“Some of the events narrated here are real. All the characters are imaginary.” With that clear warning begins The dead (1977), a novel by Jorge Ibargüengoitia and a classic of Mexican literature, which in a fictional report format narrates the scams, trafficking in women, clandestine burials and murders of the sinister kingdom of the sisters Serafina and Arcángela Baladro. The story was inspired by the real case of María del Jesús and Delfina González Valenzuela who, in the late forties and early sixties, ran brothels in the states of Jalisco and Guanajuato. After discovering how they trafficked, enslaved and killed dozens of women, and also some clients of the brothels, they were baptized as Las Poquianchis, the most ruthless murderers of the 20th century in Mexico.
Director Luis Estrada, present at the Churubusco studios in Mexico City, dressed casually, smiling and wearing sunglasses, tells what to wear The dead to the cinema was a project that I dreamed of since I was 15 years old. The obsession was born in 1976 when her father and director, José Estrada, was working on the adaptation of kill the lionbased on another novel by the Guanajuato writer.
At that time he immersed himself in the bibliography of Ibargüengoitia, but always returned to The dead, a work that he admits to having read more than 40 times, that he kept next to his bureau and that every vacation was part of his luggage. “I would take one that I hadn’t read, but if for some reason I didn’t like it, I would go back and read The deadas I also did with other books, which are like a safety net, because you know that you are going to return to something that you love,” says Estrada.
Throughout his career, he tried to obtain the rights to the work on more than one occasion, but without luck. Estrada has managed to materialize the project after making contacts with Netflix, the company that produced his most recent film, Hurray Mexico!, and with which he broke off relations after disagreements regarding its distribution strategy. Reconciliation came in the form of the rights to his dream project, but with a proposal that would make the director reflect on his way of conceiving audiovisuals and cinema.
Estrada had been doing exercises to adapt the work for years, but always considered it “too big and ambitious” to be included in a film, even longer than the more than three hours it lasted. Hurray Mexico!. For the same reason, Francisco Ramos, vice president of content for Latin America at Netflix, proposed to him to make a series. He replied, “I am not serious. Series are television. “I am a cinema purist.” The also director of Herod’s law He says that he even spoke with his colleague Alfonso Cuarón and asked him the question: “Does one stop being a filmmaker if they move to the world of series, of platforms?”
He did not disclose the director’s response. Rome, but Estrada is aware of how consumer habits have changed in recent years regarding the consumption of movies and entertainment. “I would have liked to be a living dinosaur and think about cinema, on celluloid, with cameras that made noise, and in black and white. The world changes and if one does not adapt, it becomes extinct, as happened to the dinosaurs. So, since I don’t want to go extinct yet, I said, it’s time to talk about it,” he adds.
Estrada, accompanied by the actresses Arcelia Ramírez and Paulina Gaytán, who will play the Baladro sisters, in addition to Alfonso Herrera and Joaquín Cosío, as the Captain and General Bedoya, accomplices of the murderers, says that he was able to realize many years ago that that Ibargüengoitia had written was almost a script that the only thing missing was to film it.
“Ibargüengoitia wrote with images, more than with abstract concepts, with reflections, with interior monologues. You can almost film her novel as it is written. She has such a level of detail in the description, of the places, of the characters, she has such effectiveness in dialogue and communication with them and curiously she has a very cinematic structure. We came to the conclusion that the best thing was to make a series of six films. For me it was essential that whoever knew the novel found it in our film series and whoever saw the film series and wanted to go to the novel could recognize it,” says the director.
The series, one more adaptation that adds to Netlix’s commitment to bringing literary classics to the screen, such as One hundred years of loneliness either Pedro Paramowill be filmed in locations such as Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí, Veracruz, Mexico City and in the Churubusco studios.
Estrada, faithful to his satirical style, which has been reflected in films Hell (2010) either The perfect dictatorship (2014), in which Mexican society faces its worst ghosts, appeals in The dead to black humor, with the same tone and way in which Ibargüengoitia created and drew a country in front of a “soulless mirror” that seems to continue reflecting all the evils it faces. Questioned about what an adaptation of this type contributes in times when violence is on the rise in Mexico due to cases of feminicide, disappearances, trafficking of white women and high rates of violence such as those in Guanajuato, where the events of the book decades ago, the director responds: “That is the essence of satire and it is my favorite genre, as a viewer and as a creator.”
Estrada clarifies that it is not about creating something didactic and that, literally, not even he can assume to give another meaning to what the writer from Guanajuato wanted to give with his story. “Implicitly what there is is a devastating criticism of this country, of its institutions. Do you think the Baladro sisters, the Poquianches in real life, could have existed? It only occurred in a breeding ground of complicity, impunity and collusion with the authorities due to the corruption that continues to exist in this country. So I think that makes The dead a fiercely topical topic,” he concludes.
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