Lorena Padilla’s debut feature Martinez premieres at the 2023 Miami Film Festival. The understatement of this gentle, humane comedy is a perfect fit for this intimate event. Francisco Reyes gives a beautifully calibrated performance as the title character, a mature Chilean expatriate living in Mexico, ever at odds with the culture and his laid-back coworkers, played with insouciance by Humberto Busto and Maria Claudia Moreno. Things take a turn when retirement age approaches. The death of a neighbor strikes an alarm, and Martinez must reckon with his loneliness. We spoke with Lorena Padilla a few days before the movie’s premiere.
Popflick: This is your first feature-length film. What surprised you about the process of making the film?
I’ve always loved to tell stories. I am primarily a screenwriter, but this story was mine to tell, you know? There was a sense of urgency compelling me to direct it. It took many years to push the project forward. Many workshops and screenwriting laboratories were primordial for my process. They help you to find the story you want to tell. After years of development, we reached production as the pandemic hit. We followed astringent safety protocols, and due to this particular set of conditions, the shooting was stripped down and intimate. I enjoyed it a lot!
Popflick: Who is Martinez? How did he get into your life?
Lorena Padilla: That was the first question Francisco Reyes, who plays Martinez, asked me. And I answered, ‘It’s my dad’. And he said, “that is all I need to know”. That is how it started, looking for a way to understand a particular kind of character who communicates in a different way with others. After going through this process, you realize you are talking about yourself. It is unavoidable. And every crew member realized they got a bit or a lot of Martinez in them, but nobody necessarily wants to show it!
Popflick: as a female filmmaker, was it hard to get inside the point of view of a male character? Why not make Martinez a woman?
Lorena Padilla: At some point in the creative process, I asked myself this. I even wrote a version of the screenplay with a female Martinez, but it was not what I wanted to tell. There is a lot of importance in having strong female characters on the screen, but at the same time, we need the freedom to tell the stories we want to tell. For years, men have told stories about women, right? So I want freedom too, to tell the story of a man. For a person this old, it is hard for him to change, but I think there is hope. This movie is about second chances and how an ending can be a beginning, too. I want to hold on to the hope that we can always change, even if a little bit.
Popflick: In a way, this is an unusual immigration story. We get stories about poor people from Latin America going to the United States or Europe. And they tend to be very dramatic and violent. Martinez is an invisible type of migrant, a white-collar man. What drove you to his kind?
Lorena Padilla: I am Mexican, but for unforeseen circumstances, over the last 15 years, I’ve lived in 5 countries, and ten different cities all over Europe, the U.S., and Latin America. There is this core experience of migration. You always feel like a stranger, like you don’t belong. Francisco Reyes went through something similar. He lived in France, and we bonded over the feeling of isolation you get from being far from your roots and how when you get back home, you find yourself not fitting in there anymore. You take in so many experiences in other places that you end up in a sort of limbo.
That is something we liked about the character of Martinez, who feels like a stranger that does not belong anywhere. There is loneliness in every kind of migration. Those hard-hitting stories you mention are important, but every type of migrant deserves compassion. It is hard to start anew in a different country from your own.
Popflick: Martinez is Chilean, so I half-expected a political dimension to the movie, a revelation that he was a refugee from the Pinochet dictatorship, perhaps. Was it ever in the cards?
Lorena Padilla: I discussed it with Francisco, and we decided to leave things open. For example, we pondered having Martinez talk with a Mexican accent but decided against it. The office where he works, we know it is related to the government, but we do not know what they do. They do everything and nothing. We don’t even tell you his first name! It was important to give him anonymity. A very talented Rumanian filmmaker cut the trailer. He told me, “this movie could happen in Rumania. I know those characters and that office!”. And that was our goal. It is not that important where you come from. He is a lonely character in a big city.
Popflick: The comedy in Martinez is very generous. It works as a character-based workplace comedy but also has a physical dimension to it. The contrast between Martinez and his coworker Santos is funny in itself.
Lorena Padilla: I love directing actors, and these two make a great team. You want to spend more time with them. I wanted to keep following them everywhere. To work with Humberto Bustos and Martha Claudia Moreno, who plays Conchita, was a pleasure.
Popflick: Conchita is like the office queen, and you think the movie will use her as comic relief, but your treatment of the character is empathetic and humane.
Lorena Padilla: I wanted to respect these characters and allow them to achieve happiness. These are three lonely characters who find each other. Sometimes, the person who laughs the loudest and the most is also the saddest. You get that in every country. I think the three actors understood the characters and respected them. We can be a Martinez and dismiss Conchita as ridiculous, but she bears her own problems. I wanted to recognize and dignify these archetypes and recognize the humanity in them. Everybody’s got many Conchitas in their life.
Popflick: Once Martinez fixates on his downstairs neighbor, the movie reveals itself as a ghost story. Why doesn’t he engage with an accessible person?
Lorena Padilla: I wanted to show him idealizing a person. It is someone he creates following his own designs. It is easy to become vulnerable for someone who is just not there. It may seem like he is taking a risk, but actually, it is just an extension of his safe place.
* Martinez is playing at the 2023 Miami Film Festival
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