By Josh Gardner
Five years after they brought their first film, Halley, to Sundance, director Sebastián Hofmann and his co-screenwriter and producer Julio Chávezmontes returned to Park City with their latest work. Time Share stars Luis Gerardo Méndez as a family man driven to the edge of sanity after he signs up for a timeshare promotion at an all-inclusive resort. Deftly blending horror and black comedy with a dash of absurdity, Hofmann and Chávezmontes won a well-deserved World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenwriting.
TropicalFRONT sat down with the pair the night after their world premiere, still recovering after a long night of celebration, but excited to discuss their newest film.
Explain how you arrived at the idea for this film.
Sebastián Hofmann: The idea [for the film] came about when I spent a year in an all-inclusive, like one of those massive hotels. My mom used to sell timeshares—she wasn't very successful at it—but I remember this world of timeshare sales, the uniforms and just that philosophy. I always thought it would be something fascinating to explore.
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining was also a big influence. Julio and I asked, what would happen if we took all the ghosts away, removed all the supernatural elements from that movie, and you're left with just the patriarchal characters and the patriarchal philosophy of life. The only monsters in our movie are the human beings.
Julio Chávezmontes: One of the core influences, and one that was really important was to us, was Dracula—the recent revisionists versions of Dracula, in which the hunters become the real monsters. The idea that these men go on a trajectory with the pretext of saving their families—and specifically their wives—from paradise, but they end up hurting them.
The movie very successfully balances black comedy and horror. How were you able to achieve this?
Julio: I think that was super tough. Sebastian did an amazing job. It really required Sebastian's direction, and the amazing cast of actors we had. To come in and really find “it” in rehearsal on set and really keep it consistent. It's really to their credit that the tone of the film works because it's something that we had to fight for—we had to struggle with writing the script for a long time.
Sebastián: Man, it was a challenge! I'm a big horror film fanatic since childhood. I'm not one of those film scholars that say I was influenced by Bergman and Tarkovsky. I was influenced by Wes Craven and John Carpenter. I think tone and atmosphere are my favorite brushes to paint with in cinema. They're almost more important to me than story and structure. That’s where Julio comes in and balances it out because, for him, he thinks in structure and characters and story and plot. I think of images and I like the dream world and the language of dreams, particularly nightmares.
So, yeah, this movie was a big risk from the beginning. It was like, this could go really bad. The plot is completely absurd and it's sort of like theater of the absurd. I really love Luis Buñuel—he’s like a god to me—so that's where the film came from. If you don't take those risks, then there's no point. That's where I find that artistic purpose, in taking those kind of risks. Otherwise, we'd be boring...A lot of Mexican cinema that's coming out today is Social Realism and to me it's so boring. Any movie that's pretending to be an actual photocopy of reality is so boring to me.
How did you put this incredible cast together?
Sebastián: The most important thing I wanted to do was to work with people who could do comedy. Luiz Gerardo Méndez and Miguel Rodarte are very famous in Mexico for their big blockbuster summer comedies. Everybody recognizes them from this genre. So I wanted to work the Peter Sellers tradition of acting, where I start working from the comedy and then build it up and then take it through the tragedy. Making people laugh is so much more difficult that make people cry. But, to find actors who can do both, that’s the most difficult thing.
In terms of RJ Mitte, I think Julio showed me a couple videos of RJ. He gives these motivational talks about how he was always told he could not act because he was born with Cerebral Palsy, but then he's one of the stars of Breaking Bad, one of the biggest shows in the history of television. He has this speech, “they told me I couldn't act, and look at me now.” When I got him on the phone I said the character is you, but for the exact opposite reasons. It's like the same speech, but for all the wrong reasons. And he loved that. He's so cute in reality and his characters—he’s so adorable and lovable. He really wanted to explore the dark side of himself and this sort of wacky American character living in a Mexican resort.
What does it mean to be back at Sundance and what do you think the major difference is this time compared with being here for your previous film?
Sebastián: At the [last] premiere I was so nervous I thought my heart was going to stop at some moment because it's the first time you’re showing the film publicly. When you make it to the end of the film there's this great relief. But this time around, I feel so protected by the crew and cast. I was so proud to be with them. There was so much love in the room, and everybody's so happy and so proud of this movie. The first time around we didn't know what was happening.
I've been having such a great time just living in the same house [with everyone]. It’s like a reunion in some way. We were all living the movie actually. We stayed in the hotel where we actually shot the movie and that was beautiful. That was about a year and a half ago and so this is like the reunion. A lot of them, I didn't see until we came back to Park City. That, man, just being with them, was amazing.
Julio: Sundance is such an amazing place because it’s a really important festival, but at the same time it's very intimate. It feels like the whole programming team really knows this and they're so supportive. They really make you feel at home. Obviously now, being in the World Cinema Competition, it feels like there's greater exposure. What’s really amazing, though, is that the treatment we’ve received from the festival this year has been exactly the same as it was when we were here with Halley in the Next section, when we were just starting out. I think they're the most dedicated festival team in the world.