With the exception of a few festival screenings, the films of Nicolás Pereda have remained relatively unseen in the city in which the director resides. Now, after winning the Orizzonti Prize at the 2010 Venice film festival for Summer of Goliath, this "rising star of contemporary Mexican cinema" (Haden Guest, Harvard Film Archive), finally receives a retrospective in his adopted hometown of Toronto.
Made on a modest scale that belies their ambitious and intricate construction, Pereda's films — which have earned comparisons to the work of such major contemporary filmmakers as Pedro Costa, Lisandro Alonso, Tsai Ming-liang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul — possess a formal rigour that is both challenging and playful, inviting the audience to engage in the process of making meaning. Replete with recurring actors, characters, settings and themes, these intriguing works defy easy classification, forming a self-contained cinematic world that morphs and evolves in fascinating ways from one film to the next.
Born in Mexico City in 1982, Pereda studied film at York University in Toronto, where he met his compatriot and regular cinematographer Alejandro Coronado. Returning to Mexico to make his first feature, Where Are Their Stories?, Pereda teamed up for the first time with his two key actors, Teresa Sánchez and Gabino Rodríguez, who would play variations on a mother-son duo in the films to come. Where Are Their Stories? immediately establishes Pereda's recurring themes, as he explores two important dichotomies in Mexican society — rural/urban and working class/bourgeoisie — through a deceptively simple story about a young man (Rodríguez) who travels to the city in an attempt to save his ailing grandmother's farm, where he is faced with his inability to emotionally connect with his mother (Sánchez), who works as a housekeeper.
Pereda's second and third films, Juntos and Perpetuum Mobile, introduced two more of the director's stock company of actors, Luisa Pardo (as Gabino's girlfriend) and Francisco Barreiro (as Gabino's slacker buddy), and continued his investigation of class difference in very different modes. Juntos is an intense study of the disintegration of a working-class couple's relationship, set almost completely within their dysfunctional urban apartment; Perpetuum Mobile, Pereda's version of a slacker comedy, focuses on two movers who, while relishing the freedom their profession gives them, are forever reliant on the upper-middle class that they serve. Both films conclude, albeit with very different purposes and tones, in a trip out of the stifling city to the country, which opens up a myriad of mysteries and possibilities.
With the short film Interview with the Earth and the award-winning Summer of Goliath, Pereda added two crucial new elements to his cinema. The critique of masculinity evident in his earlier films becomes more explicit, with the recurring absence of father figures undermining the myth of traditional patriarchal authority, while the macho posturing of wandering soldiers expresses a latent violence within the once idyllic countryside. Secondly, Pereda's formal experimentation becomes far more pronounced, as he blurs fiction and non-fiction through an array of devices (direct-address interviews, a self-reflexive acknowledgment of the process of filming) and in ever more intricate ways.
In a remarkably prolific output of six feature films over four years, Pereda has both cemented his auteurist signature while allowing his recurring characters and themes to evolve in wholly unexpected directions. While Pereda's new film Greatest Hits is indeed a summary of sorts, it is also a departure for radically new territory in its daring formal manoeuvre of replacing the actor who plays the film's absentee father figure halfway through and starting the story afresh, allowing the personality of the new performer to dictate a different course to the events already witnessed. It is this delicate balance of chance and control that makes Pereda's cinematic world so fresh and vital, at once instantly recognizable yet capable of reinventing itself with every new film.
Thanks to Nicolás Pereda; Sandro Fiorin, FiGa Films; Maximiliano Cruz and Sandra Gómez, Interior 13.