Agustina San Martin Talks Cannes Special Mention Winner ‘Monster God’

Emilio Mayorga and John Hopewell

CANNES – An exploration of the ramifications of God, “Monster God,” from Argentina’s Agustina San Martín, took a Special Mention – an effective runner’s up prize – on Saturday night at this year’s Cannes Film Festival short film competition.

It’s not difficult to see why, especially when jury president Claire Denis own films’ power resists reduction to easy explanation.San Martin’s movie builds atmosphere by its association of disparate scenes: Foreboding grey clouds; the thrum of an electricity power plant; its fog-shrouded outline, huge cables like tentacles reaching down from on high; a distant siren’s wail; cows fleeing, jumping a fence;  a dark culture girl relete with chain collar, nose pin looks through shrubbery at the window of a gothic house, home to a religious sect.

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Also written by San Martín, “Monster God” could be seen to deconstruct the facets of religious domination – fear-inspiring myth, the intoxication of song, the promise of happiness and apocalypse; or the monster God plant itself, which seem to possess an unintelligible intelligence of its own. “Monster God” does so as its spins a tale of a dark girl rescuing a much younger girl, maybe her little sister, from the maws of a religious cult. Yet another instance of the enriching incorporation go genre into films of artistic ambition at a festival which this year was full of that,“Monster God” comes across like a part horror film where the audience is invited to think about what’s the real horror.

Variety talked to San Martín about the short and her first feature during the Cannes Film Festival.

What inspired “Monster God”?

The point of departure for “Monster God” is the hypothesis that God is an electrical power plant. God was always for me a very foreign, abstract and slightly whimsical concept. When I as a child, we never talked at home about God. Since my mother’s Jewish and my father Catholic, they decided to raise their daughters without imparting any religious ideas because they could not agree. If I asked about God at the table, everyone was silent, uncomfortable. God was taboo.

What kid of cinema are you interested in making?

With every one of my shorts, I’ve tried something new. With “Monster God” I was able to experiment to the maximum. I wouldn’t say I’m interested in a particular style. Maybe what I like most is the possibility of playing, here in fantasy short, an almost dreamlike sci-fi short about the existence of a God, turning on a dark [culture] girl and some cows.

What directors have been crucial for your career?

I could mention many directors, without ever being able to do anything similar to their films: Pedro Costa, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, David Lynch, Carlos Reygadas, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luis Buñuel, Lucrecia Martel, Nuri Ceylan, Alice Rohrwacher…. All of them build powerful, authentic and highly suggestive universes. For “Monster God.” I studied how Lynch creates atmosphere, disturbing stillness in particular. The film’s imagery was inspired by horror movies: the power plant is shot like Dracula’s castle. the young dark girl is inspired by ‘90s horror.

You’ve just finished shooting your feature debut, “The Abysses”….

Yes, I’m now editing. It tells the story of a teenager who travels to the jungle to look for a relative, but ends up getting involved in the daily life of an insane tribe. It’s a slightly fantastic, queer, coming of age story with family agreements and disagreements. Or as I like to say: it’s like “Jurassic Park” but without dinosaurs.

How would you describe its tone or genre? 

It’s a similar tone to that of “Monster God,” regarding its humor and darkness. It is very exciting to achieve the balanced union of conflicting elements. For instance, the foggy nocturnal scenes beside others with electronic music dance and Jesus Christ. “The Abysses” is also a work tackling the mystical and inexhaustible. It is anchored in the story of a young woman, Emilia, who “throws herself into the void”. At the same time, all the characters are on the verge of something. The story is set on a border where the language is the portuñol [a hybrid between Spanish and Portuguese]. People are looking for people, children are looking for a dog. All the characters are immersed in the abyss. A disturbing, sensual and ridiculous world.

And the visual approach?

It’s tightly linked to my previous works. It’s funny, because I’ve directed three shorts and a feature and only now can notice some pattern in my fetishes or aesthetics: The gloomy darkness, the moving lights, the mirrors, the different angles on the bodies in the same shot— Pedro Costa was a master of that— as if there were always similar elements with different masks.

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