Swedish film-lovers fall for Mexican talent

A warm Latin American breeze is warming Gothenburg film-lovers this winter, as the city's film festival adopts a Mexican accent, writes Matt O'Leary.

The presence of one of international film’s hottest talents has given an air of glamour to this year’s Gothenburg Film Festival, showing that while the festival might have a niche reputation it has earned international respect.

This year’s festival has a Mexican feel to it with Motorcycle Diaries star Gael García Bernal DJ-ing to a crowd of adoring fans and movie buffs at the opening party.

Bernal was in Gothenburg to introduce his directorial debut film Deficit and gave two masterclasses – one on new talent, and one with partner Pablo Cruz on the film-making process.

“Bernal is a superstar. It was a one-man show. A lot of young Swedish film-makers were there and he gave them a great workshop,” said festival coordinator Andreas Degerhammar.

Gothenburg’s Mexican theme follows last year’s Oscar nods towards three of the country’s most prominent directors – Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men), Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu (Babel) and Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth).

Bernal, having established himself as an international star actor with roles in movies such as Babel and The Science Of Sleep, is one of a number of bright new lights featured in the programme, which also includes showings of films by hotly-tipped young director Simon Bross, whose film Bad Habits is currently exciting more international interest, and Spanish-born auteur Luis Buñuel, whose classic 1950 movie Los Olviados will be shown on Friday.

The festival organizers’ interest in Mexico was piqued by last year’s “Mexican affair” at the Oscars – following this, Degerhammar and his colleagues travelled to the Cannes, San Sebastian and Toronto film festivals to accumulate material for the Nya Mexico theme. Degerhammar said he wanted to explore the “real passion for Mexico” felt by the filmmakers.

Among the other Mexican highlights in Gothenburg are Born Without (Nacido Sin) and the native Raramuri-language movie Cochochi. While the films chosen vary greatly in theme and style, Degerhammar has been impressed by the united front presented by Mexican filmmakers:

“They were competing for such a long time, but finally they understood that promoting each other was the key to their success”.

But why are Swedes – and particularly Swedish filmmakers – so interested in film from Mexico? Degerhammer points out that both countries’ film industries are quite small – “everybody seems to know one another”. He also says that Mexican films are often characterized by magic realism and gritty social comment, which appeal to Scandinavian tastes.

Another source of the films’ appeal is the new light that they shed on a country only vaguely familiar to most Swedes:

“Watching movies strips away prejudices – you have a lot of ideas about Mexico. Some of the films show a very different country”.

The Gothenburg festival was established in 1979, and screens around 450 films every year.

The festival is not entirely dedicated to opening the public’s eyes to new international talent. The programme contains Nordic films and international blockbusters galore, alongside niche movies. For Degerhammar the most important thing the festival can offer is “a selection of small things that you can’t see anywhere else. That should be the core”.