Lorenzo Vigas didn’t set out to become a filmmaker. Born in Venezuela in 1967, Vigas was pursuing a master’s degree in Molecular Biology when he decided to move to New York and attend filmmaking workshops at New York University. That pivot paid off, and Vigas is now a celebrated filmmaker, premiering films at Cannes and the Venice Film Festival, where he won the Golden Lion for his feature film directorial debut, From Afar.
His latest film, The Box, serves as the conclusion to his trilogy on the theme of fatherhood in Latin America, which began with his 2004 short Elephants Never Forget and continued with From Afar. The Box tells the story of a young teenager traveling through northern Mexico to collect his father’s remains from a communal grave. But, as he returns home, he comes across a man who he is convinced may actually be his father. He becomes involved in the man’s life and is swept up in the exploitative recruitment of factory workers in Mexico, blending a coming-of-age story with high stakes real-world implications.
"This last chapter is mainly about the consequences for young adolescents of not having had a father at home," Vigas tells A.frame. "How we go through life seeking to replace the father figure. What do we cling to? To a political figure? From whom we accept everything because he fills that emptiness. Without that presence at home, young people grow up without a defined identity, that is the reality for millions of young people in Latin America who are raised without a father."
Vigas made great efforts not only with the story of a young man's search for fatherhood, but also the harsh reality of factory work in Mexico. "It is the first Mexican fiction film to be able to be made inside an active and working factory," he explains. "The factories located in Ciudad Juarez are very protective of their production processes and do not allow access to anyone with a camera. After a long search process (more than a year), we managed to shoot one of the most important scenes of the film inside a working maquiladora. That kind of pressure can either be paralyzing or an opportunity to push yourself to your limit."
The Box is Venezuela's official submission for the 2023 Oscars, and Vigas hopes the story resonates with audiences. "We all have a locked box at home. A box that weighs on our shoulders when we go out on the street. Some are able to open that box, to take out the heavy things that are inside, others never dare to open it and carry it for the rest of their lives. The Box is about that box we all have at home," Vigas says.
Below, Vigas shares with A.frame the five films that influence how he approaches emotion in a film and found self-reflection in cinema.
Written and Directed by: Robert Bresson
Robert Bresson's work has influenced me because it goes against the established norm within the cinematographic narrative. Bresson moves away from the usual tools of manipulation and seeks to convey emotion through pure cinematic language. Actors should not convey emotion through their performances; rather, as a result of the cinematographic narrative, the viewer comes to feel the emotional movement of the actors. The individual shot should not convey beauty, but the sum of them together is what should achieve meaning. The work is the sum of all its elements and none of them - image, sound, art, interpretations, et cetera - should stand out. Only when all its parts are put together does the work acquire autonomy and meaning.
In particular, I also value when the elements of a film stand out and have their own voice, such as the music, acting, or the production design. But Bresson pushed the cinematographic narrative to its purest level and, for that reason, he is undoubtedly one of the authors who has influenced me the most. In my films, although I value the elements separately, I try to concentrate on achieving an emotion that comes as a consequence of the consecutiveness of shots or scenes devoid of it. That at the end of the story the viewer's unconscious experiences an emotional movement that is the consequence of the cinematographic experience as a whole.
In Mouchette, a marvelous film about a girl's abrupt transition to adulthood, Bresson brilliantly applies his understanding of cinematographic language.
Written and Directed by: Lucrecia Martel
When I first saw La Ciénaga, I was struck by the subtlety and extreme complexity of its mise-en-scène. The film is full of a strong 'naturalness' that I have rarely seen in cinema. The everyday scenes of a family on vacation at the edge of a lake gradually infect us with the subterranean violence that lives in that place and in its characters. Through her visual storytelling, never obvious, always charged with mystery, Martel has the ability to convey tension in the most ordinary moments. The shots, instead of giving us answers, fill our heads with questions about the characters and their motivations. I consider La Ciénaga a masterpiece in the context of Latin American cinema of the last 25 years.
Directed by: Mike Nichols | Written by: Calder Willingham and Buck Henry I have to admit that when I first saw The Graduate I was skeptical because of the media hype that surrounds the film. Who hasn't heard of The Graduate? Upon seeing it, I was immediately captivated by its fresh and avant-garde narrative. Certainly influenced by the French New Wave, Nichols masterfully adapts Charles Webb's work into a piece perfectly balanced between artistic expression and pure entertainment. I have seen few films that manage to place themselves so organically in that space so desired by audiovisual creators, in which, obviously, I include myself.
The film has one of the most memorable endings for me in the history of cinema, the bittersweet emotion that accompanies the characters at the end of the story turns this story into everyone's story. In the end, we all live assuming the consequences of our actions. And with that final shot of the two protagonists, finally together - but condemned to face the consequences - Nichols achieves the perfect metaphor for life.
Written and Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
When I was studying to be a biologist and started watching movies in my mid-twenties, I stumbled into some of Bergman's films from the '60s in the Blockbuster in my neighborhood in Caracas, The Passion of Anna, Hour of the Wolf, and Persona. Bergman is undoubtedly the first filmmaker to leave such an impression on me. Until then, I had not seen films made about the hidden motivations of the characters, about their unconscious. I was used to seeing films where the characters expressed their problems, sadness, and joys in a conscious way. They were aware of their motivations, and their actions were a logical consequence. Bergman opened my mind with characters that could be much closer and more similar to my own existence. I have no idea why I do the things I do! Or why I have the need to tell the stories I tell! I immediately connected with his work. Persona may be his masterpiece. It is impossible to explain in a few lines why it is one of the most important films in the history of cinema. It certainly brings together all the elements that make cinema the 7th art.
Directed by: Federico Fellini | Written by: Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Brunello Rondi
I leave Fellini's La dolce vita last on my list because I have recently revisited his cinema. Every time I watch La dolce vita, or 8 1/2, I am amazed by the fact that I feel like I am watching them for the first time. They have the capacity to reinvent themselves each time! Both contain an inexhaustible well of humanity. From La dolce vita, I am amazed by the way it entertains the viewer superficially without at first understanding the depth of the story. How, little by little, one gets inside. That combination between superficial entertainment and inner density is unique in Fellini. At this moment, I'm developing a script that aims for that possibility.