Kenya Marquez blends humor with twisted darkness in her impressive debut feature Expiration Date.The narrative follows an old woman whose beloved only son has gone missing. The realationship between mother and son is far than typical and more like slave and master. The film opens showing the mother, Ramona, cutting her son's toenails on a beaten up and bloodied foot. After he has been missing for days, Ramona checks the morgue to no avail. Convinced he is still alive, she proceeds to search for him all over Guadalajara and is very quick to place blame on the underserving bystanders who cross her path. Everything is not what it appears to be in this feature ScreenDaily calls "a satisfying, perhaps twisted isomorph of the conventional rom com."
What was your inspiration behind writing and directing Expiration Date?
After losing close people in my life, I had a hard time coping with it and I decided that my first feature film must explore a mother and son love story, but starting at the point where the son vanishes and later the mother finds out that he’s dead. This way, Ramona, the character portrayed by Ana Ofelia Murguía, carries with her the burden of pain. Also, I wanted to link that story with the tragic love episodes of Mariana (played by Marisol Centeno), a woman escaping from a violent past and Genaro (Damián Alcázar), a lonely man looking for someone to care about. These three dramatic lines build the whole film through individual perceptions colored with dark humor.
The film features the same events from three different characters' point of view. What inspired you to use this kind of structure?
It was the need of exploring how each human being has a particular perception and how, when that perception is wrong, it becomes a prejudice. An innocent man could be seen as a guilty murderer, for example, or the other way around. Wrong perceptions lead to disaster. So I thought it could be interesting to play with that notion—that’s where the dark humor surfaces as a useful tool. However, it was a pretty complex process. Also, I felt that telling the story from different points of view and context would require a puzzle-type structure. This way, the viewer has the chance to place the last pieces of that puzzle.
Given the unique chronology of the film's story, was there a certain order to filming?
Obviously, we tried to take the most advantage of locations and camera blocking as possible, since we were on a tight schedule. But in a broad sense, we designed the shooting in order to approach each one of the characters’ stories one at the time.
Although the film features plenty of harrowing and slightly disturbing subject matter, there is an element of comedy to it as well. How did you go about finding the right tone in which to tell the story?
I knew it was going to be a great challenge to use dark humor to tell the great tragedy of a mother losing her son. But dark humor is deep inside all my works and it’s in my person too, so it goes with me everywhere I go. Initially I was planning to tell the story as a lean drama, but the actions and dialogues and atmospheres always lead to dark humor in every draft. So I decided not to resist to my instincts and assume that if my previous short films were told under the same peculiar perspective, my first feature must be faithful to that feeling. Fortunately, I found in my co-writer Alfonso Suárez a sort of twin soul who never discards any idea, no matter how fanciful it sounds. We work under a wonderful creative freedom. And there’s also another essential element: I’m truly obsessive and that is reflected in all my characters. And if we add to all these ingredients the complexities of living in a country like Mexico these days, there you go.
The actors all give impressively complex performances. How did you approach working with them?
Working with these actors was a true pleasure. In the case of Ana Ofelia and Damián, we started working together when I was still writing the the script with Alfonso and raising funding for the film. Marisol joined the project in the last stages. But in all cases we did a lot of table reading and we talked a lot. They were so committed that, by the end, they truly "owned" their respective characters. So when we shot, they knew perfectly what I wanted from them. Besides, I’ve been working with Ana Ofelia and Damián since my first work in 1998 and they’re my fetish actors and Marisol has become a great discovery for me.
Expiration Date is the Opening Night film of the 13th Latinbeat Film Festival at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It screens Friday, August 10 with director Kenya Marquez, producer Karla Uribe, and actor Dámian Alcázar in person! The film screens again Sunday, August 12.