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Berlinale: Carlos Reygadas Stars in His New Film, ‘Where Life Is Born’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 2/20/2017 John Hopewell
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The star of “Where Life is Born,” the next and highly-anticipated movie by Mexico’s Carlos Reygadas, will be Carlos Reygadas himself. Move marks a logical departure for one of Latin America’s most celebrated and influential directors, whose last movie, “Post Tenebras Lux,” mixed personal reference – the English rugby scenes, for instance – and a broader reflection on the emotional alienation of the developed world.

Reygadas may well be expanding on this theme in “Where Life is Born” where Reygadas plays a husband, Juan, in a couple who have an open relationship. Yet when his wife Ester falls in love with another man, her husband Juan struggles to meet the expectations he has of himself.

Lead-produced by Jaime Romandia’s Mantarraya Producciones, “When Life is Born” is set in a traditional world of bullfighting ranches in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala. Film’s sales agent The Match Factory describes “Where Life Is Born” as “the story of a beautiful family which battles to balance remnants of the old world and the modernity of their existence.” Extra scenes were shot at Las Ventas bullring in Madrid, Romandia said.

Natalia Lopez, Reygadas’ real-life partner, will play Ester in “Where Life Is Born.” .

One week out from the end of principal photography, “Where Life Is Born” is produced by Mantarraya Producciones, in co-production with Nodream Cinema, Le Pacte, Luxbox, Cinema du Monde, ZDF, Sorfond and Mer Film. Denmark’s Snowglobe has boarded as a co-producer. It will be ready for delivery by the end of 2017, Romandia said – which will spark inevitable speculation that it may be at Cannes, but in 2018.

“Where Life Is Born” marks the flagship production of the now 19-year-old Mantarraya the producer of all of Reygadas and Amat Escalante’s movies from Reygadas’ “Japan” in 2002, which brought the flag down on a new generation of filmmakers in Mexico,  through to Escalante’s “The Untamed,” a social-issue sci-fi film which won best director at last September’s Venice Festival and dared to posit a metaphor for Mexico in an alien monster movie.

Mantarraya is, however, much more than two of the most-talked-about directors working out of Latin American today. Mexico’s most avid arthouse distributor, ND Mantarraya, its joint distribution venture with Carlos Reygadas’ Nodream Cinema, distributes in Mexico 12-14 films a year: One-to-two Mexican titles, one-to-two documentaries and eight-to-ten feature films, of which six-to-eight are top arthouse films and two first features, Romandia said.

At Berlin, ND Mantarraya acquired two titles from The March Factory for its release slate in Mexico: Aki Kaurismaki’s best director winner “The Other Side of Hope,” one of the biggest arthouse sales titles at Berlin, and Julian Rosefeldt’s high-profile Sundance title “Manifesto,” with Cate Blanchett playing 13 characters.

In further production, adding to two of modern Mexico’s strongest production lines – doc features and animation – Mantarraya is near to completing documentary feature “Just Meet,” about Japanese architect Tadao Ando and Casa Wabi, a Pacific coast artists’ residence which he designed. In advanced post-production, “Just Meet” is directed by Fernanda Romandia.

Mexico City-based Fotosintesis Media, a cause-driven entertainment label marking a joint venture of Mexico’s Mantarraya and writer-director Miguel Uriegas, is moving into pre-production on its third animated feature, “Un disfraz para Nicolas” (A Costume for Nicolas), Romandia said at the Berlin Film Festival.

Directed by Eduardo Rivero, and a film about how love breaks all barriers,” said Romandia, the 2D film’s protagonist will be voiced by a 10-year-old boy with Down syndrome, he added. From Miguel Angel Reyes, its art design is inspired by French children’s book illustrator Benjamin Lacombe. Creating the concept art for Mantarraya’s first toon movie, “The Incredible Story of the Stone Boy,” Uriegas produces with Romandia.

“Animation is a great way of reaching audiences. With it, we make mainstream movies, not arthouse films, attempting to reach the biggest number of spectators possible,” Romania said.

He added: “These films are among the best animation in Mexico but, at the end of the day, what counts is the message.”

At Cadereyta Films, Mantarraya’s mainstream production label, Irene Azuela (“Miss Bala”) will play Nahui Olin in “NAHUIand,” “a portrait of Mexico’s first feminist,” Romandia commented. Gerardo Tort (“Streeters”) directs.

Mantarraya has also launched the Escuela Superior de Cine (ESCINE), a film school offering a three-year degree in film, with classes given only by jobbing filmmakers. ESCINE is directed by Fabian Kaufman, ex-head of Mexico’s prestigious Centro de Capacitatión Cinematografica (CCC). Among those who have given masterclasses are Reygadas, Ruben Imaz (“Sand Dollars”) and Julio Hernandez Cordon (“I Promise You Anarchy”).

“The film school is part of our consolidation in a way. Mantarraya has been operating for 19 years. We want to pass on some of the information and knowledge we’ve have accrued over this time,” Romandia said.

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