By Peter Fraser
Anapola Mushkadiz plays Ana in Carlos Reygadas' new film Battle in Heaven . Like the rest of the film's cast she is a non-actress. Ana plays a well-off girl who prostitutes herself while conducting a sexual liaison with Marcos, her father's middle-aged chauffeur. This interview reveals some elements of the story.
How did you meet Carlos and how did you become involved in the film?
A friend of mine went to the casting and Carlos told her, 'Oh no, I'm looking for a girl like this' and she said, 'Oh you'll have to meet Anapola'. So she gave them my phone number and they called me. So I went and met Carlos and I knew that even if I wasn't going to be in the film then we were going to be really good friends.
How did you feel about being involved in the film?
I was really really excited. It seemed like such a great thing to do. I've always been into art, poetry, sculpture and everything and my mother studied art cinema so she's passionate about it. I've always had this passion for cinema in my house and inside of me so it seemed like something really beautiful to work in a Carlos Reygadas movie. After seeing Japon, I knew that it was going to be something really beautiful. Maybe if it had just been a silly movie then I wouldn't have done it.
Was Carlos what you expected?
Yes, completely. It's very nice to spend such a creative time with a person and at the same time to like them so much. I wish to have him near my life all my life. I really like him as a person; I think he's great. He's such a great person with such good ideas; I think that's what makes him such a good director.
Did he explain to you what he was looking for?
No. I know that his first option was this pop singer in Mexico and she's such a really pretty girl so I knew he was looking for someone who was very feminine but if you see me and this girl then we're completely the opposite, but I know that what he liked about me was that I was very different to all the girls that he actually did casting with. He liked the idea of the dreadlocks and just having a different kind of girl and we liked each other as people as well.
How did he explain his methods?
Well he didn't! After he told me that I was going to be the one he just told me that he wanted to be with me and spend a lot of time with me and get to know me very well because what he wanted was to show me as clearly as possible on the screen. He never said, 'Oh you're this girl, who's coming from here, who feels like this about the world and these are your ideas.' There's no character you know? It almost seems like he took Anapola from her life and then put her in Carlos Reygadas' world. So we just spent lots of time together and became friends and after this he knew what he would have to get from me to show it on the screen. It seemed like something really beautiful to try and get to know people and then show them: the more essential way in which you can show them. So that seems really beautiful: a really clear idea to me.
So how much of the film were you aware of at the beginning?
I knew the general story, but I never read a script or anything. In cinema, the story is thousands of things, you know? I knew the overall story but not why we were doing this scene or where would this scene fit. So when I finally saw the movie I was really surprised and really excited. I knew I was going to like the movie but, to be very honest, when I saw it I liked it much much more than I thought I would. It really surprised me when I saw it. It was so beautiful. It's always great to get more than you expected, no? That's why it's better never to expect. As for the sexual scenes, I knew about all those from the beginning.
The film has attracted a degree of controversy for its sex scenes. Presumably you were aware in advance that this might be the case?
Actually it's really funny because no. I knew that the sex scenes were going to happen but I didn't think that it was going to be such a big thing because for me it's not such a big thing. I don't think that I have any taboos. I'm not scandalised by people being naked or having sex. Maybe I was seeing everything from my own perspective but I never thought that it was going to be such a big deal. When I first saw the movie I thought ok, maybe people will get a little bit scandalised but I didn't think that it was going to be such a big thing actually.
How did you find working with the other actors, Marcos for instance?
It was great. I really enjoyed working with Marcos because he's such a simple person. He's so wonderful; I learned a lot from him. You know we more Occidental people have such a big necessity to explain everything detail by detail, giving everything an intellectual and logical perspective. We can go on and on with every small thing in life but he on the contrary is a person who has no need for explaining and giving intellectual reasons for things that are just things, you know? For me that was really beautiful because I really admire simplicity in life and he's just such a simple person. It was wonderful to spend so much time with a person like this and get to know him. Normally all the relationships that you start making are because people know where you come from, what you want to do, what you think about life and then it becomes really deep but with Marcos we never really talked like 'Oh what do you think about this, about that', it was 'how are you', 'I'm good. Thank you.' It would seem that it was a really superficial relationship but I think that in a real sense it was really deep, just very simple, and I really liked that about working with him.
How do you feel that Ana, the character in the film, feels towards Marcos?
Well, I would say that every time is different because, for example, the first time I saw the movie I really got the feeling of love between her and Marcos. It almost seems like there was the story of Marcos and the crime he committed but at the same time there was this love story between them. Marcos had his problems but he knew that Ana was not a happy girl. Ana knew the same thing about him. Although they're from very different worlds it seems like suffering is suffering in any kind of situation. They both share it. Then the second time I saw the movie I was like 'wow! Ana is so manipulative!' I felt as if she was taking control of Marcos' life and really moving him around. It seemed like she was a really cold hard bitch. I think that one of the nice things about all the characters is that you can really think whatever you want to think about them.
There was a story that Carlos wanted to film: a man that commits a crime and there's no way back and then from this he ends up taking another life and at the end lets his life go away. This is the story but then inside the story there are so many little thing happening but nothing is written. I think that this is actually a movie where you can go, sit down, watch it and then let your mind go free and imagine so many things, no? It's a movie that after it's finished there's still another movie happening in your mind you know? So I think that this is really wonderful. Every person I meet says completely different things about the characters and I think that's the beauty of it. Everybody can make their own story from the story. I think that's really wonderful. I hope that if I ever become an artist that will happen with my art, no? Most of the time in cinema these days the director takes your hand and leads you around a very linear story: this is the climax, this is the ending and then there's something to learn, which seems a bit boring.
How long was the shoot and what was the atmosphere like?
It was a very long time. It was five or six months or something like that but not all the time. The atmosphere was really good. At the beginning we started with a bigger crew but very slowly we became a smaller crew. There was this feeling that we were all working. There were no stars sitting there and saying, 'bring me my coffee and treat me well' or Carlos being a director and screaming at everybody. It seemed like we were all working together from the heart. So we all ended up being very good friends. For example the location manager and the other girl who were also helping in production: one is my cousin and the other one is her best friend. Then another girl that we brought from production she was a friend of ours. So we were all young and friends. Really, really nice. So we had a great time doing the movie.
Were there a lot of takes for each shot?
Not so much. There are no rehearsals. From time to time the first take would be the one because it was the most spontaneous but there were never ten takes of anything. I think that the most was five for example in the car when there was traffic and there were many things that had to be synchronised. For me as a non-actress it was really great to know that Carlos knows what he wants. He gives you that confidence. I knew that he was never going to say cut until he had what he really wanted. This gives you a lot of trust in him and in yourself at the same time. It makes the work much easier, much more relaxed.
Were there any particular events during filming that stick in your memory?
The scene of the killing was great. It was so exciting with the blood and everything. It was lots of fun. The whole movie was lots of fun. All the time I was working on the movie really seems like one of the greatest times of my life. We had a very good time. When we went to the premiere in Mexico City my cousin cried. She said 'now it's over!' Even though we'd finished shooting, the movie had been there all this time but now after the premiere everything closed. We all had a very good time.
How have your friends and family reacted to the film?
My mother really loves the movie. For my father and my brother it's been a bit harder. You know I'm the little girl in the house and it's really hard to see me doing the things that I have to do in the film but they're all very happy for me. I've always been an independent radical person so this just seemed like something natural coming from me.
What now? Would you like to continue acting or would you prefer to do something else?
I want to start doing my own films. I have some ideas and my friends and I are going to start doing short films. I always wanted to be an artist since I was very young and still I think that I'm very young so I wouldn't consider myself an artist or a poet right now. I feel like I need to study more. It seems that the more I grow the more I realise how important it is to be prepared and to really focus on what you want to do. You know dreams don't happen because they are dreams. They happen when you put in an effort and really dedicate yourself to what you want to do. So it would seem really silly to throw my dream away and not become an artist just because I have an open door, no? Even though it's been an amazing experience and I love cinema it wouldn't seem right because this was never my dream. Being famous is not something I wanted. On the contrary, that's not what I want. So mainly I want to keep on studying what I want to study. I have a very nice arts project with a gallery in Mexico City . I might even go to university. Then again filming is something that I really love so if I do have opportunities to work in this kind of cinema then I will, but I wouldn't do it to be famous.
What if Carlos asked you to appear in another?
He won't. He always likes to work with new people. Maybe I will appear very briefly in his next movie but I can see why he likes to work with new people and why he doesn't like to work with actors and I think that it's a really great method. Others have done it like Bresson but he really does it in a particular way. He really goes into the street and gets the people into the shot. It's really spontaneous.