[Fantasia 2020] More Than Just a Sneak Peak at José Luis Saturno’s La Melodía Torrencial

23 Jul

José Luis Saturno

Monsters and and Humans Shorts
July 23 at 9:00 PM at the Cinéma du Musée

In Fantasia’s 2022 list of animated shorts, not only did José Luis Saturno’s poster for La Melodía Torrencial catch my attention for its artistic design but also the trailer looked fabulous! The art design had a touch of Tim Burton’s design aesthetic which I adored, and I had to know more. I mentioned this film in my top animated picks list, and got a chance to see this short film ahead of its premiere.

This story about a rainmaker going by the name of Fluvio has a lot of layers tucked into its narrative. When a township sought him out to bring them rain to their arid community, what they get–some may say–was their just desserts. But there’s a lot more going on in Saturno’s latest work than meets the eye.

This filmmaker studied Film Animation at Concordia University in Montreal and started producing even before finishing his degree. He didn’t submit for film festivals until his third year in school, and instead of working for the big studios, he decided going independent was the way to go.

Thus, Enjambre Hexagonal was born. A few of their works can be found on YouTube, but to see them as they’re intended, on the big screen, is a must so the detail can be appreciated. He hires freelance artists as part of the staff to do this work, and the people on call include Yann Ben Alluch who does the storyboards and helps animate (“El mimo y la mariposa negra”). Robin Servant handles all the music and is the talent behind the sounds in La Melodía Torrencial. 

He said, “I never felt compelled to work in the industry from the bottom in the hopes of one day being hired as a director. I simply wanted to make films as quickly as possible.”

The only job he did in the industry was subtitling and translating Spanish works for cinema and television. Between this job and having producer friends to help, he’s crafted four shorts since. One reason he loves working in stop-motion is that it, according to Saturno, is the closest thing to playing God. You’re manipulating every single detail on the set. From lighting to deciding where everything goes, it’s a lot more fun, especially when with the clay medium, you’re controlling everything including how the characters express themselves in a scene.

José said, “Time and patience is your most important tool while working with this technique.”

And, I had more questions:

LA MELODÍA TORRENCIAL tendrá su premiere mundial en ANIMAFEST ZAGREB 2022 - Cine.red

What got you interested in being a filmmaker, and why did you choose to specialise in animation cinema?

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that cinema allows you to materialise and refine, with sound and image, all those stimulating experiences that your mind offers you. Suddenly, all those products of your imagination cease to be individual experiences to become collective ones. Animation is a great vehicle for that. What I like about stop-motion is that you deal with certain limitations of live-action, while having the chance to visually enhance our world to create a new one on screen.

Were there any movies that inspired you along this path?

The Wizard of Oz is visually stunning, and it showed me that my imagination was the limit. It inspired me to create my own worlds. Cinema Paradiso not only had a compelling story, but taught me that there was such a thing as a job at making movies.

Before that, I was mostly familiar with jobs related to science and farming. The Never-ending story, as well as Disney’s Pinocchio, are films that treat children as intelligent. Those films never tried to make things easy for you as a young viewer. They can be visually pleasant, but also harsh.

There’s this bigger pay-off at the end of them because the characters in these two films face actual dangers. Unlike many current fantasy films, these don’t try to hide that sometimes life can be tough, but also full of hope and beauty.

How would you say your style has evolved over the years? I’ve noticed from the images/trailers of your previous works that it’s gotten a lot more detailed.

Well, each film has been the product of the limited resources I had in those days. For The Mime and the Black Butterfly, I had many wonderful ideas. But having nothing but wire, plasticine, 90 kilos of sand, four lights, one camera, one lens, a green screen, and 20 days to film 4 minutes of animation, I had to settle for a minimalist film.

Rather than having a noticeable change in style or vision, I think I am simply becoming more resourceful.

When concerning your Mexican heritage, what’s special about it which you like to put into your works?

Naturally, it is the culture that I was born into whose motifs I master the best to tell my stories. And I’m lucky to be in it, it’s an old, colourful culture, with a complex history intermingled with mythology. That gives me a lot of narrative possibilities.

Premiere LA MELODÍA TORRENCIAL en ANIMAFEST ZAGREB 2022

Is there a particular aspect of modern day Mexican spirituality / mythology that you find yourself really drawn into? I know that in popular culture, a lot of filmmakers tend to focus on the Day of the Dead, but what else is there?

I like the fact that Mexican reality, especially its history, is intertwined with spiritual and mythological aspects.

There’s definitely a lot more than Day of the Dead, but I don’t think there’s another celebration that has the marketing potential foreign filmmakers seek in Mexican culture. Among Mexican filmmakers, the Mexican Revolution is also a very popular subject in our cinema. Just like the Spanish Civil War, Mexican Revolution has become its own genre. I have not explored anything like that in my works.

I couldn’t help but note the emphasis on the skull decoration on the accordion in La Melodía Torrencial. Is that supposed to mean anything?

In this story, the skull means “change,” rather than “death.” Because Fluvio with his rain brings death and life in equal measure.

Actually, I would say it gives a second chance rather than senseless and cruel destruction. I would also add the use of purple in the accordion’s bellow. The purple means magic, change, even death. There’s more “death” portrayed in the colour purple than in that golden skull.

La melodía torrencial', el genial corto mexicano que llegará al AnimaFest

What legends were you drawing on when developing this character?

Fluvio, the accordion player, it’s a mix of two characters. In Mexico, we have the “graniceros,” people with the gift to communicate with natural deities and thus alter climatic conditions. And in the Babylonian Talmud, appears Honi, the ring-drawer. Fluvio is not a faithful representation of Honi nor the “graniceros,” but they helped in my research process.

Unlike Honi, who has the power to give orders to a God, or the “graniceros” that manipulate the weather at will, Fluvio is a demigod controlled by both humans and Gods. He’s a tragic character.

Unlike Honi, who has the power to give orders to a God, or the “graniceros” that manipulate the weather at will, Fluvio is a demigod controlled by both humans and Gods. He’s a tragic character in many ways.

As for the town, did they doom themselves when wanting to seek help from this rainmaker?

They doomed themselves the moment they affected the delicate balance of nature and destroyed their own natural resources. This is not different from what Mexico and other nations are currently doing to their lands. Inadvertently, all nations are calling Fluvio without realising it. The sad part is that we all have been doing it for a long time, and he is on its way.

In that regard, would you say your story is a morality play, fable, or magic realism?

This is a fairy tale. I am mostly reflecting on what I have been seeing for a long time in my county, La Laguna, in northern Mexico (this town is based on La Laguna and Peñón Blanco). I don’t really try giving a moral lesson. Unfortunately, I don’t really have the answers; I am simply sharing a lot of my questions.

When you’re ready, would you make this short, or any other, into a feature length work? 

Right now, I really think this story is better suited for a short subject. I think part of the charm of La Melodía Torrencial is the fact that it is short and simple. It seeks to appeal to the child in all the adults, as well as challenging younger audiences. Plus, it’s in the nature of a real fairy tale to have this lack of closure. The moment we seek to complicate the narrative of a fairy tale, it loses its magic.

What would you say is next?

I am currently developing a feature animated film in mid-century Mexico City. In an urban environment, dealing with fantasy too, but in a whole different fashion. The film will definitely feel part of the worlds I create, but it won’t follow the same path La Melodía Torrencial took in terms of narration.

What are your hopes in terms of what the audience will take away from this short?

I actually don’t have any expectations, I am just letting myself be surprised by the reactions that some audience members share with me at the end of the screenings. I like the fact that each person takes something different out of the film.

José Luis Saturno’s La Melodía Torrencial Trailer

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