Nov. 22-25. TIFF Bell Lightbox.
In the five features and one hour-long documentary he’s made since 2007, Nicolás Pereda displays a playful disregard for the ways in which stories on screen usually proceed from beginnings to endings. Take, for example, Pereda’s latest movie, Greatest Hits, which makes its local premiere at a series devoted to the Mexican-Canadian filmmaker at TIFF Bell Lightbox this weekend. Not only does Pereda have his players repeat certain scenes with varying results, he replaces the actor in one major role halfway through, a move that heralds the film’s similarly radical final-act shift from drama to documentary.
This eagerness to toy with conventions may be one reason that the young auteur has been slow to receive the attention he deserves here in Toronto, Pereda’s base since he moved from Mexico City to study film at York just over a decade ago. Despite the acclaim his movies have earned at appearances at festivals in Rotterdam, Locarno, and Venice (where he won a major prize in 2010) as well as retrospectives in New York and Chicago, they’ve been harder to see here beyond a few screenings at TIFF and Images. That makes the Lightbox series a belated homecoming for one of Toronto’s most exciting young filmmakers.
Currently splitting his time between Toronto and Harvard University—where he’s devoting a year-long fellowship to finishing his next feature, his first to be shot here rather than Mexico—Pereda will attend Q&As at the screenings of his films. Explanations may indeed be useful for their most perplexing moments, though many of Pereda’s strategies will become easier to discern by viewers who see more than one of his movies.
His 2007 feature debut, Where Are Their Stories? (Nov. 22, 6:30 p.m.) introduces themes and tactics that recur throughout his work. It’s also the first of many films in which Teresa Sánchez and Gabino Rodriguez play a mother and son. In this case, Rodriguez’s youngster is a taciturn country lad who—in the hopes of preventing other relatives from swindling his grandmother—travels to Mexico City to elicit help from his mother, who works there as a maid. Though Pereda’s slow, ruminative debut certainly betrays the influence of arthouse all-stars like Tsai Ming-liang, it also shows his willingness to break free of the bounds of narrative. Not that he’s any more conservative when making non-fiction films—in his 2010 doc All Things Were Now Overtaken by Silence (Nov. 24, 3:15 p.m.), a poetry performance by Mexican actress and activist Jesusa Rodriguez becomes ever more fragmentary due to the intrusions of Pereda and his crew.
His Venice prizewinner, Summer of Goliath (Nov. 24, 7 p.m.) remains his most challenging yet beguiling film. Again mixing fiction and documentary elements, Pereda spins out a mysterious web of storylines about the goings-on in a rural village that’s not nearly as idyllic as it looks.
But whereas much of that film’s contents are tragic in nature, Greatest Hits (Nov. 25, 4 p.m.) is more overtly comedic. This time, Rodriguez plays a peddler of pirated CD love-song compilations who’s reunited with his long-estranged father. The latter is played by José Rodriguez López before being replaced in the role by Luis Rodriguez, who, to add yet another level of mischief, is Pereda’s own uncle and whose actual apartment becomes the movie’s new location. If you can keep all of that straight, then there’s much to enjoy about this sly deconstruction of domestic dramas and Pereda’s many other provocations.