Fortunately, she says, in Latin America the stories have not dried up, and so we have the cinema that Hollywood wanted to have.
Nubia Piqueras Grosso
They met 32 years ago and have been united ever since by a passion that transcends even love: cinema. They make an enviable team; she handles the scripts and he takes care of direction and filming.
“Arturo Ripstein and I met through work, after I wrote the first script for him, and we became a couple when I wrote the second”, recalls renowned Mexican screenwriter Paz Alicia Garciadiego in an exclusive interview with PL.
Although she wrote film scripts for other directors on two occasions, she recognises that it wasn’t the same: “we no longer even need to discuss the unnecessary things in a film.
“So far, we’ve done 15 films together, so it’s an easy process. We also have the same aesthetics, if not we wouldn’t continue”, she states.
– And what is it like to work for him?
There could be no other answer: “Normally, I discuss what I want to write with him, as part of my creative process, and sometimes he tells me which ideas appeal to him. But the most important work we do together is defining the purpose of the story and what we are saying with it.
“Ripstein is the sort of director that if I ask about the camera movement, he gives me reasons relating to the story, not technical ones. I understand the reasoning behind his mise-en-scène and this is very gratifying for me, it’s something I didn’t find with the other directors I worked with”, she says.
But that’s not all: “I almost always write with (Arturo) Ripstein and for Ripstein, and once I start I ask him what he thinks of so-and-so for the role”, she explains, referring to the casting of actors, a task she also shared with associates on the film set.
“I had an assistant from Cuba who did around seven films with us and she constantly travelled from Cuba to Mexico to work with us. One of the exercises I did with her was to ask which actor would bring the character in the story I was writing to life, and in most cases, she got it right”, remembers Alicia Garciadiego.
“In my case, when I write scripts I am thinking of the actor who will personify the story. I know almost all the actors in casting and I pay attention to those whose acting I like. I try to follow their tone of voice, inflection and physique, so that they are the protagonists”, she says. However, her greatest privilege is not having a good ear or being the screenwriter for a film project, but being the wife of the director. This allows her to go to the studios every day and not suffer the same fate as her colleagues.
“Screenwriters always complain that directors hijack their creation, make alterations and in the end the story is not as they wrote it. However, when you are on the set you are a participant and therefore complicit in any change, so they don’t snatch away your story, instead you see it from within”.
For Alicia, telling a story through images and narrative are key to creating a good film script, in which the main attraction is the way in which the story is told, rather than the characters or messages.
No “El coronel no tiene quien le escribe” (One writes to the colonel) is testimony to this. One of her best-known works, it is based on the 1961 novel of the same name by deceased Nobel Laureate (1982) Gabriel García Márquez.
“Everyone always remembers the plot: a man who is waiting to receive a letter. But you cannot put the 20 years spent waiting on a quay into the film, so other stories are developed at the same time, which I wanted to adapt to Mexico. A decision they still haven’t forgiven me for in Colombia”, she comments.
“There were many things, such as the political differences between liberals and conservatives, that I wasn’t concerned about reflecting, because in Mexico we haven’t had these arguments since the 1940s”.
All the same, “when I started to write the script adaptation, I was conscious that there was a story buried in García Márquez’s novel: an elderly couple who lost a son and whose death is in between them, seeing who first betrays the other by dying”, she recalls.
“And it was this story of ancient love that I wanted to tell. So, I focused on this because it worked better for cinema, by allowing me to create more characters”, explains Alicia, who is also the screenwriter of important films such as “Profundo carmesí” (Deep crimson) and “Así es la vida” (Such is life). These are stories that stem from her imagination, real-life facts, or adaptations of celebrated literary texts.
For Alicia, the script’s role in a film is central, “because it creates the story, the characters and what they say, but is also the space in which they express their views”.
Put simply, “the script is the selling tool” and in the case of adaptations, “I turn almost 90% of the original into minced meat and then I form it into the meatball that, in my view, the film needs”.
On this topic, Alicia feels more comfortable with original scripts, because “when I think about a story for the cinema I know about the film in advance, the requirements; but when I adapt a novel, it is often difficult to typecast it for the cinema, as I found with a novel by Egyptian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1988), Naguib Mahfuz.”
“His work was magnificent, beautiful, but so well-constructed that if I removed an episode the narrative structure collapsed around me; yet it was very difficult to put 500 pages, with a different culture to ours, into a film”, she states.
“When I adapt a novel for a film I remove the author’s name and exchange it for my own, as was the case in No One Writes to the Colonel, which I decided to write and film in Mexico, as I’m not Colombian. My family is from Veracruz, from the tropics, so I decided to begin the story by describing my grandmother’s doorway.
“From that moment the film was mine, and then you have only one loyalty: that the film turns out well, because the novel is already there, and nobody will damage it”, states Garciadiego.
When I inquire about Mexican cinema, she says that it’s in the best health ever, “because the golden age of cinema created the Mexico that many wanted us to be, and that we were not.
“It was a Mexico – she adds – that, if it behaved well, became first world. But in truth, this Mexico never existed, whether well or badly behaved. The point is to talk about the Mexico that exists, and not about what we believed we could be”.
She categorically affirms that themes in cinema have not been exhausted, just that she thinks “that the big Hollywood studios have ended up in the hands of youngsters who studied business administration and don’t want to take any risks, so they started making remakes and things for public and box office approval. Fortunately, in our countries the stories have not dried up, and so we have the cinema that Hollywood wanted to have”. (PL)
(Translated by Rebecca Ndhlovu)