«I wanted to show the real dramatic weight of violence, almost without bullets»

Gabriel Ripstein presents 600 Miles in the Latin American Competition

Gabriel Ripstein’s debut film is based on a clear and simple premise: those 600 miles, that distance that entails a frontier, a limit, a conflicting zone. Arnulfo, a young man, the last and lowest link in a chain of gun trafficking, is in that route between Arizona and the North of Mexico with Hank Harris, an ATF veteran. In this realistic road movie, built on crossroads, alliances, complicities, betrayals and the survival spirit are revealed, in an area where geographic, legal and moral boundaries are constantly blurred.

How did you come up with the idea of 600 Miles and what elements did you have in mind to create a hyper-realistic story?

The story came out of a series of ideas and elements I had in mind for quite some time. I lived many years in the United States and I was always surprised by the huge appetite for guns, and the discretionary access individuals have to buy military weapons. On the other side, in Mexico, for several years now, in certain areas people live under a wave of violence and the weapons and bullets that cause this violence come mostly from the United States. Together with this, a few years ago, the American ATF agency set up an operation known as Fast and Furious, which had terrible results. I saw that none of these issues had been addressed in Mexican cinema. That’s when I started creating a story of two characters, each from one side of the border, who would be forced to interact and relate to one another in a dangerous environment.

To speak about such a complex and serious issue, I decided to have a real and objective approach to the characters and the situations. I wanted to move away from clichés and oversimplifications. Those things determined the formality of the film. Every creative decision was in tune with the quest for realism, trying to avoid archetypes and pointing fingers: there are no good or bad people in this story. There are complex characters who act accordingly.

The camera settings manage to show, in an intimate way, the thoughts and feelings of these two characters so different one from the other in a very close way. The camera disappears and, before us, we only see this forced relationship between them, which evolves along the way. How did you work this peculiarities which are the core of the film?

The unlikely relationship between these two characters is definitely the heart of the film. I always felt curious to see what happened if I forced these two men to interact in a confined space, in a van that makes a long and boring journey. I wanted the relationship’s emergence and evolution to be convincing. That’s why I tried to carefully create the situations. Once again, I didn’t want to go for the obvious. In this journey, characters do what real people often do: they get hungry, thirsty, have to pee, they get bored. But beyond the script or the plan, the real work came with the actors, who fortunately are very smart and talented guys. They both understood the story’s tone and subtleties. And they both added a lot to the story. We discovered and extended the scenes and the moments on the set. There were no rehearsals, there were conversations, reexaminations, and a great spirit of exploration.

The situation of the American-Mexican border, legality, illegality, all these elements seem to make the film a crossroad film, where opposites attract and complement each other. Do you agree with this?

Yes. The border between these two countries is very peculiar. On the one hand, there is binational and bicultural assimilation but, on the other, that imaginary line does mark a radical different in many aspects. The film talks about the differences between these two countries, embodied in the two protagonists, but it also shows the common elements that come to light before a basic need. The need to survive. Again, the aim of the film is to avoid simplifying the situation and the characters. Thus, the lines between the "good” and the "bad” are blurred. Legality and illegality are very questionable in this world.

How was this experience in this, your directorial debut, and the passage from being scriptwriter and producer to directing?

My experience as director was delicious. I was lucky to be surrounded by a team of friends and professionals who believed in the project and in me as director, and I’ll always be grateful for that. Not to mention the great fortune of working with such amazing actors. I had never directed anything, not a short film, not an advertisement… so I’m grateful that all those people believed in me based only on a script and a mad enthusiasm.

My experience as studio executive, writer and producer, no doubt helped me feel relatively comfortable on the set. Though it was a surreal experience the moment when I realized I was the one who had to say "action” and "cut”.

What decisions did you make to create this road movie, this thriller, in a non-classic way, with your own stamp?

In the process of creating and making the film, I wanted to go against the cliché and the obvious. That resulted in a combination of genres and a narrative structure different to traditional things. For example, characters often enter and exit the story in a radical way. Like what happens in real life. People come in and out of our lives and perhaps we never hear from them again. Another example is the way violence is portrayed in the film. My intention was to go against the typical stylized violence the audience is so used to, and even anesthetized. I wanted to show the real dramatic weight of ugly violence in a contained but real way. There aren’t too many gunshots but the ones that appear are very serious. And, lastly, the decision to make it a road movie was an organic result of the plot. It is a film about the flow between borders. And locking these men inside a car was a good excuse to make them talk to each other.

How did you work with the direction of actors, with acclaimed performers such as Tim Roth and Kristyan Ferrer, an incredible actor who becomes a brilliant counterpart?

The work with the actors was extraordinary. They both have long and vast careers and contributed a lot to the film. But mainly they were very generous with one another and with me. Tim Roth has not only worked with some of the most prominent filmmakers in contemporary cinema but he also directs. So he approaches every scene with a keen eye. He questions, suggests things and completely understands the general tone and intention of each scene and the film as a whole. And Kristyan has a tremendous range. Despite his young age, he has performed in several films. And he approached the character with absolute responsibility and commitment.


MON 2, 13.10, CIN 1
MON 2, 21.40, CIN 1
TUE 3, 18.50, CIN 1

 

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