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"Rain" Comes Down: Rodrigo García Sáiz's Urban Symphony of Love and Loss

Soaked in love: Mayuko Nihei and Esteban Caicedo quickly form a deep bond in "Rain" / Photo courtesy of Central Films.

Soaked in love: Mayuko Nihei and Esteban Caicedo quickly form a deep bond in "Rain" / Photo courtesy of Central Films.

Director Rodrigo García Sáiz took a long way towards his first feature film. Training at Mexico’s legendary Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos (CUEC), New York University, and Cuba’s San Antonio de los Baños led to a couple of short films and a career in advertising. A script by Paula Markovitch brought him back to his first love, cinema. Markovitch is a miracle maker of sorts. She has provided sturdy screenplays for Fernando Eimbcke (Duck Season, Lake Tahoe) and also wrote Lorenzo Vigas’ “The Box,” Venezuela’s candidate for the 2022 Best International Feature Oscar.

“Rain” just might push García Sáiz to the next level of his career. It’s a compelling choral story, following several characters facing unexpected, life-changing events through a rainy day and night in Mexico City. The group includes Jorge (Bruno Bichir), a taxi driver finding an unexpected wrinkle in his marriage; Ana (Cecilia Suárez) and Esteban (Mauricio Isaac), a married couple whose crisis is put on hold while they help a stranger who lost consciousness in the subway; Sofía (Arcelia Ramírez), a depressive school teacher assaulted by a former student (Krystian Ferrer); and Angie (Martha Claudia Moreno), a stoic nurse roped into doing a marginally criminal favor for a patient.

Irony, tragedy and chance web together an urban symphony. Choral movies have a knack for digging into the soul of a place - Los Angeles had it good with “Short Cuts” (Robert Altman, 1993) and “Magnolia” (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999) -. García Sáiz’s turf was an omnipresent costar in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s epochal “Amores Perros” (2000). The magnitude of CDMX - and the passing of almost 25 years - allow for another look at the city as a melting pot of humanity. There’s an admirable balance between the stories, but one can’t help to find favorites. Mine is Martha Claudia Moreno, donning a masterful deadpan visage, in stark contrast to her ebullient character in Lorena Padilla’s “Martinez.”

We spoke with García Sáiz in the run-up to “Rain”’s American premiere at the 2024 Miami Film Festival about why the script drove him to make his feature film debut, his creative process, and how to harness rain into being a willing collaborator on a complex production. Our interview has been translated from Spanish and edited for clarity and length.   

Popflick: What made you pick Paula Markovitch’s script to make your first feature film?

Rodrigo García Sáiz: I studied film, but life kept pushing me down the path of advertising. I was looking for a story that could fulfill my hopes about having a story to tell, a true exploration of the human condition. So, I found this script from Paula Markovitch. She is an Argentinian screenwriter, living in Mexico since a long time ago. She lovingly shared the story of “Rain” with me. She wrote it a few years ago. It had already won some screenwriting awards. It moved me deeply. I felt like the movie had come looking for me despite the complexity it carried. A choral film is daunting to make: there are many actors, and the logistics are complicated, but I was really moved by all these small moments happening throughout the movie. We started working on it together, and little by little, it became more mine. Now it’s like my child. 

Popflick: You thank Markovitch for being your “therapist” in the acknowledgments that close the final credits. How was the relationship between you?

Rodrigo García Sáiz: We have worked together on other projects, so we have had a professional relationship for a while. She is such a complete artist! She paints, writes, and directs - her feature film debut as a director, "The Prize," competed for the Golden Bear at the 2013 Berlinale and won two prizes -. The truth is she gave me a lot of freedom. I was very honest from the beginning in telling her that in order for me to be able to make the movie, I had to make it my own. I had my own vision, which might have been different than her original design. She was very open to it. So I started working on the script, and once I had something solid, I’d share it with her to get her feedback. Especially around the characters. I say she was my therapist because she would help me take things with ease all the time. Making your first movie is like jumping into the abyss, and I felt pressured to honor this beautiful story. She gave me wings so I could fly. 

Popflick: You wrote the script for “Rough Trade,” your first fiction short. Now you're working with somebody else’s script. Did that change your approach? How did you make the material yours?

Rodrigo García Sáiz: Every process is different. Some scripts are born out of you, but I like to work with somebody else’s script. I follow a basic philosophy: two heads think better than one. On the other hand, as an author, there are things that I always want to have present. What you tell has to come from yourself. I don’t think of myself as a writer, or at least a strong enough writer to work alone. I look for people with whom I have some affinity so we can work together. It gives you a sounding board and a partner to prop your ideas higher.

Pro behind the wheel: Mexican acting royalty like Bruno Bichir alternates with great newcomers in "Rain" / Photo courtesy of Central Films.

Pro behind the wheel: Mexican acting royalty like Bruno Bichir alternates with great newcomers in "Rain" / Photo courtesy of Central Films.

Popflick: In the ‘80s, critics said there wasn’t a rain-soaked sidewalk Ridley Scott didn’t love. Rain can be a powerful element, aesthetically and poetically, but I imagine it must be a logistical nightmare to shoot a movie with rain so prevalent. How did you manage to do it? Did you use mechanical rain machines? CGI?

Rodrigo García Sáiz: It was a very curious process! There is a fun fact about Mexico City: it’s one of the five rainiest cities in the whole world. We shot during the rainy season, so I dare say about 70% of the rain you see in the movie is real. That allowed me to play with wide shots and show the soaked streets. We always had a stand-by plan so we could protect continuity about what nature so gracefully had bestowed on us. We tried to make it look as natural as possible. It was quite an adventure to shoot like this. It’s hard on the cast and the crew.

Besides the rain, it is mostly a nocturnal story. But for me, the rain is not just an aesthetic choice or an arbitrary element. It’s a metaphor for the whole picture. The rain is a blanket formed by many small drops, just like the many small stories we see on the screen. Also, the rain connects with our emotions. If you are sad, it makes you feel melancholic, if you are happy you want to get soaked in it, dance in the puddles, let it purify you. I want the rain to be an emotional partner for each character.

Popflick: Your cast includes veterans of the Mexican film industry, like Bruno Bichir, Cecilia Suárez, and Arcelia Ramírez. You also have many young actors. Does your approach to directing change according to the performer’s level of experience? 

Rodrigo García Sáiz: It was a very enriching process. One of the things I’m most proud of is the casting. From the start, I wanted to combine experienced actors with natural performers, and by that, I mean people who are stepping in front of the camera for the first time. It’s a magical combination because the newcomer forces the professional to match him or her in realism so that they can establish a connection.

I had to work one-on-one with each actor because they had different levels of experience, they took on their characters in different ways, and we needed to find a unifying tone for the movie. That was the biggest challenge for me as a director, but I received complete trust and love from them. They totally surrendered to the process. It was not an easy shoot, but it was wonderful and enriching.

Popflick: How do you shoot a choral movie like this? Is it like a series of short films that you afterwards play around with in the editing suite? How close is the final cut to the script?

Rodrigo García Sáiz: For starters, the stories were not mixed together. I always thought that was a possibility, even though on paper, it was not written as such. So, surreptitiously, I shot some things that crossed the storylines and allowed the connections to happen. We almost rewrote the movie through the editing process! The shooting was complex. We had many actors, and they were not around all the time to do their story in one go, so we shot bits and pieces. I had to be alert, in order to keep the tone while jumping along the timeline. You have to unify everything to make the viewer feel it was planned this way. When you make a choral movie, you are always haunted by the possibility that people will connect with one story more than others. My remedy for that was to go deep into the exploration of humanity in each and every one of the stories so that the viewer would emotionally identify with most characters. I did a lot of research on choral movies, but it’s always more complex in real life than on paper.  

Popflick: Public opinion is more sensitive now when an artist crosses cultural barriers. You have a Japanese character, a young woman played by Mayuko Nihei. Were you ever concerned about cultural appropriation? How did you avoid falling into it?

Rodrigo García Saiz: You have to be honest and speak from the heart. And we were talking about universal things, like love and such things. I was careful to be respectful of Japanese culture and investigated as much as I could into it. Mayuko is a Japanese immigrant in Mexico, and although this is not her story, she understands what happens to the character and we coincide in the way we tackled it. When you are working with somewhat foreign characters, respect, and honesty are the best tools you have to avoid cliches and caricatures.

Marriage on the rocks: Cecilia Suárez and Mauricio Issac must put their marital crisis on hold while helping out a stranger in "Rain." / Photo courtesy of Central Films.

Marriage on the rocks: Cecilia Suárez and Mauricio Issac must put their marital crisis on hold while helping out a stranger in "Rain." / Photo courtesy of Central Films.

Popflick: Do you identify with a character in particular?

Rodrigo García Sáiz: All of them! Each one has a bit of me, their concept of love, their nostalgia, their connections and disconnection. That’s just what drove me to this movie.

Popflick: The movie is a choral work. This subgenre, so to speak, has been very popular in contemporary Mexican cinema. Movies like “Midaq Alley” and “Amores Perros” belong to this trend. Is it intimidating to be in their shadow? 

Rodrigo García Sáiz: Absolutely! Those are two movies I love from two directors I admire. What happens is that once you are making your movie, you have to concentrate on what you want to do. The movie speaks to you, and you leave everything behind for it. I never worried about comparisons. I just did the best movie I could do, within my possibilities and with the resources I had at hand. Those movies were in my mind, but not as a reference, nor as a deterrent or a push. Each story is unique, thanks to the point of view of the people making it.

Popflick: Now that the movie is done, how do you feel about it?

Rodrigo García Saiz: Truthfully, I’m very proud. It was a jump into the abyss. You expose your heart on the screen, which is like a mirror reflecting your defects and your virtues. It’s beautiful to see people connecting with the movie; it’s magical. There are things that I thought only I would notice, little personal winks, and when people at Festivals tell you they noticed them, it’s magical. Also, when you are done with a movie you get released from the torture of actually doing one! So, you start to value things that went into the process that maybe you didn’t before. Now, the movie is on its own. For good or ill, it must fend for itself. I did what I could, and I’m proud of the result.

Popflick: Alas, you are ready to get back to being tortured! I understand you are already working on your sophomore feature film. What is it about?

Rodrigo García Sáiz: It’s very different from "Rain." It also explores darkness, light, and the human condition through the story of a country veterinarian and a dog he must save. The working title is "Morro" (“Child” in contemporary Mexican slang). We start shooting in the summer.

Popflick: No rain?

Rodrigo García Saiz: No rain and sunny, daytime shooting in the country! 

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