Nicolás Pereda is a Mexican-Canadian screenwriter, film editor, producer and director. In addition to screening his films at festivals around the world such as Venice, Berlinale, Rotterdam, Morelia, Valdivia, Guanajuato and Toronto, Pereda's work has been presented at several retrospectives in various museums and archives including Anthology Film Archives, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Pacific Film Archive, and the Harvard Film Archive. In addition to filmmaking, Pereda is also the Director of the Filmmaking Program at Rutgers University.
In an exclusive interview with Filmatique, Nicolás Pereda discusses melancholy in his oeuvre, life as eternal idle, social class in Latin America, and his most recent works Minotaur and The Private Property Trilogy.
FILMATIQUE: Minotauro is a very ascetic film. There are no clues or information about the characters, no story background, and minimal dialogue. I find restraint to be a major characteristic in your films overall. It is a risky choice, but it works wonderfully. Can you comment on the decision or motivation to approach character and story in this way?
NICOLÁS PEREDA: In Minotaur, in particular, story and character development were not things I was concerned with. It was important to give enough information for audiences to more or less understand the relationship between the characters, and their social class. There is no story to tell, and the characters are fairly static. The idea was to convey a lifestyle and a larger social situation through immobility. The short conversations are circular games. The characters fall asleep and wake up many times without anyone knowing how much time has passed—minutes, hours, days?—and no one speaks about their narcolepsy, or whatever it is that is happening to them.
In general I'm interested in observing the present. From a plot perspective, most of the scenes I conceive of are meant to work independently of the rest of the film. I like observing characters' gestures, tones of voice: their reactions to the immediate. I try to forgo causal relations as much as I can because I believe they simplify experience to a degree that becomes irreconcilable. I don't conceive the structure of a film as a series of events arranged over time and how they affect each other from a story perspective. Instead, I think of how individual scenes breathe, and how the weight of one affects another.
Also, I don't like giving characters specific traits. I enjoy when the actors I work with bring their own character traits. I'm not interested in seeing a character change. I'm much more interested in audiences getting to know a person as they are in a singular moment, kind of like when you meet a person in real life.
FLMTQ: The prevailing occupation among your films is the concept of time. In Juntos (Together, 2009) the characters, especially Gabino, seem to have a lot of free time—they either don't have or don't seem to have a job—and yet they are always doing things. In El Palacio (The Palace, 2009), we are only able to measure time through the characters' daily chores, while the protagonists' lives in Tales of Two Who Dreamt (2016) are somehow suspended in a long wait that will decide their future. In Minotauro time seems to drag on; all the characters do is to sleep and read. How do you believe a character's understanding of time informs his/her reality, and how do you seek to capture this narratively and cinematographically?
NP: In order to investigate the quotidian and the present I need to give each scene enough time so that I can feel the pulse of characters' lives. I'm less interested in delivering information than I am in capturing moments and sharing a sensorial experience.
To a certain degree, I make films to make sense of my own experience. While on paper it may seem that I'm very busy, I actually idle a lot, and have plenty of time to feel the present and the passage of time. I feel like all the characters I create are all somehow suspended in a long wait. In Tales of Two Who Dreamt it's more obvious because the characters are seeking asylum, but similarly, the rest of my films are about characters who are full of hopes and dreams that we never get to see.
I identify completely with this state of being. I live (perhaps unfortunately) as if I'm waiting for something that will never arrive. This state of being suspended in a long wait is perhaps my definition of what life is. I make films because I believe I am able, through the manipulation of time, to express this sentiment. The long takes, the unimportant nature of the characters' actions and conversations, the lack of cause and effect relations, are all there to point to this fact of eternal idle which is life.
FLMTQ: I remember when I first saw El ausente (The Absent, 2014), Juntos, Tales, El Palacio, Verano de Goliat (Summer of Goliath, 2010), and Minotauro I couldn’t stop thinking these films were somehow melancholic. Is melancholy something you are aware of and deliberately incorporate into your writing?
NP: Melancholy is one of the core preoccupations in my work. Again, this has to do with what I said earlier about trying to share my experience through film. Melancholy is a kind of sadness that is directly related to the passage of time. I do not deliberately incorporate melancholy in my writing, and it's a word that never comes up during shooting. However, my view of the world is tainted by this feeling, so the films I make inevitably end up exuding melancholy.
FLMTQ: Domestic labor is a recurring theme in several young Latin American filmmakers' work during the last fifteen years. It is approached less as a sociological construct and more as constitutive part of the private spaces where that labor, and the personal relationships attached to it, is displayed. How important and complicated is it for you to examine these dynamics? What recent circumstances, historical or otherwise, do you believe have caused the emergence of this theme in the region's cinema?
NP: The great majority of filmmakers in Latin America come from privileged backgrounds, many had domestic servants growing up, so inevitably many of us are interested in exploring domestic labor.
For me it's a great challenge to examine this labor in Latin America, because I'm at the top of this power dynamic. My interest in portraying domestic servants is not to give voice to the unheard, but to make sense of my privilege.
FLMTQ: You are a very prolific filmmaker and your work has been showcased in a wide variety of venues, festivals, and museums. At the same time, you are the director of Rutgers' Filmmaking Center. How do you reconcile your teaching with your creative career?
NP: Like I said earlier, I feel like most of the time I idle and do very little. I spend the majority of my time thinking; I don't actually do that much. Running a film program has been very interesting and I have spent a lot of time writing syllabi and building the whole department, but I feel like I still have plenty of time to do my work. I live in New York and commute to New Jersey, so I have a couple of hours every time I go to work to think about my own films.
Also, in my classes I'm able to screen things I'm interested in watching and I discuss with my students things that inform my work. The routine of having a full time job also gives my life a kind of structure that dictates specific dates and times in which I have time to work on my own stuff.