An Interview With the Rendez-Vous Director, Pablo Olmos Arrayales

This is the original version of my interview with Pablo Olmos Arrayales. For the translated version, click here!

A lot can go wrong on a first date. Maybe they show up late, they make you pay for the dinner, or they lie about how they look on their profile. But in Rendez-vous, director Pablo Olmos Arrayales shows audiences what happens when two people meet online and realize that neither of them are who they say they are. This black-and-white thriller shot in one take follows Eduardo and Lili, two single people who are lying about something bigger than just a white lie on a dating profile. What starts out as a charming rom-com soon devolves into something more horrifying and complicated than we could have imagined. Not only does it take twists and turns that leave audiences glued to their seat, but it gives its violence purpose by questioning the society which not only makes this possible but inevitable. Rendez-vous has won several awards at festivals like Shockfest Film Festival in the US, the Feratum Film Festival in Mexico, and the Latinità Festival du Cinéma Espagnol et Latino-Américain in France. I was lucky enough to sit down with the director, Pablo Olmos Arrayales, and discuss his film, horror, and the Latin American film industry. You can read our conversation below and if you want to check out his astounding debut feature, you can watch it on HBOMax by clicking here!

You’ve made such a wonderful movie and there are a few technical choices you made that are really interesting. You shot the film in one take and in black and white. One-take movies can be cheaper and a draw for audiences to see a technical marvel. What does the one take add to the narrative and structure of a film, specifically a thriller? And why was the one-shot technique the best choice for this film? The same goes for the use of black and white. 

Well, we had a really small budget. We only had enough money to shoot it in one day and in thinking about that, I tried to come up with an idea for a film where you’d be a fly on the wall. So I think what this technique adds to the thriller is that you are watching everything in real-time. So the audience is living what the characters are living at the same time and in the moment. You know, I saw this German film a few years ago called Victoria which is a thriller shot in one take and it gave me the courage to just do it this way because I knew it could work. And as for the black and white, it was done more as a tribute. It’s based on classic thrillers like Psycho or Suspicion by Hitchcock, or Clouzot and Otto Preminger. Most of the recent filmmakers that I admire have one black-and-white film in their filmography. Also, in the symbolic narrative, you can see both ends of the spectrum, the bad and the good. For example, in the first half of the movie, you can see more grays. But as the film becomes more of a thriller, the blacks turn blacker and the whites turn whiter. 

Did you get to rehearse a lot beforehand and was this filmed once all the way through?

I was really naive at the beginning. We had a budget similar to a short film and we decided to shoot a feature. We thought, let’s shoot it in one day with five days of rehearsal and that’s it. Once we started staging and blocking, we realized there was no way we could rehearse in only five days because the DP has to memorize everything and so do the actors so we extended the 5 days to three weeks of rehearsal. The first two or three days, we went over the psychology of the characters and so on and so on and from then on, we rehearsed for 6-7 hours every day and added several more walkie-talkies and monitors so our makeup and wardrobe team could be hidden. When I started working with the actors, we had to come up with psychological justifications and connect them to the physical actions. Because it was just a one-take, I really had to get the actors to trust that it would look right on the screen. There was not a lot of room for improvisation but I was prepared for something to happen. 

I gave them this example of On the Waterfront by Elia Kazan and there is a scene where Marlon Brando picks up Eva Marie Saint’s glove and plays with it. It’s a really beautiful scene and Kazan didn’t shout cut even though it wasn’t in the script. And another example was a scene in Midnight Cowboy with Dustin Hoffman where he’s crossing the street and a taxi almost hits him and he hits the car and says “I’m walking here” which also wasn’t in the script. So I told them when we shoot the film, something’s going to happen because something always happens. You have to bring that to the scene and then keep what we have planned. It’s like a soccer game or a basketball game. If you’re not focused, it’s not that you lose the game, the team loses. 

You previously said that in Mexico and Latin America in general, you can still make movies for the love of it and the desire of the people making them. Could you expand on that idea? 

I think in Latin American culture we love cinema in so many ways. We love it, we consume it, we watch it, we buy it, and when you enter the industry, what you want to do most is make films. But because they don’t pay that much, most of us work in another field, maybe in commercials or  series. So when somebody invites you to make a film, that’s the dream and they give you everything. If they like the project and they know you are giving everything to it, they are going to give you everything as well. A lot of the crew has been in a lot of really big productions because we really needed that kind of experience for a movie like that and that came about because we were friends or they were friends with another crew member.

You studied in Spain and lived there for many years. Why was it important to return to Mexico for your first feature and more specifically why the Coyoacan neighborhood? 

Yeah. I tried really hard to make a film in Spain for so many years, but I never could. So once I came back to Mexico, I came with a script that I think was really good but nobody wanted to produce it. I started to lose faith in trying to shoot my first film, but in the summer of 2016, people from El Rey Network by Robert Rodriguez called me and told me that Robert had seen two of my short films and he really liked them and wanted to broadcast them on El Rey Network. So that gave me the desire to shoot a film. We shot another short film which went around the festival circuit and that’s when I told my friends, it’s now or never. I wanted to place it in a neighborhood that’s really close to me and was really important for Mexico back in the 40s. Coyoacan was a really cultural neighborhood and I go there every weekend. And here in Mexico, commercial films always shoot in two really high-end locations like Polanco and Roma. They want to make you feel like we are from New York or Europe and I cannot recognize myself in that. So I wanted to shoot it in a place that feels recognizable for Mexicans. There’s also a Luis Buñuel film called Ensayo de un Crimen that was shot there. Emilio “El Indio” Fernández and Dolores Del Río lived there. So it was important for me to shoot it there. 

There’s a line in your film that really stood out to me. In Mexico, stories don’t usually end well. I think this is a pessimism most Latin Americans share. Do you share this view and if so how has it affected your storytelling style?

It’s really funny because in the new film by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Bardo, there’s a part where he says I’m Mexican, I can criticize my country, but nobody from other countries can. I know the best and the worst of my country. I love my country, but I know these two parts exist. It’s where we live, you are always hearing sad stories. I was actually kidnapped in 1998 or 1997 in an express kidnapping where you are taken for a few hours. But it’s not like you open the door and they’re going to kidnap you. Most of the foreigners that live here love it and think it’s really secure. Something that really amazed me was how it resonated with people in Europe since I thought it was a local film. And actually, that exact line is from another film that I really love, The Devil’s Own with Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt and Pitt says that this is an Irish story and Irish stories never end well. That always stuck with me so I translated it to Mexico.

There are many moments in the film where Mexico’s societal problems are brought up but not spotlighted. It reminded me of Cuaron’s background chaos in Y Tu Mama Tambien. Was this a conscious decision to keep these ideas in the background rather than the foreground?

Absolutely, I’m so glad that you spotted them. There are three different layers to the film. The first one is just a fun, entertaining thriller. The second one was the violence against women in Mexico in particular. And the third one explored violence in general, regardless of gender. We live in a really dangerous place and I wanted to address that. But I didn’t want to make a drama or a really hard critique because that’s how we live. One minute we’re talking about violence against women and the next we’re talking about a recent game. I want the audience to have something to talk about after they have seen the film and see things differently on their second viewing. 

We’ve seen a lot of horror movies and thrillers dealing with gender dynamics and violence recently like Barbarian or even Gone Girl. Why is this genre so useful to tell these stories?

One of my goals was to write a really interesting character for a woman to play, so I never wanted to make the woman the victim. So if you don’t make the woman a victim, you have a really badass character. If the woman doesn’t survive, I don’t like the film because that’s the obvious thing. That’s what you read in the newspaper. I think that’s why my film works, but I haven’t thought about it that profoundly. When the women survive like in Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis, you want to bring that character back because they are really strong and that goes against established ideas of what women are like. 

There is a lot of mirrored behavior between these two characters showing the horrors of regular dating i.e. lying on your profile or actual horrors like lying about who you really are. What do you think the movie is saying about the modern dating world as we know it?

Well, I’m really scared of dating someone I meet online because I’m from another generation and I have never tried to do that. So I just made my fear bigger and imagined the worst thing that could happen. From the point of view of Eduardo, my brother suffered a really bad assault back in 1999 or 1998. They tried to rob him and they almost killed him. Fortunately, he got away. But that filled my whole soul with anger, you know? I thought very seriously about revenge but I am not a killer so I brought that anger to Eduardo. What happens when you cross that line? It’s going to end badly because you are not a bad person. You have never kidnapped anybody and you’re clumsy. There is a saying in Spanish: if you’re going to look for revenge, dig two graves, one for the people you’re going to get revenge on and one for yourself. So I wasn’t that conscious about criticizing people for meeting online, but thinking about what would happen if I dated online.

I think that especially when you go into a horror movie, you’re looking for someone to judge as a villain and victim. And I think when you watch this movie, it’s hard to figure it out. 

That was the whole idea. Now I’m Team Lili, now Eduardo, now I don’t have a team. I brought that idea from Suspicion by Hitchcock. You never know if Cary Grant is innocent or not. So I tried to play the same game.

How do you see the future of the horror genre in Mexico?

There are always one or two films every year, but people are starting to look more to the horror genre. But it’s hard because most of the filmmakers that do horror here in Mexico and in Latin America are independent, so it’s really hard to get a theatrical or streaming release. What I love most is all directors, actors, writers, and producers are all fanboys or fangirls of cinema and we are like a brotherhood so we’re always trying to support each other. But it’s still hard because here in Mexico in particular, they are looking for the same possession film. They want to make The Conjuring but in a Mexican way, but there’s another kind of horror and they don’t want to risk their money and I understand that. But we are seeing that the ones that are flying the flag of horror in Latin America are women with movies like Huesera by Michelle Garza Cervera and Vuelven by Issa López. They are making really great films about things that a guy is never going to write about like pregnancy or losing a child. They have a really different sensibility, so we are really looking forward to more films from women here in Latin America.

What Mexican or Latin American directors have inspired you?

I watch a lot of genres. The Mexican directors that have influenced me the most are not genre filmmakers. I really like El Indio Fernández, obviously the Three Amigos, and Jaime Humberto Hermosillo. There’s a director from the seventies called Felipe Cazals and he made these social films about jails or about the students that were slaughtered and they are like horror films for me. I really admire him. Luis Bunuel has influenced me a lot. He’s not Mexican, but he made most of his films here. I don’t have the same story as every filmmaker that when I was eight I got an eight millimeter, but in my house, my parents watched all kinds of films. I sat with my mother and watched comedies, movies from the revolution, or dramas. I watched everything from David Lynch to Polanski to Disney. Also, because I lived in Spain for 13 years, I consume a lot of Spanish films. There were two really great films that showed me that I can make really great thrillers in my own language. That was Tesis from Alejandro Amenábar and El Día de La Bestia by Álex de la Iglesia. I felt like I was watching a Hitchcockian film shot in my language.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

Yeah, absolutely. I have a script, another thriller. This one is not going to be a single take, but it will be another challenge. I want to shoot the film with just one character in one location. We’re waiting for a producer to tell us if we can show the film to a streaming company and see if we can shoot this year or next year. But it’s the same case with Rendez-vous. If they say no, we’re going to shoot it ourselves. 

You can follow Pablo Olmos Arrayales on Instagram @olmosarrayalespablo or his production company @axolotl_entertainment!

One response to “An Interview With the Rendez-Vous Director, Pablo Olmos Arrayales”

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