He has piled up awards and looks set for even greater acclaim with a moving new drama starring Jessica Chastain, but Michel Franco has no interest in being lured to Tinseltown.
Venice (AFP): He has piled up awards and looks set for even greater acclaim with a moving new drama starring Jessica Chastain, but Michel Franco has no interest in being lured to Tinseltown.
"Memory", which premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Friday, packs more moral conundrums into its 100 minutes than many directors manage in an entire career.
Featuring Chastain as a recovering alcoholic who meets a dementia patient, played by Peter Sarsgaard, it tackles buried trauma, the weakness of memory and the rights of disabled people to control their own lives.
Franco wrote and produced "Memory", as he has all his films.
Still just 44, he has covered a wide range of vital topics in his work, from a nightmarish military coup in "New Order" (which won the Grand Jury prize in Venice in 2020) to terminal illness in "Chronic" (best screenplay at Cannes in 2015), to teenage bullying in "After Lucia" (winner of the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2012).
The latter attracted renowned actor Tim Roth ("Pulp Fiction"), who has since appeared in two of Franco's films, "Chronic" and "Sundown".
But despite now working with one of Hollywood's biggest stars in Chastain, Franco is determined not to follow fellow Mexican directors like Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu to Los Angeles.
"Where I feel comfortable is in Mexico City. There are fewer rules," Franco told AFP in Venice.
"What is very interesting about the United States are the actors. In Mexico there are good actors, but the big leagues are in New York, in Los Angeles," he explains.
"I would never work in Hollywood," he said. "I would never work for a studio where I don't have the final cut of my film."
Nor is he a fan of streaming services, which he describes as "the enemies of cinemas".
Speaking ahead of the premiere of "Memory", Franco told AFP he had to delve deep into his anxieties for the script.
"One of my biggest fears is losing my mind. That's why I'm interested in exploring dementia," Franco told AFP.
But he insists his films are not born from a desire to tackle a particular theme.
"'Chronic' came out from seeing the nurse who cared for my grandmother, I had her right there in front of me every day."
For "Memory", the initial spark was imagining someone being followed home from a high school reunion, which is how the main characters meet.
"I didn't know why or who they were. But that was the first thing that occurred to me," Franco said.
Parents often fail their children in Franco's films, but he says: "I try not to see them as villains because then it's uninteresting.
"I am interested in broken people, who have not completely finished inventing themselves. People with insecurities, with fears, give me more confidence than those who think they have everything clear," he added.
His scripts are brutally precise but never weighed down with explanatory dialogue, preferring to let performances and visual details do the work.
"The more I can achieve without dialogue, the better. The rule is 'less is more'," he said.