VLAFF's "We All Have Sinned" brings new twist to death
Where do people's souls go after death? For many Christians, it’s Heaven guarded by Saint Peter, full of angels floating on clouds or Hell, where flames burn endlessly and sinners are subjected to eternal punishment. So how people’s souls get to their final destinations?
Mexican director Alejandro Ramírez, who is presenting his film Todos somos pecadores (We All Have Sinned) at the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival, has a very particular vision of the afterlife.
Death or la Chingada Vieja (Damned Woman) has a strenuous job at Death Bus Central: to pick up dead souls with her old truck, "Matador" and drop them off at Heaven, Hell and Purgatory -- destinations which are never seen.
On her way, she meet lost souls who are terrified by her presence. Even though she’s strong-willed and tough, Death feels lonely and incapable to love. Nobody wants to face her, everyone rejects her and shuts the door at the very sight of her. Her sole presence is the cause of pain and grief for most.
It's then that she meets the Man Without Name, a tender soul who professes his unconditional love for her and is eager to help her through her daunting daily job dragging the newly dead through the desert and having to deal with angry villagers. Until tragedy knocks on Death’s door.
Filmed in five weeks, around 12 towns of the Puebla State, Mexico, and having as a background the desert, Ramirez’ an conventional image of the Death, Hell and Heaven that differs Christian’s preconceptions.
The Vancouver Film School alumni started to muse about the afterlife when his father and brother passed away.
“I have always heard about death of others, but when you experience it close to you, with the people you love, many feelings arose. Also many desires, and one of them it is to imagine where my beloved dead ones had gone,” Ramirez said in an interview after the Mexican Gala screening on Wednesday.
The desert was a sentimental scenario to his heart, he said, as it was one of his father’s favourite places to visit. It was also an ideal place Ramirez thought the desert because it is a very rural, typical Mexican scenario.
We All Have Sinned is divided in three chapters and an epilogue just like a book, a well-crafted non-lineal narrative. The second chapter is very particular -- it represents a rosary (a beaded necklace for prayers), and every scene a mystery.
Ramirez’s first feature is a sarcastic take on Catholicism and how people sometimes engage with religion in a mechanical way. He’s observed how people pray, without even realizing the value of the words they repeat. However, his approach is not offensive. Ramirez said that some get the critique right away, while for others it’s just a 'nice homage to religion'.
“It critiques but without being destructive, it simply presents the reality and sarcasm," he said.
Death has been one the ultimate mystery from the dawn of humanity and artists of every discipline have tried to represent in very particular fashion as a way to unveil its secret.
The film seems to evoke the imaginary voyage that medieval Italian writer Dante Alighieri embarked through Heaven, Hell and Purgatory in his masterpiece “The Divine Comedy”.
In Mexico, We All Have Sinned has been compared to Pedro Paramo by Mexican writer, Juan Rulfo. Ramirez explains he’s also recently heard a comparison with Macondo, the chaotic village that Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia-Marquez created for his classic novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude”.
"I think most cultures are always close to these interpretations: in every religion, in every country ,we give the interpretation that we want to our heaven, hell or our purgatory," he said. "I come from a Catholic family, where you are born, grow up and die with these pre-conceived ideas of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory."
However, this movie carries its own symbolism and lyricism that visualize the director's very particular philosophy about the afterlife.
“I don’t try to pay homage or to do something similar to the works of Dante Alighieri [or others’], or it’s [even] an influence, but I am pleased that the public recognize this type of works, which make us think that a work of art is the reality in which we as humanity live with.”
In order to create a new and unique film, Ramirez realized the need to break the mould, to make a unique representation of Death that differs from previous works from cinema, painting, literature or other disciplines.
As for the cast, We All Have Sinned has a line-up of big Mexican stars such as Patricia Reyes Spindola, Angélica Aragon, María Rojo, Mario Almada, Julio Bracho, Alberto Estrella, among many others.
“All of the casting’s selection begins from an admiration and recognition of Mexican cinema’s history, subject I’ve taught for 10 years.”
“Suddenly there was the opportunity to shoot a film with the actors I admired. It was the thrill of showing them the script that they'd liked it. And it was surprising to see actors that I admired very much coming to me and offering themselves to work in my film,” he explained.
Through his film, Ramirez attempts to give Death a different perspective and show that there is more than sadness at its arrival.
“It’s about to reconcile with this process, which is dying, to stop seeing it with sadness and realize that is [just] another step in life," he said.
"To think that, perhaps we can arrive to a wonderful world where we can have a good time. And that nobody is a saint, nobody is good or bad, that it all depends on the circumstances in which we are [at the moment] and the best thing to do, it’s to be congruent. To love [...] and to enjoy every moment in life.”
We All Have Sinned plays today at the Pacific Cinemateque at 4:45 p.m. For more films screening at VLAFF, visit: www.vlaff.org