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Chilean Cineaste Spices Up SF Film Festival
by Doniphan Blair
Sandoval Showing Off for the Girls at the SFIFF closing party, a perfect wrap for the three-week tour through the best of current cinema. photo CineSource
Filmmaker causes furor in person but delight on the screen
Ché Sandoval staggered into the tony Clay Theater, his long hair stylishly amuss, the gorgeous Chilean trade commissioner, Viviana Araneda, in tow. At 25, Sandoval is Chile’s hottest new export and the youngest narrative feature director at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF), which should be commended for its broad reach. Although his film didn’t take home a prize, if there was one for titles, it surely would have won, as noted by the festival representative who introduced him.
Sandoval stepped to the mike and mumbled a few off-topic remarks, much in the manner of one of his characters – albeit not too off-color. I guess he was tapped out from earlier that evening at the Porchlight event, where a few directors were invited to tell a short unscripted story. Sandoval’s concerned once when he was drunk and hitchhiking, and got accosted by a gay man and then a not-great-looking woman, albeit recounted in terms not often heard around SF.
“Are we going to take hearing about this?!?” one woman stood up and shouted, as the audience began to boo. Perhaps Sandoval identified a San Francisco cinema problem: drama is not politically correct. Alas, what do you expect with a title like “You Think You’re the Prettiest (But You’re the Sluttiest)”? Although it insinuates a wildness in Chilean women (heretofor unfairly unrecognized), what the PC police didn’t know is that Sandoval’s stories generally wind around to eviscerating himself and his friends as well as men in general.
Sandoval, who directed and wrote the script – it was his thesis for the Escuela de Cine de Chile (which co-produced, along with Carlos Alvarez and Antonino Ballestrazzi) – gets this slice of life surprisingly right. It has just enough bizarre plot development and romantic rumination to keep us engaged but not enough camera jiggle, poor exposure or solipsism to turn us off.
“You Think You’re the Prettiest” follows the travails of a whiny but lovable space cadet, played by Sandoval’s best friend, Martín Castillo, as he hits on girls, deals with premature ejaculation, sees his new girlfriend stolen by his best friend, destroys that friend’s graffiti art, lets himself get socked in the jaw for a buck, and, all in all, endures one tough night (probably worse then Sandoval’s evening of bad sex and queer come-ons). With its florid chapter titles and long Warholesque scenes, the 80-minute “You Think You’re the Prettiest” is a tender, incisive, modernist and real romantic comedy.
Sandoval’s Antihero finally gets some in “You Think You’re Prettiest,” as James Dean looks down from above. photo Punk Panthera Productions
In addition to Castillo, the young Santiago actors Francisco Braithwaite, Camila Le-Bert, and Andrea Riquelme do an excellent job of rendering our dreamy, oversexed, and avant neighbors to the South. Although the girls are slandered in the title, they enjoy strong parts (perhaps influenced by Michelle Bachelet, the single mother doctor turned prime minister, who ruled Chile while the film was made) while the boys are skewered as pedantic romantics, bozos and dorks.
“Variety” called “You Think You’re the Prettiest” the “coolest calling card yet” from Chilean cinema. “We all liked its energy and its youth,” said Rachel Rosen, programming director for SFIFF. “There was no pre-calculated idea that we could take it to spice things up.” Any blow back from the “Porchlight Incident,” I wondered?
“My favorite thing about the festival was the live, onstage events, since you never know would happen. He was trying to be provocative and completely misjudged his audience [but] it was electrifying and fascinating to witness. Anything that makes someone stand up and scream is good. I don’t think we’ve had anything quite like that happen, [although] I think Graham [Legget, SFIFF director] said he told a story at Porchlight once that didn’t go over very well.”
At any rate, “You Think You’re the Prettiest” is currently progressing nicely through the thicket of international festivals and may garner commercial distro and theatrical dates. We caught up with Sandoval via email after he finished touring and was back in his beloved Santiago. Figuring we might as well get the dirt out of the way, we started with:
So, how did you feel about the reaction to your Porchlight story?
I feel good. I didn’t want to offend anyone. I am not a homophobe or misogynist. I think the people took it too personally, but my idea was to laugh at myself. The instructions [from Porchlight] were to tell a story as if it were told to a friend – this is exactly what I did! Later, I had to explain myself throughout the festival but I believe no one came away with a bad impression of me.
Are you just into being honest?
I told a story that was real. I said what I thought in these moments of the people in question. But only of them. I have nothing against the gays but I wanted to excel in my storytelling and I obviously have bad memories of [the guy that picked him up hitchhiking and accosted him]. About the ‘ugly girls:’ I believe that I have the right to consider some girls pretty and others ugly. But that freedom has nothing to do with my respect [for them].
Do you believe a filmmaker has to help create the ambiance of his story to help both the marketing and the identification with the characters?
I believe that as well. A story never is one truth. The moment someone is telling something it is a fictionalized memory. Reality is only something that happens in the present. Once it has happened, it is fiction.
So, it is OK to lie to tell the truth or make art?
I don’t know where truth exists. In art, there exists honesty and each [artist] is honest in their way. There does exists a closeness to reality, but a work of art will never be the truth. I believe those things are incompatible.
How did you like the festival overall?
I enjoyed it a lot. It was very comfortable for all the invited guests and the organizers were excellent. And I would be enchanted to return in the future for another Porchlight.
That was a pretty big role for your friend Martín [Castillo], who’s in virtually every frame. Did you ever doubt he could handle it?
No, we rehearsed a lot, so I knew he could do it.
What do you think of Mumblecore?
It is good trend that is necessary in post-’90s cinema. I hope it spreads around the world – not only in the US.
Is there a counterpart in Chile?
No. There is no movement here. I think my film is the closest to that. But if there is a large number of young people who like Mumblecore, we will create a movement.
Is there a film movement currently in Chile?
They are making lots of films and the themes have modernized but they don’t have a lot of things in common.
Who are your favorite Chilean directors?
Raul Ruiz, in his time, and Cristián Sánchez.
South American directors?
Martín Rejtman [Argentina].
Filmmakers in general?
Jim Jarmusch, John Cassavettes, Jean-Luc Godard and Andrew Bujalski [the ‘Godfather of Mumblecore,’ director ‘Funny Ha Ha,’ 2002]
What do you think of Alejandro Jodorowsky?
I don’t much like the films of Jodorowsky, nor do I believe in ‘psycho-magical.’ I only saw two films and liked ‘Holy Mountain’ more then ‘El Topo.’ I know he is a great talent in Chilean cinema and literature but he is not to my taste.
Do you have a specific interest in the personal and eschew the political?
I have interest in what I know. Perhaps when I know the political a little more I will make a political film.
What is your next project?
It is a spin-off of my first. I take a secondary character from ‘You Think You’re the Prettiest’ and tell their story of the same night.
Posted on Jun 04, 2010 - 03:04 PM