The Shape of a Director’s Fantasies

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New Europe’s Federico Grandesso recently sat down with Oscar-winning Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro during the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival to discuss with the director of “The Shape of Water” his vision of cinema, his own biography, and his upcoming role as President of the Jury at the next Venice Film Festival.

You are a master of fantasy films, but would you like to work in other genres?

No, I’m going to continue to do the same movies, but if possible, I would love to explore the film noir genre, which I have always been a fan of, but you will never see me doing a comedy, musical or a melodrama. For me it not a circumstantial interest in things that are fantastic – a fairly tale or horror – my choice is a vocational one.

It’s sincere, true, and honest. I was always interested in creating an “auteur” genre of film or something that was director centred instead of being centred on the producer.

Why are fantasy films so important in your life? 

Because at a very personal, spiritual and intrinsic level they are what made me who I am. This is a nice quote, but it is true. The way people found Jesus, I found the creature of Frankenstein.

It became a spiritual journey, one in which I found myself on at every moment of my life. Fantasy has been the element that allows me to interpret the world in a way that makes it worth it. You can discuss absolute values through fantasies in a way that’s parabolic. It isn’t accidental that most religions use parables as tools of discussion. I think that a parable, both as fairy tales and horror, are very related and they are to me indistinguishable tools of a spiritual awakening in my own biography.

What we have in Latin America is the inclination to accept the extraordinary as an ordinary, daily occurrence. We live through magic and in most households in Mexico if you say, “My dead grandmother came to warn me about not driving to Puerto Vallarta” everybody would react “Hah! Really?” nobody would think that it never happened. There is will to accept something fantastic as a part of an everyday event…it’s natural for us.

If you watch my movies, the supernatural and extraordinary sit side by side with ordinary situations. That’s a natural ability for me, as I’m from Latin America.

What do you think about discrimination as a Mexican?

The movie – The Shape of Water – was planed, executed, and done long before these (anti-immigrant) movements started but it is already out there that if you’re Mexican you are automatically “the other”, especially when you go to immigration and customs. It’s been a problem for decades and remains unresolved, even if the social discourse is more “manicured” you still feel it. For example, I was stopped in Beverly Hills by a traffic cop and kept me for around an hour. This was in 1995 and I was driving a little car rented by a company called “Ugly Duckling”. It was a very bad car and I was going to meet a producer, so when they stopped me and they saw I was from Mexico, they didn’t believe me when I said I was going to meet a film producer in that ugly car.

What is the relation between history and fantasy?

History is a myth told by the winners. If you first read Roman chronicles, then the Barbarians’ accounts, of an event in history there is a huge difference in the story. History is fiction. It is a fantasy that we all accept via the democratic process. I would invite the world’s historians to have a coffee with me and realise that since the very beginning of civilisation, the differences between Greek mythology and the foundations of the history and identity of a country are completely integrated.   

Do you ever get inspired by art, and what can you absorb from that?

I find art or art finds me. I have no distinction between low and high art; it depends on why you need it as nutritional component for your spiritual life at that particular moment.

Every form of art that connects with me is immediately, gratefully, and humbly accepted by me no matter its origin. I’m influenced by soundtracks, video games, opera set designs, or a beautiful engraving by Piranesi. I think there are two elements in terms of creation, one is curiosity and the other is voracity. If you are endlessly curious about culture and you allow yourself to imagine that we live in a would where we all agree that caviar and champagne are the highest form of food, two months into that diet you would hate both. But if you allow yourself to have waffles in the morning and Chinese food in the afternoon, and the next day you have great pasta, that’s fantastic. Culturally we should give ourselves the latitude to be inspired by those things. Art finds you, but you also have to seek it in different places and that’s why I keep my little diaries.

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