The idea of making a film about a serial killer occurred to me a year
and a half
ago, when I read a story in a sensationalistic newspaper: one of the
most brutal child rapists and murderers the world has ever seen had
been arrested in Colombia. The story barely mentioned the rapist’s
wife, but a few days later, I couldn’t stop thinking about her.
Did she know about the double life her husband led? What side of her
husband did she know? Did he have a good side? Maybe in her eyes he
was an exemplary husband and a great father to her children. What did
she think about him now?
Little by little it struck me how stereotyped the icon of the serial
killer has become, how much of its humanity it has lost when portrayed
in film (if it ever had any to begin with). In order for a character
to be real, disturbing, scary, we must identify with him. One of the
main themes in my previous film (Ratas, Ratones, Rateros) came
from the duality and inherent goodness that even the most cold-blooded
person has. Even a ruthless killer may feel love at some point, in the
same way that a good and cherished family man can be plagued with dark
thoughts. I couldn’t think of a worse action than torturing and
killing a child, and it became a challenge for me to write a character
who was capable of murder at one moment, while having a beautiful family
with whom he shares the best intentions. I wanted the most lyrical moments
in the film to come from this monster, without suggesting that his brutal
actions were in any way justified.
Gradually, the character of a journalist who wants to understand this
double life started to emerge as well. Very arrogantly, he thinks he
can expose an extremely fragile situation, without being aware of how
his own dark side will affect the story he’s documenting. There
is perhaps a part of me in him. We definitely share a fascination for
morbid stories in which humanity comes through. It’s essential
for me that the journalist never passes a moral judgment on the killer.
For how can you look at the dirt in someone else’s eye when you
have a beam in your own?
A town that is losing its children soon became a character in this
story as well. Losing a child is the worst tragedy a person can go through.
It means going against the nature of life itself and losing your future.
And yet, parents who have gone through this somehow manage to survive.
This film deals in many ways with the theme of going against your nature.
Driving through the town of Babahoyo, I realized that it was the perfect
setting for this story. Babahoyo is a city that for centuries has been
flooded six to ten feet during five months each year, and yet people’s
persistence has been stronger than nature so far. Houses are built on
stilts and narrow bridges made of bamboo connect them to the main road.
It is a town where children learn to swim before they learn to walk.
The houses don’t have running water, but they have television.
It is incredibly beautiful and rich, but it is also a living hell. It
is a place like no other, and it has to be captured on film.