In an interview with Pie de Página, Horacio Alcalá, director of the award-winning film Finland, delves into the artistic paths that have led him to consolidate his career as a film director. This is the vision of Alcalá, about a cinema that seeks answers, to find itself
Text: Evolet Aceves
Photographs: Dani Piedrabuena
Horacio Alcalá was born in Tepaltitlan, Jalisco. He is director of the feature film Finland(2021-2022). At the age of eight he began his acting career, “accidentally,” he says, in films by the Almada brothers, before he realized that his fascination lay in being behind the camera. He devoted himself to theater and opera, he also made short films and worked at the Cirque du Soleil for seven years, “I think that was my school, the visual school for me is the circus.” Later he made other documentaries, recently he has worked with the National Dance Company, in a documentary entitled until dawn.
—The circus marked your visual perspective, what did you do in the circus?
“I started out as the assistant to the assistant. Little by little I climbed up and became a producer on tours in Europe. I was in contact with the acrobats and with the whole visual part. From acrobats I learned that every time you fall, you have to get up, wipe your knees and keep going. Acrobats are not famous names, for me they are artists who have no ego and yet, every night they risk their lives for the show, this motivation has led me to continue in an industry as fierce as film, and survive.
—What have been your film influences?
—Ripstein is a director I really like. I saw several times with Cuauhtli Jiménez (the character Amaranta in the film Finland) the limitless place. I really liked it. My opportunity came and I wanted to find that environment to make a fiction. I decided that the universe of the muxes was something that I wanted to deal with, I was very interested in it, and through cinema I could capture this visual beauty that Oaxaca has.
“Of course, I didn’t want to do the same as Master Ripstein, but he has been my inspiration. We did the lighting work with David Palacio, basing ourselves on Flemish painters, we did research on his paintings. All that warmth or roughness of the light on the characters, on the muxes, comes from there. On the other hand, I really like classical music, in the film there is music by Gustav Mahler and also by Wagner: Tannhäuser. Wagner was a homophobe, I wanted to mix his music with the concept of muxes.
—You have been living in Spain for more than two decades, how did you get there?
—I studied in Berlin and my sister was living in Spain. I went to see it and I liked the country, I felt that it was a very moving and hard city, that it could teach me a lot. So I decided to leave the circus and I stayed in Spain, I made friends and since then it has been my home. Actually, from Spain I am traveling all the time, I work at the European Commission on territorial cooperation projects, my studio is in Spain, but, although I live in Madrid I am a citizen of the worldI have both nationalities, which for me are cultural backpacks with which I like to travel. The more I live the more I can express on filmI think this can be expressed in Finlandhow the two cultures collide but also have an embrace.
—Yes, with Andrea Guasch (Marta) you can notice the phenomenon of what is known as cultural appropriation, especially textiles, and this character is undergoing a transformation and decides to stay in Mexico. Maybe something like this will happen to you.
«Yes, actually it is a bit of my story, I go to another place, I fall in love and decide to change. You know?, although the main characters are muxes, they have something of me. They always have a representation of my life.
—At what point did the concern arise for wanting to address muxe culture from the cinema?
—I didn’t know about the existence of muxes, a friend told me at a dinner. I was surprised not to know about this interesting topic. I thought he was the only Mexican who didn’t know, but no. Most Mexicans don’t know this subject, and it seemed to me an interesting challenge to take it to the cinema in a delicate way, in which we would show the two parts of the muxes, because in my research on the subject everything was very romanticized, and when I got to Juchitán I realized that it wasn’t like that, actually the muxes live in a society with double standards: it accepts them and rejects them at the same time. It was a challenge to represent this emotionally, visually and sonically. The film has several layers.
Facts and fictions under the same lens
—It is something that you have achieved with this film, not only the romanticization of the muxe culture, but also its reality. Being also a documentary filmmaker, you bring a bit of this reality to fiction.
—For me it is a mixture of reality and fiction, and it was necessary to make it a bit like a documentary so as not to run the risk that the public, outside of Mexico, would come to think that they were invented characters. Obviously they are, but it had to be clear that they exist. The entire situation of textile plagiarism that I address in the film is documented, two people related to fashion helped me develop these characters, and especially the dialogues.
—The dialogues become poetic, they remind me of Paz Alicia Garciadiego’s dialogues in Ripstein’s films. You did a kind of anthropological research, you went to the field, how long did it take you to make notes, to live in Juchitán?
—There were four trips in total. The first time was almost three weeks, we were living with the muxes, they told us about their lives; then we did several interviews, we recorded the material, we sat down to go over it and then came the ideas for the script. The last trip was the shooting, in which muxes were with us, accompanying us. It was an ongoing process in collaboration with them. We have Estrella Vázquez in the film, in charge of costume design, and not only that, but she helped the actors to say the phrases in Zapotec.
—And Estrella was also in charge of the makeup.
—Yes, costumes, makeup and art.
—That local involvement that there was makes the film, let’s say, more tangible, attached to its reality. Speaking about the rock where the muxes pour their sorrows and worries, what can you tell me about this rock?
—Actually, we were going to shoot in a small chapel on top of a pyramid, but the day before they canceled our permit, so we couldn’t shoot there. The producer went to look for an option, we saw rocks and trees, but suddenly we saw this quarry, I believe that God put us in the situation of reaching this quarry because it really is magical. The muxes do not go to this quarry, because they are on the Isthmus, and this quarry is in Mitla.
“For me, the rock, like the earthquake, is a character, one who becomes Almightybecause it is the land that maintains a dialogue with them, and that at some point decides to do something, responds to the situation. Delirium (Noé Hernández) initiates the telluric movement».
—The rock is one more character, to a certain extent divine, with whom the muxes maintain communication. They are splendid scenes, you portray that mysticism around the spirituality of the muxes. And speaking of Deliriumplayed by Noé Hernández, in some scene the image of the film appears on the wall My Life in Pink (1997)by Alain Berliner, is there an influence of this film on yours?
—In this case, no, there may be something similar, but we haven’t taken it into account, I didn’t know about this image.
Cinema to discover our potential, cinema to rediscover ourselves
—What are the topics of your interest in your documentaries?
—Until now, everyone talks about overcoming emotional, physical and social barriers, discovering who you are and fighting for what you want. One is to us your kingdom (2020) about a Spanish boxer who, after winning the world title thirteen times, is in a wheelchair; Y until dawn (2021), which is the creative process of Joaquín de Luz for the staging of Giselle, but to get there he had to overcome many things; Y flush with the sky (2013), which are eight stories around the world, of people who leave what they are doing to dedicate themselves to the circus, and not only that, but they become the best in the world in the circus.
—In the case of Ángeles Cruz, who appears as Sarah in Finland, it’s a bit similar to your situation, both started in front of the cameras, acting, then they went behind the camera. How was that process to choose the characters?
—In reality there was no casting. I chose the actors depending on their career, I like how they work and I was sure that they would be able to do it. In the case of Ángeles Cruz, we only had two lines in the script, but when we started working I realized that this character had to be developed more, so we made up lines as we went along. And, to all this, in our next film, On the wavesthe main character is Ángeles Cruz, we started shooting in November.
—What is this new project about?
—We are going to revive Sara Montiel and we are going to take her to Lake Chapala. Surreal things are going to happen there with the character of Ángeles Cruz; the character of Sara Montiel is going to be played by Roko, a Spanish singer. We will have Cuauhtli Jiménez, Alejandra Herrera and Nacho Guerreros in the cast.
-How did you get financed? Finland?
—We financed it Aitor Echeverría [el productor] and me, because no one believed in the project. They believed that talking about muxes was talking about men dressed as women; but no, muxe is the third gender.
—To finish, could you tell me about the awards you have received? Finland?
—We have won nine international awards, what we get the most is the Audience Award, and it is what I like the most because the film is made for the public, not for juries. France, Italy, five awards in the United States, are the audience awards, even more important than Best Director [en el Festival de Seattle].
[Recientemente, posterior a la realización de esta entrevista, Finlandia fue galardonada con el Premio a Mejor Largometraje en el XIV Festival Internacional de Cine LGBTIQA+ (Centro Cultural España y Cineteca Nacional)].
-Where will you be performing? Finland?
—As of November 4, it can be seen at the Cineteca Nacional, and as of November 5 at the Cineteca de Guadalajara, the Cineforo and at the University of Puebla. and in the networks, @finlandialapeliculawe will be putting all the rooms in which it will be presented.
—What music do you like to listen to, besides the classical music you mentioned, Wagner and Mahler?
—Soundscapes: Sigur Ros, Ólafur Arnalds.
“Would you like to add something before we finish?”
—I want to tell the public that what they are going to find is my vision of muxes to present it to the world. But it is simply, on my part, an introduction from my vision.
Évolet Aceves writes poetry, short stories, novels, essays, chronicles and hybrid texts. She psychologist, photographer and cultural journalist. She studied in Mexico and Poland. She has collaborated in cultural magazines and supplements, such as: Pie de Página, Nexos, Replicante, La Lengua de Sor Juana, Praxis, La Libreta de Irma, El Cultural (La Razón), Revista Este País, among others. She was awarded in the Jesús Reyes Heroles Essay Contest (Veracruz University and Praxis Magazine, 2021). She has held two individual photographic exhibitions: México Seductor (2015) and Anachronism of Cotidianeidad (2017). She has worked at Capgemini, Amazon and currently at Microsoft. She esthete and transfeminist.
“Society accepts and rejects muxes at the same time”: Horacio Alcalá – Footer