Jonás Cuarón’s “Desierto A Political Thriller” Is Mexico’s Selection for an Oscar®

Mexico’s Selection for the Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming 89th Academy Awards®

By Annabella Campos

Written and directed by Jonás Cuarón, co-writer of his father Alfonso’s Oscar-winning film Gravity, Desierto is a political thriller that follows Moises (Gael García Bernal) who, after living in California without complete legal status documentation, was deported to Mexico after being detained for a traffic violation. In an effort to rejoin his wife and son, he crosses the U.S. border on foot with a group of others seeking the American dream. Their lives, however, are endangered by Sam, an anti-immigrant extremist (Jeffery Dean Morgan) who has taken justice into his own hands, by using a loaded gun, and a hunting dog. Desierto is Mexico’s official selection to seek the Best foreign film nominations at the 2017 Academy Awards.

García Bernal and Jonás Cuarón were in attendance at a Los Angeles screening of the film followed by a panel discussion moderated by CNN Español presenter Juan Carlos Arciniegas. The panel discussion delved into the foundation of the film’s story and expanded on how the cautionary tale is projecting a closer reality.

Cuarón wrote the screenplay about 10 years ago as a parable to where society could end up if hatred was allowed to increase the fears against migration and foreigners. During the interview Arciniegas asked Cuarón how the film’s theme has parallels to today’s political rhetoric. Cuarón, “I started this film 10 years ago, and back then there was already this political discourse brewing in Arizona, but before in California there was a prop even years before that which tried to promote those ideas. There were all those discourses brewing of hatred, hatred towards migrants and foreigners.”

Jonás Cuarón, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Gael García Bernal attend a special screening of Desierto at Regal L.A. Live in L.A. October 11, 2016. © Andrew Hreha/STX Entertainment.

Cuarón considered the anti-immigrant rhetoric having a smaller impact during the time he began to write the script 10 years ago. Cuarón, “Back then [discourses] were smaller, when I wrote Desierto I wrote it kind of a parable to where we arrive to society with this hatred. But you know to me it was always this far far away scenario. The sad thing is that after these 10 years, and after this electoral year where all this hatred has been thrown into the country, I sadly don’t think it’s a far away scenario to what happens in this movie.”

For a famed actor like García Bernal, Desierto is another opportunity to build on the awareness he has brought to the issue of immigration for a more than a decade. In 2013 García Bernal took on the documentary project Who is Dayani Cristal?, the story of an undocumented migrant who died in Arizona. The documentary Who is Dayani Cristal? went on to win the Amnesty International Best Documentary Award in 2014 and the film has been broadcasted to over 2 million viewers and digitally around the world. “Gael’s connection and dedication to the story was great,” Cuarón tell us.  “In between the takes he would share with the whole crew his stories about the documentary he had done. He not only brought that to the character but he brought that knowledge to the whole team.”

Arciniegas asked García Bernal to share how he had earlier expressed making the immigration dialogue more about love and less about the political outcries to build walls. García Bernal explained,  “We have been through a big introspection with this film. Talking about this issue in many places – It is a worldwide phenomenon, it is not exclusive here or what only happens in the border between Mexico and the US; we have been discussing the topic of migration in a very wrong way because we are criminalizing a natural phenomenon”. He continued, “It’s undoubtedly that we are here still on Earth because of migration, humans have existed thanks to migration. It is something that life needs; it needs the coming and going, it needs this constant change and constant travel.”

García Bernal expressed concern and called upon the need to organize and discuss the needs that will decriminalize the term of migration and instead bring a humane path of legalization. García Bernal added that we cannot stay quiet about migration for much longer, because migration has and will happen even though some remain opposed to it.

As García Bernal put it, “So we need to open a discussion, which is not an easy one, it is a complicated one. But we need to open a discussion in a much more comprehensive loving way, that talks about the future of humanity in the whole world. To stop this rhetoric of hate and negation. Because when we are just negating, we are just negating the reality.”

The current political landscape in the U.S. has allowed heighten hatred towards immigration and foreigners. The fact is, that racism and discrimination will prevail if we, who oppose these injustices and acts against humanity stay silent. García Bernal expressed the responsibility to speak up, “This is something that obviously politicians are so afraid of because it’s what doesn’t get them elected.  It is the first dart, look at Europe, look at what happens here, look at what happens everywhere in the world. There’s a chauvinist – bigoted success in electoral terms, and we need to stop that. Because the silence is as guilty as the speech of hatred.”

Cuarón expressed that the film is a dedication to the many who have lived the perilous journey to find a better life in the U.S. He went on to say, “…to me my interest was partly to put the hero in the narrative of the migrant. Whenever you read the stories, you realize in modern times they’re the real heroes, they’re risking their lives for really noble causes, which are to better their own lives and that of their families. Obviously the movie is dedicated to them.”

Desierto has been selected as Mexico’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming 89th Academy Awards. The film won the international critics FIPRESCI prize at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015, and was also nominated for best film at the London Film Festival in 2015. STX Entertainment released the film in France and Mexico back in April, and in the United States back in October.

Desierto will be available on DVD on February 7, 2017.

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