Venezuelan filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas is certainly rising in the international film scene. His 2015 featured film, From Afar, won the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. Born in Mérida, Venezuela, he is the son of the famous Venezuelan painter Oswaldo Vigas. Vigas graduated from the University of Tampa with a degree in molecular biology and then pivoted to filmmaking in 1995, graduating from New York University with a degree in cinema studies.
Vigas’s latest film, La Caja (“The Box”), follows a young boy, Hatzin Leyva (Hatzin Navarrete), traveling to Mexico City to claim the ashes of his recently deceased father. On his way back, he sees Mario Enderle (Hernán Mendoza), a man who looks much like his father. In his grief, the boy follows Mario around in hopes of keeping his memory alive.
Screen Speck sat down with Lorenzo Viga to discuss his latest film, La Caja, and what do father figures mean to Latin American culture.
Screen Speck: First of all, congratulations on La Caja. It’s the unfortunate reality that a film like this or Dos Estaciones, which I saw at Sundance this year, hardly make it to a broader American audience. What’s been your overall experience with filmmaking, and what are some of your sources of inspiration?
Lorenzo Vigas: My inspiration comes from many places. I would say that my main source of inspiration is the work of my father, the painter Oswaldo Vigas. In general, I love painting and photography, and I get inspiration from various artists.
I also watch a lot of cinema from the masters. Robert Bresson, Fellini, Bergman, and Antonioni are masters that have inspired me, and I often return to their works as references.
SS: It’s been interesting to follow themes of paternal figures throughout your work. First with From Afar and now with La Caja. You mentioned fatherhood and father figures in Latin America as a massive point of inspiration for some of your work. What do you think makes fathers so crucial to Latin American culture?
LV: We live in a continent dominated by the patriarchy. Many mothers are forced to raise their children alone because it is accepted for men to have several families.
The Box is primarily a film about the consequences of orphanhood. What are the consequences for young teenagers who do not have a father at home? How we go through life seeking to replace that figure. What do we cling to instead? To a political figure to whom we accept everything because they fill that emptiness? Without that presence in the house, young people grow up without a defined identity. That is the main theme of The Box. What we are willing to do to get the father’s love.
We all have a locked box at home. A box that we carry on our shoulders when we go out on the street. Some are able to open that box and take out the heavy things inside; others never dare to open it, they carry it all their lives. The Box is about that the box we all have at home.
SS: Hatzin Navarrete, a first-time actor, is your protagonist. Precisely for this film, how did the story come together, and why was it so important for your lead character to be someone so young? Especially fostering the idea of “lying” as a foundational truth, ironically, to the culture of Latin Americans and dominant male culture?
LV: Hatzin had to be a very young actor because that is the age at which people search for their identity and not having had a father at home they grow up without a tangible reference to help them find themselves. It is also at that age that basic concepts about morality are assimilated and digested. It is a wonderful age but also full of dangers, very attractive for a story.
SS: Something I found so compelling about this film is the character’s study of grief and trauma. Many films concerning Latin sensibilities usually dwell on traumatic events but not so much on the aftermath. What was your process for portraying the inner workings of a young kid who lost his father, and how do you see grief being represented?
LV: Hatzin never had a connection with his father; when he is given the box of his remains, this connection begins to develop. Not having had a father at home runs the risk of “idealizing” the father figure. If you have a mother present, as a human being, she is full of flaws and virtues, and she is a human being. It is common to “idealize” him by not having a father. Then when you replace that figure with another person, as in Hatzin’s case, you run the risk of accepting them regardless of who they are and what they have done.
SS: I’ve had my own complicated emotions regarding “representation,” especially from those who demand it from Hollywood. What’s your relationship with the abstract concept of “representation” in mainstream Hollywood regarding the Latin community? Or is this a question of how Latin countries should nurture their own film industry?
LV: It is important that our cinema is free of clichés and repeating the same stories, because if we ourselves cannot tell stories without falling into them, how can we expect Hollywood films about the Latino community not to?
Latin American cinema has an increasingly strong and unique voice in the global context. But it is always easier to represent us by repeating the same stories. We have to fight against that.
SS: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about Venezuela. I was born there and moved to the US at a young age but am still strongly connected to it. What are some of your impressions of Venezuela’s film history, and would you ever want to go back and film there again?
LV: First of all, I am very proud to be able to represent my country, Venezuela, for the third time at the Oscars. There is a new generation of filmmakers, most of them living abroad, who are telling stories that resonate internationally. I could mention Mariana Rondón, Gustavo Rondón, Rober Calzadilla, Jorge Tielen-Armand… I am sure that they, among others, will continue to make high-quality films that represent us around the world.
The difficult situation my country is going through, which has forced many artists to live in exile, serves as a wealth of ideas for artistic creation.