One of my favorite films that I saw at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival was Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona, a devastating and haunting exploration of the real-life horrors of genocide in Guatemala pitted against the mythology of La Llorona, the weeping woman who roams the Earth in search of children to claim as her own in the afterlife. While in Park City, Daily Dead spoke with Bustamante about the themes he confronts in his latest film project, why it made sense to make some changes to the lore of La Llorona for this story, and why sound was just as integral to him as the visual elements of La Llorona.
I really loved La Llorona. I just thought it was such an incredibly powerful statement about these ghosts from the past, and how do we reconcile things that the people that we love have done and end up letting go of some of those terrible things that have happened as well. So, really, congratulations. It's a beautiful film.
Jayro Bustamante: Thank you so much. Thank you. It was to me very important. It was kind of a danger to make this film, because there is always this kind of fear coming from the world because America is still in the power, and Guatemala is still a very conservative and very rough country. I was fortunate that a lot of people wanted to make this film with me, the actors and the crew, but they all agreed that it was important to tell this story about Guatemala. So, I think really it's all because of teamwork at the end that it even happened.
Absolutely. I would love to talk a little bit about using genre elements to heighten the reality-based dramatic elements in your story. I'm curious why it felt for you so perfect to marry the supernatural elements versus the real-life horrors of what Enrique has done, for La Llorona?
Jayro Bustamante: Oh yeah, that's so interesting because for the first time when I started working on that project I talked a lot about using supernatural horror for this story. In a part, it is because in Guatemala nobody wants to talk about the genocide, and nobody wants to talk about things from our recent history. Nobody knows about that. I can understand that in other countries people don't know about that, but in Guatemala, it's kind of a crazy thing that it’s ignored.
I did a study about the new generation to understand the movies that they are consuming today, to try and make the film in the form that they would accept. The study showed to me that they are consuming superhero and horror films. When I was informed of that, we knew that the evidence was saying that if I want to talk about genocide, horror is the perfect form to do that. Because to me, there is not any other human act more horrific than a genocide.
After that, I started thinking about using La Llorona as a metaphor for what was happening in Guatemala, where you have this mother who has lost her children, and this whole concept worked very well, so at the end, I was very happy with how it came together. And all horror elements gave me a lot of freedom to make this film, and say the things I wanted to say here.
This story also becomes this powerful statement of women reclaiming their own sense of power. And I was just curious, is that something that was conscientious to you, or is it me just reading into things a bit more than I should?
Jayro Bustamante: Oh, thanks. I'm so happy that you felt that way, because to me, it was a very important part of this story. I knew I wanted to change the original La Llorona legend because it's about a woman who is crying because a man abandoned her and she kills her own children, and I think that La Llorona has more relevant things to cry about. So, we wanted to change that image of La Llorona, and make her a hero of justice. So, that was the first step. The second step was talking about all the people who live in oppression and talk about discrimination. In Guatemala, we don't have problems with minorities. We have problems with majorities, and it's a country who discriminates against indigenous people, even though more than 70 percent are indigenous. And it's a country who discriminates against women, and more than 54 percent of the Guatemalans are women.
So at the end, what we are talking about are discriminated majorities. So to me, it was an opportunity to put together these two big groups of people who are so fearful of discrimination and say, "Now, is the moment to make a revolution." And when I say "revolution," I don't mean taking up arms and going to fight. That doesn't work. Revolution involves people who are conscious about their own rights, and they fight to keep those rights.
I know we're getting close on time, but before we go, I wanted to discuss the use of sound design in this movie. It's crucial in every film, but I think here it's so interesting because you have everything that's going on in the house during the day, and you have those suppressive chants from outside, which are wearing down on the characters. But it almost wears down on you as a viewer as well. And then, how that is juxtaposed against the quietness of the night scenes, it’s so immersive.
Jayro Bustamante: Oh, thank you. We really wanted the sound to be as important as the image. To me, movie sound and image are both very important. Sometimes, a film doesn't work well when the image is more important than sound. In this film, image was really relevant because we wanted to use all the call-outs of horror films, to give it a nice atmosphere at night, where you feel like we were in this kind of magical reality. But, at the same time, we have to use all the elements of political and independent cinema, to make all the things happen out of the frame. And with sound, you can really amplify that because of those chants, the audience can imagine everything that is happening all around these characters.
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[Photo Credits: Above photos courtesy of Sundance Institute.]