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Gael García Bernal: Revolución in a Bergman-less World

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Riot police held back protesters and security was extra tight Friday at the Palais of the Cannes Film Festival in response to the protest surrounding the screening of Rachid Bouchareb's Hors-la-loi (Outside the Law), which takes place during the Algerian struggle for independence from France after World War II.

Just paces down the Croisette sitting on a white leather couch in front of the makeshift sandbar of the Terrazza Martini and on a break from jury duty for the festival was Gael García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries, Amores Perros - 2004 and 2000, respectively), speaking about his directorial adventure with Revolución, a film the Mexican government commissioned ten 10 minute films from 10 Mexican directors to "make something out of what we think of what had happened to Mexico during the last 100 years after the Revolution," according to fellow filmmaker Mariana Chenillo.

Originally screened at the Berlin Film Festival, Revolución premiered Thursday morning at Critics' Week in Cannes, and will move on to premiere in Mexico on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Mexican Revolution in November of this year.

"Directing is very scary, very daunting, no? In a way?" Bernal inquires offhandedly, not in deliberate search of an answer. "Being an actor helped me. Perhaps I wanted to have a bit more control of wanting to tell something (a story), because I have been working in films where I don't know the result, and I'm not part of the result. I wanted to experience that, to understand it more, to learn that." In Bernal's film, ("Lucio"), Lucio, a young boy, spends a weekend with his grandmother and cousins preparing for his flag salute at school. The visit of his rebellious cousin Omar makes him reflect on the true meaning of patriotic actions and symbols.

"I still feel incredibly green," Bernal confesses. "There's a big road to go ahead and keep trying. My only criticism I would have of film directors is that that they have less lives than actors," Gael squints in the sun and his fellow filmmakers nod in agreement and laugh at the time consuming labor of love that is directing a movie.

"We love criticizing our own country," says Patricia Riggen, who's humorous and moving "Beautiful & Beloved" follows Elisa, an American citizen who travels back to Mexico to bury her father in his home country he fled so many years ago. In just 10 short minutes she manages to have her audience laughing and tearing up simultaneously. "It's really outstanding that they are financing a movie that's so critical, and that they gave us complete freedom to do whatever we wanted."

"Humor has been perhaps the best means of expression to talk about our reality. That's the way it's done. The first critical voices of the revolution exercised their thoughts by making jokes," says Bernal.

"It's very funny," Rodrigo Plá chimes in. Rodrigo's "30/30" charts the emotional course of the grandson of Pancho Villa as he partakes in the one hundred year celebration of the Mexican Revolution. "We all received a letter from the president of Mexico saying 'Congratulations,' - he is very happy we are in Cannes... and all the films are criticizing the government!" Rodrigo and his comrades howl with laughter.

"We all opened them and laughed. It was a joke in my family," Mariana joins in.

"It's a very nice piece of paper, it's a different kind from the normal paper, it's smaller and it has the eagle of our flag and it's very pretty," Riggen smiles as she describes the letter and Bernal listens attentively at this news. (His letter must have gotten lost in the mail.) "I respect that institution, I just don't respect our present government or any of our last governments, so I have mixed feelings," Riggen explains.

Deftly managing to deliver great storytelling with thought-provoking message and just the right dose of humor, each of the pieces complement one another and are representative of the power of cinema to evoke a visceral emotional reaction that can spur dialogue and hold a mirror up to the society from which it originates. It's encouraging that these kind of projects are getting made in today's world, even when, if not especially when they are funded by a corrupt government they seek to expose.

In the midst of the beeline of security one had to subject himself to in order to enter the Palais this morning, former journalist, director/writer and Ingmar Bergman expert, Stig Björkman, stopped at the Nespresso stand to chat about his current project, Men filmen ar min alskarinna (But film is my mistress), a documentary of filmmakers such as Woody Allen, Lars von Trier, Martin Scorsese, and Bernardo Bertolucci, speaking about how their work has been heavily influenced by Ingmar Bergman. Björkman has penned and filmed several Bergman projects, including the well-known book, Bergman on Bergman.

Being that Björkman spent so much time with Bergman, studying him, following him, I asked him to describe Bergman's creative process. "He had a very thorough and skillful preparation," he shares. "He worked very much like they do in the theater -- when all the people, the actors who are going to be in the play and the people working with the lights, all the technical things -- everyone reads the play aloud together. Everybody has their questions and Bergman tries to tell his vision of the thing. This is how he prepared his movies. He had conferences with the crew and actors. They would just read the script from start to finish, and go through all eventual problems that might come up during the work. They would discuss them early on, which would make it much easier during the filming."

Björkman recognizes the industry has changed significantly over the last 40 years. It's a far cry from the unguarded days when he used to run into Roman Polanski or Alfred Hitchcock on the Croisette on their way to dinner. "Everybody has points of views on what you are going to make, so it can become schizophrenic, because of course you want to make your film as you foresee it," he shares.

"Sometimes I lecture at the film school in Stockholm, mainly about acting and practical things around that, and then I usually show excerpts from different films -- sometimes from a Bergman film. When you discuss it with them, many of these young people haven't even seen a Bergman film before they entered film school." I gasp silently that a Swedish filmmaker wouldn't be familiar with his own national treasure and cultural lineage.

"There was a Swedish feature film seen in cinemas last year, a feature length film shot with a telephone. It was a very personal film about a director who has just lost his girlfriend to somebody else -- (John) Cassavetes style," Björkman relays this tale of just one direction in which cinema is headed.

"There's already a good future in cinema, from what I've seen," Bernal muses, contemplating the job of the jury to choose a winner of the Palme d'Or, to be announced at the closing ceremony this coming Sunday.

"Judging part is kind of a game, really -- maybe an unjust game from some. Some people don't give too much importance to it. I prefer not to give it too much importance. We have to give one award, and I would say there are 6 films that we already saw that I would definitely give the award. Some films receive a lot of help when they win an award. It's a big thing. Some films really make a thing out of it, and some films exist regardless of the award," Bernal points to the life Amores Perros went on to have when it lost the Caméra d'Or to an Iranian film.

"Films -- it's not the World Cup, so it's difficult that they (have to) compete against each other."