Michel Franco
Michel Franco

Jewish-Mexican Director Michel Franco On Power Dynamics

Renowned director Michel Franco’s latest film, “Memory,” reflects his unique filmmaking style deeply rooted in personal experiences. Franco’s narrative, influenced by his encounters with dementia and abuse, resonates with authenticity and emotional depth, transforming personal tribulations into a universally appealing story. His work frequently explores the complex dynamics of power in daily interactions and relationships. His subtle yet profound use of symbolism in storytelling enriches his films without being overly conspicuous.

Franco’s distinctive filmmaking techniques and cultural background significantly influence his directorial style. He brings a unique perspective from his diverse background, blending different cultural elements in his storytelling. Collaboration with actors is crucial in Franco’s approach, emphasizing trust and mutual respect to create intimate and unsettling film atmospheres, showcasing actors’ talents and adding authenticity to the cinematic experience.

Moreover, Michel Franco discusses balancing a film’s message with its entertainment value, highlighting the importance of taking risks in narratives to engage and challenge audiences. He expresses frustration with directors who struggle with endings, underscoring his belief in the power of a well-crafted conclusion.

Franco’s journey in filmmaking is a story of overcoming obstacles and family expectations. His early fascination with cinema, learning through mistakes, and challenges from his diverse background and limited support have shaped his career. This exclusive interview offers a glimpse into Franco’s creative mind, showcasing his journey of perseverance, creativity, and relentless pursuit of passion.

Michel Franco Talks To Editor Marcia Degia

How does your cultural background influence your storytelling and directorial style?

Michel Franco: Well, I’m Mexican; my father was born in Quietus, on the border with the States. My mother was born in Israel and from a Syrian and Lebanese background. So, I come from an erotic background. I am Jewish but also Mexican. 

Mexico is such a complex country. I feel blessed that I have, as a writer, all these different lives within me. So it’s a big mix that I can, every movie, go into different – not in 100 directions – but there’s a lot to explore.

How did you get started?

Michel Franco: I got obsessed with a certain type of films when I was 15-16 that I didn’t even know existed, you know, films by Wim Wenders and so on. I couldn’t believe that cinema could go so far. Without knowing, I was becoming a filmmaker. 

When I turned 19, I was studying communications, which I didn’t finish. I just picked that career because they had film equipment. So, I kept shooting short films, which often didn’t work out. That’s how I learned by making mistakes and making films. I would shoot many in a year; some worked, and some didn’t.

Did you find challenges coming from a diverse background?

Michel Franco: The biggest challenge was definitely the “How are you going to make a living?’ It wasn’t welcome when I said I wanted to be a filmmaker. My father said I could choose any career but said, “When you start to get old, I’m not giving you a penny.” When I asked, “What do you mean by old?” he said, 23-24. That’s what turned me into a producer. Not only the writer but the filmmaker who funded myself. I thank my father for that: reality, business, and education.

I got to work obsessively because I knew that the economic pressure would come sooner than later. I mixed it with making TV ads. I made a lot of commercials, which I hate doing, but I did it anyhow. Then, when I got celebrated for my second movie, I stopped doing it. But I come from a very conservative background. And that was very limited. The background that the environment kept telling me was that this was a bad idea. You’re going to fail, don’t do it. And I’m glad I was stubborn.

What did your parents do?

Michel Franco: They’re both fantastic and very supportive. My father had to quit school when he was 13. He’s the eldest of seven siblings who managed to move the family from Quietus to Mexico City when he was 15. His father wasn’t around that much, so he had to take on that responsibility. 

For 50 years, he’s been making cloth suits for men, cheap suits. Since my father managed to turn his business into something that ended up working and delivering, he wanted me to continue with what he had started. He didn’t believe in the film. He was very puzzled by my decision. Now, of course, he’s very happy about it. 

And my mother, they got married when he was 23, she was 18. She stopped attending school at 15 and was from a very poor family. Her mother wanted her to get married but not to my father because he had no money. 

So, it’s not a sophisticated background. We didn’t go travelling and go to museums, but having said that, my father was always reading a book and always telling me, “Don’t go watch those silly American movies, “you can do better,” so loving and caring in that way. Now, my mother works on the movies, and she does locations.

Michel Franco

You have tackled a few hardcore issues in your latest film, Memory. Does this come from your own experience? 

Michel Franco: No, in this case, it’s not an autobiographical movie. Thank God. So no, the way I relate to it, on a very personal level, has to do with a number of things: one, my fear of losing memory, of losing my mind. 

And then the love aspect of it, the possibility of finding love. At a mature age, I’ve typically been more negative towards that. Some peaceful bits come out of exploring these broken characters.

If the inspiration for Memory did not originate from personal life experiences, where else might it have come from?

Michel Franco: A friend of mine was talking a lot to me about dementia because his in-laws were in the late stages of it. And that’s the base. The same person had suffered abuse as a kid. So it had to do a lot with my friendship and love for this friend of mine. 

Memory is my eighth movie. I’m trying to make one every year. As a writer, I need to start being resourceful and borrowing from other people. I did make many more personal movies at the beginning of my career, but that can only go [far].

What’s next after this?

Michel Franco: I’ve shot a movie with Jessica again. We shot a film called Dreams. We shot it in San Francisco with Jessica and a Mexican dancer. And the film has to do with the relationship between the two countries. But I can’t say much more than that.

You film explosive, power dynamics and control, what fascinates you about these themes?

Michel Franco: Power dynamics, well, those are present in our daily interactions a lot more than we want to acknowledge. Even when I’m writing, it just shows up. It’s a big part of it. It’s only interesting to tackle it in a film. 

If I’m saying something and, within the same film, not contradicting but showing how complex it is, there shouldn’t be a simple answer to this question. Because power dynamics change, like, for example, in memory, Sylvia wants to have the upper hand when he follows her home. She seems to be the victim or something; she’s threatened. And then she tries to take the upper hand, and she does. But then she learns that she made a mistake. 

Michel Franco

Your characters often face moral dilemmas. What do you hope your viewers will take away from the ethical difficulties in your films?

Michel Franco: If a character does the right thing, then the wrong thing. And then the right thing again, it’ll be more satisfying than then if there’s a villain, you know, the good and the bad. Movies are often written with Hollywood formulas; you should be very straightforward to the audience about who’s good and who’s bad, and I’m like, Give me a break. Life’s not like that. Still, you have to entertain the audience and make a point or two in each film, but that point should be flexible.

You’ve worked with a variety of talented actors. Can you share your process for selecting the right actors to bring your characters to life?

Michel Franco: I try to cast the best possible people, which doesn’t only mean the best actors, but the right fits. I try to imagine, with my casting director who will understand my way of working, and then when I approach them, I am very respectful and open. 

I’m not the manipulative kind of director, you know, the puppeteer above them. I do the opposite. I hand them the script. And I’m an open book to them, and I hope they will do the same. I listen a lot to them. And because of the way I shoot. I’m not over-directing them. They like the experience of working with me. Normally, every scene is shot from a single angle without cutting.

So, more of a collaborative approach?

Michel Franco: Yeah, yeah. Because then you do something that you capture in the moment, and that’s it. You don’t have to technically match it for hours or days. Yeah.

Your films tend to have an intimate and unsettling atmosphere. How do you create this mood, and what does the setting play in your storytelling?

Michel Franco: In a way, the fact that most movies are so predictable makes it easy because the audience is always expecting the usual codes and situations not to be surprising. Movies are made in a way that they are reassuring. 

If you watch a comedy thriller, if you play with it, then the audience doesn’t know where it’s going. And it’s a very rewarding experience. It might be unsettling when you’re watching, but it’s more entertaining to me.

Where are you based now?

Michel Franco: I am still based in Mexico. After memory, we shot a film in San Francisco. And that was Jessica again, and a Mexican dancer. That film explores the relationship between the two countries. But I still live in Mexico. That’s, that’s what I call home. And I’m not thinking of moving to the States as many directors.

Which scene from Memory did you find the most difficult to create?

Michel Franco: The big confrontation scene because, without it, there is no movie. And a lot is going on emotionally. And there are many actors in the frame. I wanted to stick to my single shot thing, or close to it, which is not a rule, but I didn’t want to solve it by cutting into talking heads; whoever’s talking, you just watch on screen. So, that was intriguing and challenging, and I am proud of the result.

How do you balance delivering a powerful message without sacrificing the story’s entertainment value?

Michel Franco: when one’s dealing with serious material, so to speak, in a respectful way, trying to get deep into it, the audience will always be able to take away many things without it having to be a specific message. So, from a psychological point of view, these broken characters can make good character studies. And to me, there’s a lot to learn about, and that’s enough. 

Memory (2023) By Mexcian Filmmaker Michel Franco

What is the biggest narrative risks that you’ve taken in your career?

Michel Franco: It had to do with my first movie that I was lucky to play at the Cannes Film Festival. I remember saying, I’ll make a radical film. It’s a film about siblings being forced into incest. I remember saying if I don’t gamble…I’ll just make another movie. 

How many movies are put out into the world every year? So you have to make something special, something strong. And I just went for it. And I try never to make something that’s predictable. So, I started even before with the short films, but it was about making a bold first movie. and sticking to it.

What is the one directing choice you made in memory that you feel has been underrated or overlooked by the critics?

Michel Franco: Oh, I don’t know. I appreciate so much. I am thankful when people watch my work and whatever praises there are. And that’s it. Of course, when Peter got the Venice Film Festival award for best actor award, I was very happy. But I would have liked Jessica to get that award because it would have been perfect. They both deserve it equally. So yeah, I have a soft spot for actors. I want my actors to be celebrated.

Your films are known for thought-provoking endings. How do you craft the final scenes to leave a lasting impact on your audience?

Michel Franco: Well, endings are key; that’s what you take with you. And that’s mainly what the whole purpose of a movie is. So, I’m slightly surprised when directors say I don’t know how to end this movie. I don’t know how to articulate what I need. That’s different. But when that director says it can go either way. I’m puzzled. You know, do you even know what you’re doing? 

So, in my case, the endings are not the depart the point of departure, but I never write a script if I don’t know the ending. I might write the script and then change the ending. But do you know what I’m saying? Like? It’s not just storytelling for the sake of it. You have to know where you’re going.


Watch Memory Trailer By Michel Franco

Memory (1h 40) is in UK and Irish cinemas from 23rd February memoryfilm.uk

For a full film review, see Memory (2023) By Mexican Filmmaker Michel Franco

Memory (2023) By Mexcian Filmmaker Michel Franco
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