Lorenzo Vigas, who made film festival history by being the first Venezuelan-born filmmaker to snag the Venice Golden Lion in 2015, is back on the Lido with “The Box” (“La Caja”), the final part of a trilogy that began with his Cannes Critics’ Week short “Elephants Never Forget” and continued with his Venice-winning feature debut, “From Afar.”
A resident of Mexico since 2001, Vigas was watching the news on TV about people recovering the bodies of their lost relatives from mass graves when the idea for “The Box” came to him. “I sat down to write and, in an hour, wrote the entire plot, practically in tears,” he tells Variety, adding: “This had never happened to me before.” He then set it aside to make “From Afar.” “The heart of the story is really about a boy in search of his father.” That’s the overriding theme in all three stories: What happens to a child who grows up without a father.”
In a patriarchal society like Latin America, fractured families and absent fathers are all too painfully common. Ironically, Vigas had a very close relationship with his late father, the renowned Venezuelan artist Oswaldo Vigas, and made a documentary about him, “The Orchid Seller,” which screened out of competition in Venice 2016.
In “The Box,” a young teenager played by non-pro Hatzin Navarrete, goes to pick up the remains of his father, which were exhumed from a mass grave in Northern Mexico. But as he’s on the bus heading home with the box, he spots a man (played by theater actor Hernan Mendoza) who looks very much like his supposedly dead father. He gets off the bus to confront the man and confirm his suspicions.
As in “From Afar,” where prominent Chilean actor Alfredo Castro played against newcomer Luis Silva, Vigas cast a newbie with a professional actor in his latest film. “When you pair a natural actor with a pro, they keep each other off balance and that’s when the magic happens,” he observes.
“The Box” was shot on 12 locations in Chihuahua and in the border town of Juarez, where large multinational factories are situated and where unresolved cases of vanished female workers persist. It is here where the teen’s father makes a living by recruiting people to work for them. “It was a complicated shoot as we couldn’t get permission to film in any of the factories, for industrial security reasons, but we got the chance when one broke down and they allowed us in,” Vigas recalls. Filming in the dangerous cartel-dominated state of Chihuahua also meant heavy security for the cast and crew.
Vigas is a producing partner in Teorema, Michel Franco’s production shingle whose “Sundown” is also in official competition at the Lido. “This is the first time we’re competing against each other. It’ll be fun. Let’s see who screws the other up,” he says, laughing, although he doubts very much it will put a kink in their long-time friendship. “We’ve known each other for more than 15 years,” he says.
“I have several ideas for my next film but I would like to focus on women this time,” he muses.