by Rich Moreland, March 2017
In this second post on the interviews with Jac Avila, Mila Joya, and Beatriz Rivera, the challenges they encountered in performing in Justine are explored.
My thanks are extended to Pachamama/Decadent films for providing the many screen shots used in all of my posts on Justine.
For those interested in my review of the film, check the blog archives for December, 2016.
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Jac Avila faced a not-so-common hurdle in making Justine. “It’s always a challenge to direct [a film], but to act and direct at the same time makes things a lot more difficult,” he says.
But there is another concern the average viewer rarely considers: the ethical demands a director faces when shooting torture scenes.
This happened with Justine which imposed a stressful decision on Jac Avila.
“Asking the leading ladies to engage in terrible acts,” he remarks, required him to “direct the film as Rodin,” the sadist, not as his real self, that of artist and filmmaker.
The result? Ethical issues forced their way into his thinking.
“As a director and human being, you have to be very careful when they [the performers] are subjected to all kinds of evil deeds, like torture, but you can’t show that concern as an actor. In fact, you have to show that you are relishing your evil doings. That was the most difficult part for me, how to be a gentleman, a scholar, a respected director while subjecting my leading actresses to unspeakable acts and enjoy it all as Rodin.”
Trust and Experience
“The most challenging [aspect] for me was to think as Omphale and not as Beatriz.
“[Being] naked takes you away from your character, especially when there are others around like the extras and crew,” Bea says. “It’s hard to be naked in front of a lot of people, so getting back to the character in those conditions was the challenging part.”
But there’s also the torture element.
“During the tortures the most difficult part was to be bound, defenceless. That was the hard part, but there was a lot of trust too, that made it easier.”
Mila Joya reflects on her experience shooting these types of movies. For those who don’t know, she is the condemned and flogged gypsy in Le Marquis de la Croix, an eternally tortured vampire in Dead But Dreaming, and the agony-ridden Maria Francisca, who along with Amy Hesketh’s Mariana, is whipped, racked, and crucified in Maleficarum.
“The whole movie is one big challenge, but for me it wasn’t that difficult because I had similar experiences like in Maleficarum. So the challenge for me was to create a different character, not similar to any other in previous movies,” Mila comments.
And, so she does. In Dead she’s the angry vampire trapped for centuries in sexual submission; in Maleficarum, Mila is a wronged and tragic figure caught in a period of Protestant/Catholic conflict. Both are much different from the doomed Rosalie of Justine, a victim of incest and sacrifice.
Speaking of crucifixions, by the way, Justine ends with a spectacular one in which Mila as Rosalie wears a crown of thorns.
The Closed Group
My question about how performers influence each other on-set produced three different views.
Bea offers this point. “The way others play the characters give you a cue as to how to react to them, that helps. We helped each other. For instance to be comfortable enough to ask your torturer to hit you harder with the whip, to feel it more, that helped me to play the character [of Omphale].”
Mila, a veteran of the Pachamama/Decadent Films troupe, believes “the closed group of the three of us” produced the energy to move the film forward.
“All three [roles and actresses] were very different. That had an influence in how I played my character. Not everything is in the script so there are reactions to actions and sometimes you surprise yourself with your reactions to the others. The director influenced one way, with his instructions, but as an actor he had a different influence, especially in how I had to react to him as my father and lover,” Mila asserts.
As expected, Jac lends his director/actor persona to the question.
“There’s always the influence of the others in how you perform your role and you have to be prepared [in turn] to influence [them].”
But such a forthright statement comes with a caution.
“I used the opportunity of being the dominating character to direct the actors in the ways I wanted them to perform while being painfully aware of how their reactions to my actions were causing the scene to go in a different direction than originally intended,” he admits.
“That’s always a very interesting thing to experience. How the story follows a road that was not planned at all, in an organic kind of way.”
My final thought is about independent film. Pachamama/Decadent Films is an indie company with committed, high-energy people.
What are the advantages and drawbacks to shooting an indie product?
Mila and Bea mirror each other’s thoughts in that they are of Bolivian origin and not products of the Hollywood scene.
“I can’t say anything about that. In Bolivia all movie making is independent, so I wouldn’t know. But there’s more freedom in independent cinema,” Mila predictably answers.
“Independent films use different subjects, unlike Hollywood that does a lot of the same adventures, the same romances, the same fantasies. So there’s magic in independent cinema. However, only independent films are made in Bolivia so I would not know of disadvantages.” Bea comments.
Jac proclaims that independent filming provides the freedom to shoot as he personally desires unencumbered by studio heads and the people with backing money known as producers . . . which brings up the main drawback of indie projects.
There’s never enough money, Jac says, which means “there’s a lot of compromising on the way to the end of production. Nothing is exactly how you envision it because you don’t have the cash to do what you originally wrote and conceived. You depend on what your available resources give you.”
But he hastily adds, “That, in turn, becomes an advantage, because it challenges you to be extremely creative.”
Finally, don’t forget that indie film requires everyone be on board to help with the production.
For a last word on Justine, Jac Avila reminds us once again that the story is a parody of a parody and that means filming can be a lot of fun.
Looks like Amy is hatching a plan with a little mirth of her own in mind!
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In the next two posts we’ll talk with Amy Hesketh about her views on filmmaking, directing and her psychological take on suffering . . . not to mention the easily perceived sadomasochist elements that drive a part of her fan base.