Filmmaker Lina Rodriguez likes to think of herself as a “witch.” Not in the dark-arts aspect so much as a “summoner and connector of people.”
“Being a director in the sense that I have to tell people what to do in order to satisfy my desires is not so interesting to me. I prefer to make connections between people, which is where the magic happens,” the Colombian-Canadian storyteller says. “It’s not my genius. If not for all these people being together, then it wouldn’t happen.”
For her latest film, the beguiling drama So Much Tenderness, Rodriguez went full-witch, bringing together as many people from myriad corners of her personal life to the screen as possible. The film, which follows Toronto mother Aurora (Noëlle Schönwald) and her twentysomething daughter Lucia (Natalia Aranguren) as they struggle to leave their past in Colombia behind them, casts Rodriguez’s own parents as Aurora’s.
Meanwhile, fellow Toronto indie filmmakers Kazik Radwanski and Deragh Campbell (the director and star, respectively, of Anne at 13,000 Ft.) play a couple who smuggle Aurora across the U.S.-Canada border. The director’s creative and life partner Brad Deane plays one of Lucia’s suitors. And Deane’s own family, including parents Ray and Lynne and sister Nicole, appear, too.
Ahead of the theatrical release of So Much Tenderness, Rodriguez spoke with The Globe and Mail about making her fourth feature such an extended family affair.
You’ve talked before how, like many immigrants, you felt like you lived between emotional and geographical spaces once you moved to Canada. Is that what you were looking to explore in this film?
Before I left Colombia, I felt there must be something in me that has this curiosity to rethink who I am and where I am. We’re all in transit, though, in one way or another. Our lives change all the time, and we have to adapt. So I wanted to deal with that feeling of uneasiness or being unsettled. Especially in a country where the idea of “settling” is a complicated concept. Who are the settlers in Canada? How do we live together to share a space that has history?
After making two films in Bogota, Señoritas and Mañana a esta hora, did you feel you were now on the path to filming something in Canada?
I know that I sound very artsy saying this, but I try not to look at my filmmaking life as a career, because that implies that I know where I’m going. My father-in-law, who sadly passed away, he prompted the idea of this film when he asked me, “Why don’t you make a film in Canada? You’re Canadian!” It was a simple comment, but he was right, and it got me thinking. A lot of the elements in the film come from my experience of being caught between Colombia and Canada.
Would you say that it is easier to make a film here than Colombia?
It would have been more difficult a few years ago before Telefilm changed their language requirements, when Canadian films wouldn’t be eligible if they were in Spanish. But they have made efforts to change what we think about, for Canadian films.
There are so many people from your real life blended into this film. As a storyteller, how do you balance working with people you care for, and having to slot them into your own vision?
It’s not always perfect but I try to not have the energy of “I’m the director, and I’m here to take every drop of your story and put it into my film.” I’m not going to trick you, to get you to give me something that you don’t want to give. I’m going to build the relationship with you instead. I try to give people the space, so we can create something together.
I did get a kick, as I’m sure other followers of Canadian film will, of seeing Kaz and Deragh here.
Deragh was the only person who didn’t audition, because I felt that she would be great for the character. Even Brad auditioned! I asked Deragh who she thought should play her husband, and it was her brilliant idea to get Kaz. They had made a movie together, which can be like a marriage.
You have a background in communications, working for a while with the Toronto International Film Festival. Has that helped you as a filmmaker in trying to get your work out into the world, or has it been hard to turn off that part of your brain, knowing how the sausage is made?
When I was doing communications it was more about working directly with writers, so it’s changed a lot with social media, which is not my strength. I was always grateful to do that as a living, though, because it was a way of learning about film, talking to people about film, and building bridges between filmmakers and audiences. But I was never a marketing person, I don’t know how to do all that.
So Much Tenderness opens June 30 in Toronto and Montreal, July 7 in Vancouver, and throughout the summer in other cities.
So Much Tenderness
Written and directed by Lina Rodriguez
Starring Noëlle Schönwald and Natalia Aranguren
Classification N/A; 118 minutes
The latest film from Colombian-Canadian filmmaker Lina Rodriguez (Señoritas) opens with a sly wink and tight grip. Canadian indie film stars Kazik Radwanski and Deragh Campbell (who together made 2019′s Anne at 13,000 Ft.) are introduced playing a couple preparing to smuggle a woman across the U.S.-Canada border. But after the two set out for the operation – a tense sequence that finds anxiety in unspoken words and furtive glances – Rodriguez swiftly and deftly switches gears.
So Much Tenderness is not about the dangers of crossing over to a new country but looks at the uneasiness of having done so. The American couple are soon forgotten, and now the focus is on their so-called cargo, a mother named Aurora (Noëlle Schönwald) who escaped Colombia for a better life. Now joined by her twentysomething daughter Lucia (Natalia Aranguren) in Toronto, Aurora must figure out a way to leave the past behind – something that is especially difficult once she becomes fixated on a man she thinks is responsible for all her woes.
Rodriguez expertly balances competing emotions, with her film at once sweet and haunting, nerve-rattling and quite funny. But So Much Tenderness finds its greatest strengths in the lead performances from Schönwald and Aranguren, who scratch an itchy generational divide with raw, sometimes painful, sincerity. B.H.