“We wanted to take this stereotypical version of masculinity and dig a little deeper,” says Mexican filmmaker Santiago Sierra Soler below, speaking of his latest short film, Coyuca, premiered here. Taking its name from its setting, Coyuca de Benítez, a municipality of Guerrero, south-western Mexico, Soler’s vision stemmed from a masculine archetype prevalent in this part of the world: the ‘Lancheros’. Roughly translating as ‘boatman’ in English, in its native tongue the word defines a vision of reserved machismo.
Created in collaboration with independent Mexican jewellery designer Aaron Changpo (executive producer), the resulting film dissects and unpicks this antiquated depiction of masculinity. Instead, Soler presents his boatmen as two young companions navigating the lagoons in parallel to their own feelings towards each other. Here, the water’s movement is symbolic of their emotion and reflections cast apparitions of subconscious truths.
At once both intimate and universal, Coyuca is a story of love and beauty as deep as the waters its characters sail.
Alex James Taylor: Can you tell us how the project came about?
Santiago Sierra Soler: Aaron [Changpo, executive producer] and I have been friends for a long time and having collaborated in the past we were looking to work on a new project together again. When he showed me the idea behind VRN his new brand, I suggested we make a short film and he loved the idea. Along with our producer, Martin, and our DP, Reid Rohling, we wrote, cast, and location scouted. It was a two day shoot on location with about fifteen days of prep. We really just went into the project with our intuition. I find that when things get too planned out a lot of the spontaneity can get lost and I personally feel that it adds a lot into the creative process. I’m always more into capturing a moment that’s authentic versus something that is overly prepared.
AJT: Can you talk us through the influences rooted in the film – I see aspects of Fassbinder and Fellini in the piece?
SSS: For this film we really wanted to create a very dreamlike atmosphere. Me and my DP have always had an interest in how directors portray dreams on film. You can see hints of inspiration from Bergman, Fellini, and a little Tarkovsky within the piece but the biggest inspiration on Coyuca was Maya Deren’s surrealist short Meshes of the Afternoon. We really wanted to depict one’s inner desires and how that translates in one’s subconscious.
“You can see hints of inspiration from Bergman, Fellini, and a little Tarkovsky within the piece…”
AJT: And the location is a key character within the narrative, what’s your relationship with Coyuca?
SSS: We filmed the lagoon scenes in Coyuca de Benítez near Acapulco, a place special to Aaron as he grew up going there as a child with his grandfather. In Mexico there are a lot of these small little beach towns where the proximity of water is integral to their daily lives – they receive a lot of their food and income through the rivers and lagoons. We were particularly interested in this specific archetype that stems from these towns called ‘Lancheros.’ A Lanchero roughly translates to ‘boatman’ in English but a lot of the nuance is lost in translation. A Lanchero is this typically reserved, machismo man who spends most of their days navigating the waters for the entertainment of tourists. In Coyuca we wanted to take this stereotypical version of masculinity and dig a little deeper into the ideas of performative masculinity. Also I feel this movie reminds us of the struggle that a lot of LGBTQ+ people still go through today, making this struggle visible was important to us.
“I’m always more into capturing a moment that’s authentic versus something that is overly prepared.”
AJT: Water is highly symbolic here, mirroring the characters’ feelings…
SSS: To me, water has always been a symbol for one’s emotions and as humans we’re bombarded with a free-flowing cavalcade of feelings. So when the boat breaks down it’s this representation of feeling lost or stuck. The main character is confused about his feelings for his friend but when he pulls the boat through the water it’s this moment of cleansing and finally as they rest together on the beach the water is calm and still, representing an instance of clarity for the main character’s love for his friend.
“To follow our own dreams and desires takes confidence.”
AJT: And with that comes a mythical subplot, what was the thinking behind that aspect of the film?
SSS: Once in the realm of dreams, the character has an encounter with his own subconscious. In this world it’s hard to differentiate what is real and what is not, it’s a world full of symbolism. The ring symbolizes unity, sacredness, the infinite and promise. The masked character that manifests in the dream world comes as a messenger of truth, holding an understanding that can only be felt through unravelling our emotions and not to by the discernment of logic. Confronting our own feelings takes courage. To follow our own dreams and desires takes confidence. Ultimately what’s important is what we learn once we have fought for what we want in each specific situation.
Written and directed by Santiago Sierra Soler
A Film brought to you by VRN
Cinematography: Reid Rohling
Original Score: Ignacio Ferrarazzo
Executive Producer: Aaron Changpo
Produced: Martin Michelis
Featuring Zeta Garza and Allan Urbano
Editing: Emilio Guerrero Alexander
Second Unit: Pablo Da Ronco
Assistant Director: Santiago de la Puente