. We could vent because that’s what you do with your siblings. But they were very respectful and knew that I had to fulfill my vision – and we shared that vision.
iW: Despite its high spirits, I came away feeling this was quite a dark movie.
C: Well, their sister marries a drug lord. My intention with the film was to create a social portrait of my country. Not just the class issues, but also show that the drug guys have penetrated every single thing in Mexico. In fact they have become perhaps the most solid institution in Mexico. The drug lords provide for the communities, build roads, churches, schools. What’s usual and sad now is that the drug world is recruiting young people – they have few other opportunities. The Mexican dream has become a nightmare. The other thing you can say is that drug dealers are bad and they kill people, but at the same time you have one million people working for them and they provide for one million families and that’s a lot.
iW: You’ve also described “Rudo”as a wolf hidden in a sheep’s skin. What’s the nature of the wolf? Dashed hopes?
CC: To me it’s reality. In reality a few people are champions, a very few get to be president. We’re used to Hollywood movies that say, oh yeah, that’s possible, but that’s a lie. And I like honesty above all. Life gives you beautiful moments and then next thing it’s totally dark and shitty and you want to kill yourself. The movie is about how life treats us. There’s no pure black and white, but all the tinges of gray.
iW: In fact, all through the film there’s the nagging sense the brothers are going to derail…
CC: That’s because they don’t have a platform – education. They can’t be successful in the materialistic sense. But I actually think these two guys are really succesful as human beings. They don’t succeed as soccer players because they have these flaws and screwed it up. But as brothers they do succeed. They come to terms with each other and they know that they have each other. In the most human way they are winners.
iW: The collective “family” that created “Rudo” is pretty remarkable. Is there something about your collaboration that’s particular to the Mexican culture?
CC: Probably. I think it has to do with the way we regard family. We can be scattered around the world and we can still be very close and know what’s happening with everyone. When you create strong friendships you become family. Alfonso is my brother, but the others have become my brothers in the process of making the movie.
iW: It sounds a little too good to be true.
CC: It sounds corny.
iW: People are by nature rivalrous.
CC: We admire each other and we don’t fee bad about saying that. Alfonso can come to me and say, ‘Great screenplay!’ and really mean it. But for the people outside our famly, yeah, there’s some jealousy.
iW: Do you fear having to compete with the big success of “Y Tu Mama Tambien?”
CC: I have to live with that, yes. But I don’t have to compete with anyone but myself. I don’t care about being better than the other guy, but can I be better than I was the day before? That kind of competition I do care about. Yet the comparisons between “Y Tu Mama” and “Rudo” are inevitable because it’s the same creative team. They are like sibling movies.
“Rudo” is somehow the continuation of the work that we started with “Mama.” That’s perfectly natural. There are many similarities and many differences. And the good news is that the comparison is with something I believe is a good movie. Same with my brother – there will always be comparisons between us, yeah! I’ve lived my life with that. I don’t have a problem. Do I feel bad? No! If he was a shitty filmmaker then I would feel bad. But he’s a great director so if I get compared to him I just feel that it’s good news.
iW: But sometimes one suffers by comparison.
CC: I don’t. Because I know that he is really talented and I’m grateful for what he has taught me. And he’s also very grateful for what I have given him… I will never be able to make a film like “Children of Men,” it’s amazing, one of my favorties. I will not attempt such a film – I don’t have the talent and I don’t care. I have my own path and we share a path together too. And we love that, we do not question that, we just do it.
iW: How did you move into filmmaking in the first place?
CC: When I was fourteen I decided I wanted to be a writer. So when Alfonso needed someone to write his scripts, he said, ‘hey you, you want to write? Come, help me.’ So that’s how we started to work together – I was nineteen back then. I decided to start directing in the mid ’90s. I had lunch with Guillermo and Alfonso and I was depressed and Guillermo said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I said I’ve written all these scripts and they don’t get produced, it’s like giving birth to dead babies, and he said, ‘well why don’t you direct them?’ And I thought, ‘yeah, he’s right.’ The thought had never crossed my mind because I’d wanted to be a writer and that was that. So I started writing scripts for short films and I did eight.
iW: Why has it taken you till age forty-two to make your first feature?
CC: I tried to make my first feature ten years ago, a completely different project. That project collapsed. At the same time a project of Alfonso’s collapsed And that’s how we ended up making “Mama.” I also discovered that I was not ready to direct a feature. All these years helped me a lot. I’ve done eight shorts. And it helped to work with Alfonso. That was school for me. I didn’t do film school, I was an English major.
iW: Would you like to do a film in Hollywood or an English-language film?
CC: I’m open to everything. If I get a good offer for a project I can connect with, I’ll do it. I would make a Hollywood movie as I would make an Argentinian movie or a Japanese movie.
iW: Is it important to you to write your own script?
CC: It’s important for me to connect with the material and feel it is close to me. If it’s not, it’s a waste of time because filmmaking is really tough and takes a lot of time and life is short. I’d rather be doing somethig else.
iW: What’s the quality most crucial for a director? I understand getting a vision to the page. But how do you put one on a screen?
CC: As a director you have to put yourself at the service of the project and not the other way around. Many directors have the projects at their service and that’s egotistical and narcissistic. If you put yourself at the service of your project, then all your team is going to die for it. Because they’ll see your attitude. They won’t die for you personally, but they will die for your project and that’s what you want.