Salma Hayek and Mathieu Demy in Americano
©2011 Les Films de l’Autre

It’s been well-documented that children of famous and successful people often have a love-hate relationship with the notoriety of their parents, especially when attempting to make a name for themselves in the same field. One of the most notable examples is singer/songwriter Jakob Dylan, who has famously spent his career trying to distance himself from the work, legacy, and mythology of his famous father. In contrast, when it came time for writer/director/producer/actor Mathieu Demy, the son of French New Wave legends Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and Agnes Varda (Vagabond), to make his own film, Americano, he managed to make a film that poignantly referenced the films of each of his parents, while establishing his own voice as a filmmaker. Americano begins with French real-estate broker Martin (Demy) being called back to Los Angeles after the death of his estranged mother. In trying to piece together his mother’s life, Martin journeys to Tijuana to find Lola (Salma Hayek), a femme fatale who may or may not be the key to revealing his mother’s life and past. In anticipation of the film’s release, I recently sat down with Demy for an insightful conversation. Here’s what Demy shared with me about his approach to personal filmmaking, offering the audience a unique and emotional journey, and crafting Americano.

[Note: Americano opens Friday, June 15th at New York’s Sunshine Cinemas with a wider release to follow.]

Jackson Truax: Americano is obviously a very personal story for you. Why was it important to tell this story at this point in your life?

Mathieu Demy: I guess most of the time, a first film explains where you come from… I come from the country of cinema, in a way. So it was important to include those references to films that I loved during my childhood. And films that I grew up with, which are the films of my mom. Also my father’s films, and also the films he showed me. Why was it important at that time? Well…I’ve been willing to direct for quite awhile. My first short film was twelve years ago… So I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I had the opportunity to do it now. That’s just the amount of time it took to write and finance. The whole process was really long. So it just came about when it was ready. It came out that way because, again I relate to that kind of film more than others. Films where you learn something about the director. And films where you feel that the person is taking more chances and more risks about telling who he or she is.

JT: Americano borrows heavily from works of both of your parents. How did you find and walk the fine line, of making a film that paid homage to their works, but at the same, time stood on its own?

MD: That’s a quite difficult matter. Because the people won’t get the references in the same way, according to what they like, what kind of cinema they like, and how much they know about French cinema… It’s very tricky. I guess I had to keep it personal… I thought the Lola character was pretty obvious, I guess. But there were many little things that were less so. Ultimately, the thing that was important was to show the audience in the beginning…that we were entering a film where you had the opportunity to think about something else, to think about other films… When you know the rules of that game, what is very interesting is that it even goes further. Many people had told me about references that I hadn’t thought of. Or maybe thought of in a very unconscious way. So when you just enter that kind of film, that is made by someone who loves films and wants to play with that, there’s a special relationship I think that can happen with the audience.

JT: Prior to making Americano, you’ve worked as an actor, with an impressive list of directors, including Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) and Celine Sciamma (Tomboy). How did your prior acting experience impact you directing yourself, as well as the other actors in Americano?

MD: I enjoyed very much working with the other actors. I felt I knew them. I felt I knew what to tell them to make them feel comfortable. That was really a nice part of the work. As far as directing is concerned, in the shooting, if you’re an actor, you keep waiting. Either you work on your character and your stuff, or you’re just sitting there watching the others work. That’s basically the life of an actor. You spend a lot of time looking at other people work, and being curious about how people are doing it. Because when they’re preparing the shots, you can be sitting around and looking around. And that’s interesting. Maybe that’s the reason a lot of actors end up doing their own film.

JT: The titular bar in the film was shot in a studio outside Paris. What were the biggest challenges in recreating the nightlife of Tijuana, and did you accomplish that? 

MD: Definitely, the challenge was to find some Mexican actors living in Paris. Because the Mexican community in Paris is much smaller than for example Los Angeles. Most of the extras and the cast are not specifically Mexican, just South Americans, and coming from a little bit of everywhere.

JT: Without getting into spoilers, Americano, as it relates to Selma Hayek’s character, remains ambiguous for much of the film, and later reveals the truth to the audience and to your character. How did you decide what the resolution to her character should be? Did you think about leaving it more ambiguous?

MD: I definitely didn’t want to leave it open… I guess the ending of Americano suggests pretty open things, even though the little stories are closed. It opens to something else, I think. Because the character evolves a lot. In the end, he’s ready to be a father. We can understand easily how it opens up to some other stuff.

JT: What did you gain from the journey of making Americano, both as an artist and on a personal level?

MD: It gave me a lot of confidence… I feel a little bit more like a grown-up.

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