Jack Toye spoke to Alex Anwandter, the filmmaker behind YOU’LL NEVER BE ALONE, at Berlinale 2016.
Jack Toye: You’re director, writer and executive producer for this film – is this the way you get a first feature film made in Chile in 2016?
Alex Anwandter: It’s very hard to find financial support, and it all pretty much boils down to a few government funds, which all people are ready to take each other’s eyes for. It’s kind of a cruel competition. That’s about it – there’s not really many other ways of doing it. So it’s pretty hard, and one would say, independent.
JT: As a type of national cinema, we do get some Chilean films in the UK. I did a quick Wikipedia search of LGBT-themed Chilean films…
AA: That must have been quick!
JT: [laughs] Yes, there was one feature and two shorts, and even then I’m not sure if they’ve made it out of Chile. Is this a genre that is well known in Chile, and is on the ascendancy now?
AA: More than a genre, it’s probably a subject that hasn’t been addressed in all sorts of fiction in Chile – from novels to films to TV series, just anything. It mirrors our attitude as a society.
JT: And what was it about Berlinale that drew you to bring your first feature film here?
AA: Certainly Berlinale is known to embrace films with LGBT issues and subject matters. It feels very natural to start a relationship with such a festival that traditionally has embraced the values which the movie shares.
JT: In the UK we have a small indpendent distributor called Peccadillo Pictures, and their main output theatrically and for the home market is LGBT cinema and World Cinema, with a slant towards Latin American cinema. Is there anything like that in Chile at the moment?
AA: No. Gay issues actually stir a reaction in societies such as mine. I wouldn’t expect you to be aware of everyday life in Chile, but you’ll often get harassed if you hold hands with your same-sex partner in the street. I have friends that have personally been chased with iron rods down the streets because they “looked gay”. So it’s quite a different reality to some European countries or the US.
JT: I know South America is a massive continent, so it might be unfair to make this comparison, but we had Karim Ainouz, the director of FUTURO BEACH, over to Cambridge last year and he said a similar thing about Brazil. But to a UK audience, Latin America is percieved as an accepting, tolerant continent for LGBT people.
“That mixture of machismo, conservatism and catholicism does cross the whole of Latin America.”
AA: You know, I wouldn’t be afraid to paint the whole of Latin America in one thick brush stroke, but in one sense it shares a very strong tradition of conservative values, inherited from Catholicism mainly. That mixture of sexism, which we have a specific word for: machismo, it comes from macho. It marks a subtle difference from sexism as it references very much the difference between the macho-ness demanded of everything. It’s the pop term for the patriarchy. That mixture of machismo, conservatism and catholicism does cross the whole of Latin America. So we do share the same reality in that sense. What you might perceive as acceptance is more of a glee and joi de vivre rather than acceptance. They’re not exclusive at all. You can have a very happy people who are also very violent and discriminatory too.
JT: I loved the set-up in the film of Juan, the father, whose job it is to make identical white mannequins for a living, but who has produced a son who is so unique and individual that it leads to him being hospitalised. Where did the inspiration for this part of the film come from?
AA: The structure of the film is symbolic of the discussion I wanted to have with the audience, or the type of vehicle I want the film to be regarding its themes. It’s a way of saying that my true purpose is to move the focus from the subject of who suffers violence towards the subject of who allows the violence. That is done both structurally and through this shift of characters. The father is a perfect symbolic figure with which to do that, and he is literally the person who is teaching his son “how to be a man” and failing miserably.
JT: At a time in the UK where our government is “revising” our National Health Service and our junior doctors are on strike as their contracts are being changed against their wishes, I was shocked at the expense of Pablo’s facial reconstruction surgery. Is the film partly a comment on the health service in Chile, and what it’s like to be a cohesive, affordable society?
AA: What you saw in the film was actually a private health service. It’s a complex system in Chile, but it kind of works the same way as our education system. This opens up big questions, but during our dictatorship and afterwards, most of our life is influenced by decisions imposed on us by the dictatorship. Many things were privatised: our pension system, all the education system and more. The role of the state was reduced to its bare minimum.
“I don’t really believe in pontificating as a writer or a director.
Basically, Milton Friedman used us a laboratory. One of the things that suffered the most was the health system. The public health system is in a horrible state. It’s very low in quality and people usually turn to private alternatives which work as a business and try to profit as much as possible – even when the life of a boy who has been attacked may be at stake. But that is actually a better alternative in the mind of many than going to a public hospital.
JT: Is the film in part a way of bringing that message outside of Chile in a creative form – using art to expose life?
AA: “Expose” is a word I would agree with. I don’t really believe in pontificating as a writer or a director. Whatever you want to say won’t really get across if you have that attitude. If you set yourself to explore and analyse, to attach emotions to that exploration of ideas, that will probably cause an effect similar to getting a message across. Even though a message can never be as simple as “Don’t be homophobic” or “Enough with the horrible health system” it has to be more subtle and attached to specific emotions of empathy.
JT: This is a powerful film which carries a weight to it, in part due to the horrific act of violence that occurs about halfway through. As the filmmaker, are you in a serious and sombre mood when attending festivals with the film?
AA: Not a sombre mood, but it’s weird being an ambassador of violence somehow. Not that I advocate violence, of course. I do it with a kind of heavy heart talking about my context, because it seems like terrible sad stories, but they’re actually less horrible than what really happened. I myself saw the beating scene what felt like a million times in the edit, but I was always affected by it. It’s a terrible thing to watch. I wrote it and directed it and remember the fake blood and makeup on set, and still it’s such a terrible idea for something like that to happen that it never ceases to affect me. I don’t think it should ever cease to.