On a visual level, it’s easy to compare Juan Pablo Blanco’s short film Soy Hombre (I’m a Man) to Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s acclaimed graphic novel Sin City. Both pay homage to film noir via a distinctly digital visual aesthetic that allows both films to situate themselves as contemporary artefacts that are indebted to the past. Blanco’s short, however, distinguishes itself away from Rodriguez’s feature as it feels specifically more Mexican in its construction. Through the language of the characters, the sparing yet precise use of pink, and the atmospheric music, the audience is thrust into an unsettling underbelly of Mexican society and specifically into the world of a leering taxi driver who picks up a quietly suspicious nurse. DN is proud to premiere Soy Hombre on our pages today and are joined by Blanco for a conversation below where he delves into the process of creating his short’s pulpy and evocative disposition.
What drew you to make Soy Hombre, and specifically a homage to film noir?
Soy Hombre started life as a small theatre play in Mexico City. Michelle González had this script for a 15 minute play and asked me to direct it. We asked Erika Koré to come on board and we worked on the story for a month or so until we all felt confident it was something worth sharing. For me, the creative concept and goal of the project was to create a homage to 1950s Mexican film noir using Luis Alcaraz music and somehow incorporate genres into each of the three chapters in the story. I had just finished my first feature film, a movie with almost no dialogue, mainly natural light photography and a different tone, so this new story was an opportunity to do something completely different; a genre piece focusing on dialogue that would be entertaining as hell.
I felt the urge to create a CGI universe and to just shoot with the actors in a classic crocodile taxi, used only in Mexico City in the fifties, a sort of a Sin City style film but Mexican and unique.
At what point during its theatre run did you decide it would make sense as a short film?
The short season we had in theatre was gratifying but for Michelle and I, it wasn’t enough. In the middle of the run, I told her that for me, the piece had to be a short film and she responded by saying that she’d help produce it. I felt the urge to create a CGI universe and to just shoot with the actors in a classic crocodile taxi, used only in Mexico City in the fifties, a sort of a Sin City style film but Mexican and unique. So we needed money and Michelle was all over it. She has been my partner in crime throughout the process.
One of the main ways it differs from the play is the stylisation of the film. The black and white visuals, with a sparing use of a vivid pink. What conversations were you having with your team when it came to developing the look of Soy Hombre?
I gathered the same team I worked with in La Jaula (The Trap), my feature film, and started having conversations with Amet Ramos, the VFX supervisor. It was an amazing process to work with him and Johan Olguín, the concept artist, to create the universe the short film needed. As the film was a homage, and not set in the fifties, a cellphone was a crucial part of the plot. The world we created needed to blend technology with classical elements in a subtle way to ensure that no attention was stolen from the story.
The creative concept and goal of the project was to create an homage to 1950s Mexican film noir.
And similarly the sound of the film pays homage too.
Carlos Mier, who did the music, and Diego Mier, our sound designer, were also a huge part of achieving the objective. The soundtrack was also to be a homage, but needed to sound new, and modern, and the sound design needed to be subtle enough to fortify the fiction without sounding like sci-fi. The collaboration was the most amazing part of the process.
What technology or equipment did you have to utilise to achieve such a clear-cut sonic and visual aesthetic?
We shot Soy Hombre in a day with Alexa Mini and Cooke anamorphic lenses, using only a Dolly Panther and tripod. Twenty-four hours of blue screen and directing Michelle, who was also a writer and producer, and Armando Hernández, who was a producer too. The fact that we’d already done the play together was amazingly helpful. Soy Hombre is a 23-minute-long dialogue based film and without the theatre season, we would’ve needed way more than a day of shooting. And with our limited budget, that would’ve been impossible. Quique de la Cruz, our DOP, and I had a very tight and clear storyboard and it was clear that it was going to be tough but hey, one day was all we had!
The world we created needed to blend technology with classical elements in a subtle way to ensure that no attention was stolen from the story.
When you say it had a clear storyboard, what does that entail?
All the decisions were made based on tone and effect, so we enhanced the movements and framing and the depth of field as the story crosses comedy and ends in horror.
After the day’s shoot, how long were you in post for? I’m guessing a lot of the work for the film would’ve been done during that period; the visuals effects, score composition, the colouring, etc.
At the time, I was directing a TV series, so we shot on a Sunday. On Monday morning I was back on the TV series set, exhausted as hell, but also confident that we had what we needed. The post-production took a little more than a year. Amet’s team worked non-stop for months and months. Aside from the titanic job it took to create the world, the camera movements and smoke were very challenging, and the fact that I wanted Mexican pink as the only color in the otherwise black and white film. By the time we finished and checked the final 5.1 – 4k DCP, we had what we wanted, which was a very entertaining story in a very cool universe with an important message.
What projects or films are you working on now?
I just finished directing a TV series called Mujer de Nadie, it took about four months, and I’m currently working on two feature scripts. One is a thriller and the other one is horror. The thriller is about Camila, a 40 year old alcoholic novelist. She is depressed and still in contact via email with her long lost love, her university boyfriend. When she attempts suicide, he is forced to save her and then introduce her to his life again. That’s when Camila meets Maria, his fiancé, an encounter that’ll challenge them and change their lives in the worst way possible. And the horror is set in Mexico City, in 1970. A novice escapes her convent to live a sexual adventure with a complete stranger, without knowing that that night, she will link her fate with a powerful and ancient witch.