Meet the (New) Director: Alejandro Fernández Almendras, ‘To Kill a Man’

Posted by Erik Luers on 3.21.2014

The 43rd edition of New Directors/New Films is now officially underway! In an effort to get to know the featured filmmakers a little better, we've created a compendium of sorts, opening up the floor for the filmmakers to talk about their work (yesterday, Ana Lily Amirpour, the director of Opening Night film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, shared her thoughts on the filmmaking process). 

Screening this week, To Kill a Man has been hailed by Variety as "a grim, fat-free revenge thriller that extracts an impressive degree of moral equivocation from its exceedingly simple premise." Although a lover of the cinema from an early age, Chilean director Alejandro Fernández Almendras attended journalism school before finally finding a camera in his hands for the first time 14 years ago. His filmmaking inspirations include Abbas Kiarostami, Hou Hsiao-sien, and Pablo Trapero.

To Kill a Man
Alejandro Fernández Almendras, Chile/France, 2014, 82m
Spanish with English subtitles

Description: Bullying is a phenomenon that doesn’t just take place in the schoolyard. In Alejandro Fernández Almendras’s raw, unnerving psychological thriller, bullies and their victims live side by side in a working-class neighborhood. Passive Jorge tries to ignore the cruel taunting of some local thugs who would be considered juvenile delinquents if they weren’t full-grown adults. But when the worst of the bunch steals Jorge’s insulin syringe, and his son winds up in the hospital with a gunshot wound after attempting to get it back, Jorge and his wife seek redress legally—to no avail. The family is humiliated again and again, and when his teenage daughter is sexually threatened, Jorge, pushed over the edge, decides to take matters into his own hands. A Film Movement release.

Responses from Alejandro Fernández Almendras:

On real life being stranger than fiction:
The film is loosely based on a true story. Some five years ago I saw a news report about this family being harassed by a local thug and how they felt desperate and frightened. At one point they decided the best and maybe the only thing to do was to go and kill that man. When the reporter asked the assassin if given the same conditions—the threatened family, the inefficiency of the justice system, the growing menace of the thug—he would go the same road again and kill the man, he says, categorically: "No, because you don't have any idea what it means to kill a man." Those words resonated a lot in me and I decided to make a film about that, about a man who doesn't want to kill and in a way is forced by circumstances for to so.

On searching for actors of all kinds to provide truth:
I tend to blend professional and nonprofessional actors. I like to work with actors in the sense that's easy to build a character, to give it a clear arc or development, since they are trained to put random acts into context. But I also love to work with nonprofessionals in the sense that they give you a much stronger feel of realism. When a nonprofessional actor who is a baker is kneading you get a feeling of truth that's impossible to get with an actor, and that's the reason most of the supporting cast is nonprofessional.

On filmmaking being extremely challenging, difficult work that can take its toll:
As in any small production, money—or lack of money—was a big issue. We had only four weeks to shoot a 110-page script—some 220 scenes in 24 days—which is crazy. So we had to adapt to a lot of things on the fly and be flexible enough to change the script in order to match the real production conditions. If the day we had planned to shoot at a school and it was closed for elections, then we'd have to change to the next best available location. For that reason, I finished shooting exhausted and tired. So tired, and up to a point depressed, that I had to wait some five months before starting to edit the film.

On putting good ideas to good use:
Right now I'm working on several different projects, trying to make them work. I have two finished scripts looking for financing and I'm also working on another idea. One script is lighter, a kind of comedy, with a lot of music, Latin rock from the ’80s. The other a corporate thriller in the vein of Alan Pakula films. And the third will be a fantastic film, close to science fiction. 

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