By Carlos Aguilar | SydneysBuzz December 13, 2013 at 2:00PM
Porcelain Horse, Ecuador's Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. U.S. : None Yet. International Sales Agent: FIGA Films
In his debut feature film Porcelain Horse (Mejor No Hablar De Ciertas Cosas) Ecuadorian director Javier Andrade decided to explore characters that are certainly unlikeable, sometimes immoral, but always very human. Their flawed personalities and self-absorbed behavior lead them to a series of terrible decisions with minimal chances for redemption. Insightful and definitely entertaining his film tells the story of two brothers whose only common interest is their mutual enjoyment of illegal drugs. Imbedded with humor, poignant narration, and outstanding performances this feels like a very personal work with a unique voice. Rarely seen in the intentional landscape, Ecuadorian cinema might finally receive more prominent exposure abroad. Andrade's film was chosen as the South American nation's Oscar submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Nomination and has also played successfully in the festival circuit. The director talked to us about his inspiration for the story, his musical influences, and other peculiarities about his film.
The protagonists in your film are two very lost men with virtually no direction or purpose. What attracted to you to a story like the one in Porcelain Horse?
The idea came from a real incident that happened in my hometown in the mid 90’s. A murder took place in a house not far from mine at around New Year’s Eve. Three brothers were killed over a drug related incident, and when the police entered the house, one of the prettiest in the neighborhood, the place was dirty, and almost completely empty. As if they had little by little pawned everything in the house to sustain their habit. In the weeks that followed, more gossip about these kids and their family came to light: they were left alone by their mother after the father passed away, and it was implied that the father had died because he could not control his children. I was a teenager back then, but that incident stayed with me, and years later I though it would be fertile ground for a fiction film about the nature of corruption.
Paco’s narration throughout the film makes a point of describing each of the characters’ “vice” or addiction, which is not necessarily drugs for all of them. Why do you think these vices are part of the human experience?
I don’t know, but I do think you can tell a lot about a person by his/her vices. Paco is an addict, so it seemed fitting that he would try and understand the world through his own vision, giving each person an addiction of their own. And it became a way to exteriorize one of the themes of the film, which is that everybody has a drug of choice. My drug of choice is fried dough by the way.
The film’s message is enhanced by the musical selection. There are classic melancholic tunes and modern songs. Perhaps this is more evident in the cover song Luis performs, did you specifically want to say something about the generational divide?
The film takes place in my hometown Portoviejo in the coast of Ecuador. I wanted to set my first movie there because I wanted to tell a story about memory using my own memories. The film is not autobiographical, but it is personal, and in the memories of my youth in that city music was everywhere but there was a great divide between old and young people. For instance, I didn’t really listen to any music in Spanish till I was in my 20’s and going to school in New York. It was on a freezing winter there that I revisited the music of Julio Jaramillo and Carlota Jaramillo and that slowly worked its way into my writing. It was then that I decided that Luis should define his identity as a musician and as a person by covering an old song, a song that belonged to his father and probably heard all his life in his house. Because of what happens in the movie with his father, I thought he would try and find a way to connect, to unite with his father in his own terms, and that would be through music, through turning his father’s music into his music.
All the characters in your film are flawed, but you give one of them a certain redemptive transformation at the end, but do you think that character, or people in general, can truly change or simply adapt to their new circumstances?
I find flawed characters interesting, compelling and challenging. I love seeing them on screen, for they remind me that we are flawed in life as well. I don’t know if we can truly change, but we can try.
Parents definitely have certain expectations of their children, which Luis and Paco seem to be reluctant to fulfill. What does the statue, the porcelain horse, symbolize about this relationship?
It is a metaphor for what can never be, which is for children to fulfill their parents expectations. But it is also an image that conjures up the inevitability of destiny, as it becomes a symbol of the “assimilation” of Paco to the established order at the end of the film.
Going back tot the last question, the original title in Spanish, which translates to “Rather Not Speak of Certain Things”, what do you think that phrase says about this family?
The title in Spanish is an ironic take on an attitude, a way of being that is very common in Ecuador: to turn your back to problems, to not spoil a dinner conversation by bringing up the fact that your kids have an addiction issue, or the fact that corruption has penetrated every faction of society. To not talk. The movie was to me a way to confront audiences with all this in the form of a narrative about a person who can’t escape his destiny, a prince who doesn’t want to be king; and since the origin of everything is family, it seemed to me that in telling the story of the family I could tell the story of the country.
As an Ecuadorian director, what do you think is specific about the cinema of your country and its stories?
All stories are universal, but in what’s happening now in Ecuador is that filmmakers are finding their own, specific way of telling those stories and figuring out what film language to use in the process. We’re in the rare position of witnessing Ecuadorian audiences watching Ecuadorian characters on screen for the first time in personal, challenging work. That’s very exciting.
Lastly, since your film is representing Ecuador at the Academy Awards, is there any pressure or expectations? How does this honor make you feel?
We are the first Ecuadorian submission to the academy awards in 9 years, and the third submission in the history of Ecuadorian cinema. It is an honor indeed and it makes me happy that my colleagues think “Porcelain Horse” is a worthy portrait of our current cinema; anything beyond that I try not to think about. If I did, I would go crazy.