The father and son team behind Gravity are reunited for the edgy desert chiller Desierto.
For Jonás Cuarón, Desierto marks a particularly personal journey in storytelling for the young filmmaker.
“I took a trip through the US Southwest where I encountered first-hand stories surrounding immigration and the often cruel and violent story of the migrant journey,” he explains. “I was very moved and immediately felt compelled to outline the film – which happened even before writing Gravity.”
Desierto tells the story of a small band of illegal Mexican immigrants led by Gael García Bernal who face a harrowing battle for survival in hostile desert terrain when they are targeted by a deranged, rifle-toting vigilante (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
The film marks the feature length directorial debut of Jonás Cuarón and is very much a family affair, with his Oscar-winning father Alfonso and his uncle serving as producers.
Although it has taken him seven years to bring it to the screen, Desierto couldn’t be more topical, given the current occupant of the White House. However, the younger Cuarón always intended the film to work as a visceral thriller as well.
“I’ve always been very interested in the concept of films like Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped, Steven Spielberg’s Duel, and Andrei Konchalovskiy’s Runaway Train,” he says. “They are non-stop nail biting thrillers with very little dialogue. but that at the same time manage to juggle various themes. I was very interested in the drive of these films where the audience connects with the story and character in a very visceral way.
“In Desierto, I wanted to create a gripping film that would engage the audience in that same kind of visceral, cathartic experience and also allow them to reflect on this very complicated subject which illuminates the often devastating experience migrants face in the search for a better life.”
Jonás also relished the opportunity to work with his father and uncle on the film. “Whenever I finish the first draft of a screenplay, I show it to my dad and my uncle Carlos to get their feedback. My dad is my closest collaborator and mentor and by the time I started raising Desierto I’d spent the last four years working with him on Gravity, so it was just natural to have both of them as producers on the project.”
For his part, Alfonoso has been impressed by the way his son handled his first full length feature.
“I have always admired him as a writer,” he enthuses. “What’s really impressive is how natural the transition has been for him to movies. This isn’t his first movie, but it is his first feature length, moving film. And the transition was totally natural. I was impressed as we started see the first dailies, the confidence that he has in his decision-making and he is clear about what he needs.
“The best advice you can give to any filmmaker is to trust your instincts. Movies aren’t big or small, they are the visions of directors. Therefore, participating in this movie is basically the same process.”