[Interview] Director, Writer, & Cast of HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN

[Interview] Director, Writer & Cast of HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN
The supernatural Mexican horror feature, HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN, is led by Natalia Solián (Carlos Eichelmann Kaiser’s Venice selection Zapatos Rojos) in a star-turning performance as Valeria, a young woman expecting her first child who becomes cursed by a sinister entity. Plunged into a terrifying and dangerous world, a group of witches emerges as her only hope for safety and salvation, but not without grave risk.

Comprised of two interviews, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Dolores Quintana spoke with director/co-writer Michelle Garza Cervera, co-writer Abia Castillo, and actors Natalia Solián and Alfonso Dosal. Throughout the course of the discussion, they discussed the initial ideas that inspired HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN, how the film challenges societal expectations placed on both men and women, and what they hope people take away from the film.

How did the idea come about for HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN?

Michelle Garza Cervera: Back in 2014 around the time I lost my mother and was reaching my 30s, I was wondering about motherhood. I started thinking about her, which sounds very dumb, but I was really thinking of my mom as an individual before having me and my siblings and trying to understand all the decisions she took because of us. So, just needing to define her as a person with her whole identity before she became a mom. Motherhood is still for me a theme that makes me feel lost. I find it very scary.

Around the same time, I started having a lot of conversations with my father about his mother, which was my grandmother, and I grew up with a very evil idea of her because she’s a woman that made the decision to leave. It was amazing what happened because we started having profound conversations about her. I learned her name. I saw her picture. She was actually a Chicana from Kansas City. It is wild what happens when you have access to the stories. From there, I was like, Okay, I need to create a film that is loyal to this experience that was so cathartic, in many ways, for my family and me. Then I had the chance to meet Abia [Castillo], who also has a very strong connection with the theme, and we began writing.

What was it like to make HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN?

Michelle Garza Cervera: I was a completely different person when I started, and it changed things in my professional life. It was much more intense than film school, and it also changed a lot for me personally, of how I see the world. I have a kind of like a bet or like a thesis. The process for a project kind of comes and teaches you a lot about it and then changes your worldview through doing it. That also comes with a question of how it was to create the film. it was really a very long process, that when you’re starting, you have no idea [how] everything that’s going to happen in your life in order to make that project happen in every aspect of my life. It changed everything, like my relationship with my father, with my friends, and the way I think of how to create a family. So many aspects of my life were affected by HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN honestly. So, it means a lot.

Courtesy XYZ Films

Abia, would you like to expand a little bit about your connection to the film’s concept?

Abia Castillo: I connected immediately, not just with Michelle as a human being and a magnificent friend and creator, but also with all these ideas that I really wanted to explore. There were so many women in my life around me that it was like all these triggers that you grew up with. All of us have this tia who is like a monster sometimes, and we were talking about these characters in a different light. Just like Michelle, I’m in my 30s, and there is always a question of like, do I have to be a mom to be a woman? Is this something I want? Is it a real desire or this is something everyone is telling me to do? I think that can be very confusing. I think it was very attractive to think of a monster. In this case, like breaking your bones to connect with something very true in yourself, something that’s deep down. some apart very deep, right? For me, it was great material to make a story. And, in this case, I think a journey of this character.

I wanted to ask you, Natalia, your performance is just so rich and vulnerable. How did you feel about the character when you came on?

Natalia Solián: I think that it was like a ritual for me. Because I think that the play a role is like an opportunity to touch on some characteristics that you can admit that you have. I don’t want to talk about my daughter again. It’s an important reason for me because she’s my connection for many things, and I wanted to understand our relationship in a different way [from the idea] that I’m the mother and I’m the authority and have to do something.

One of the ways that I choose things is to go accept my feelings and accept that I am a woman first, and then as a mother. I want to always be honest with the world in which [I’m in]. This was a very exciting opportunity for me because I have the chance to talk about things that really hurt my maternity.

With Michelle, I had a great connection [with] from the beginning. It was very [freeing] that I could say and admit that I have feelings and I have ideas that are different from what this society forces us to accept when we choose to be a mother. Also, it was a ritual too because I think that speaking about things and feeling things, can change a lot of perspectives and can bring you new points of view.

How did the role impact you personally?

Natalia Solián: It was a beautiful process to understand that I’m different. I’m different and too far away from the social expectations and the duties that a woman has in Latino culture. I think that HUESERA invites all the people that are involved to accept the monstrosity that lives inside of us. So, for me, it was a very beautiful process to embrace this monstrosity and accept and to be happy and to be proud of these special characteristics that can provoke guilt and [negative] feelings. Like, You always try to cover these [bad] parts of your personality. But here on the set of HUESERA, we were trying to show and embrace these feelings and these characteristics so we can have conversations and a lot of discussions to understand why the woman and the men are involved in these kinds of bad patterns. We were trying to break the system by discussing these kinds of topics.

I think it’s a particularly important cultural conversation that needs to happen within the Latino community because so much of our lives are dictated by how our families are structured and the expectations that they have for us.

Michelle Garza Cervera: Yes, yes, yes. I was raised Catholic. I left Catholicism when I was a teenager, but still it runs through our veins. A lot of these concepts, especially guilt of womanhood and what a good mother is. That’s injected and if we don’t maintain that expectation, it seems like we’re broken or we’re flawed.

Alfonso Dosal: I think we judge because we feel guilty and because we cannot embrace our guilt, and we cannot discuss our guilt, we still judge and we’re saying what has to be instead of looking at ourselves and saying, Okay, this is part of me. If you work with yourself and try to work with your ego, you can embrace your darkness and you can embrace all these horrible things we all have. The thing is that we don’t want to see them, so we judge them and now because we have them, we start feeling guilty because we start showing it and oh no, no, this is not okay. So, that’s why we try to communicate these things, right? Just for people to see that we are all in the same boat and we are all in the same thing. We have to start embracing our darkness and start to live with that.

Courtesy XYZ Films

For you, Alfonso, what was it like to be a part of HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN?

Alfonso Dosal: Well, for me, every time I have to confront a role, it’s not just trying to understand someone else and trying to play someone else’s life. But it’s trying to understand why myself has to be working with what I have to work with, in this case, with this character. We had long talks with Michelle about how to evolve Raúl and how we were going to go through him. There were so many things we were questioning ourselves. The most important thing in this case with this character was not listening and assuming what was happening to Valeria.

And so, discovering that and trying to work it out myself, it was quite confrontational. Okay, you’re assuming roles that you have to assume because you’re someone living in the house, not because you’re a new kind of guy. What you really have to assume, as a role, as a guy in a relationship is listening and his love. That’s the big question that Raúl is asking when the film finishes. He is like, what happened here? And I think if a guy, after watching the film, leaves asking that question, we did a great job. Like if a guy goes out of here and says why? Well, there’s a beginning for something.

That’s a really good point. If the film gets people, not just men, but men in particular and even women to like question, well, why am I doing these things? Am I doing them because I want to, or because my family and society are telling me this is what I’m supposed to do? I think it’s very valuable. 

Michelle, you had mentioned the idea of the bones breaking thematically as being part of the concept of, I don’t know if it’s change, but perhaps fear of change. How would you describe it?

Michelle Garza Cervera: Sometimes we have these moments in life where we’re not sleeping at night. You have insomnia because you have anxiety, because of maybe some decisions in your life and you’re scared that you’re taking the wrong path or something. And then you have cold sweats. It’s like a panic attack. I get those. Cinematically, the sound and the image of a breaking bone is really loyal to that kind of feeling that is very hard to explain, that has to do with social anxieties. I think we were very lucky to find such a very strong visual and sound that portrays a very complex feeling that has to do with Valeria’s internal conflict.

Like a metaphor for that breaking point.

Michelle Garza Cervera: For breaking down. [It’s like when] life is supposed to be working, and then deep inside something is cracking, and it’s telling you no, no, no, no. You have to let them in because if you don’t, you’re gonna break down completely, and she gets to that point. What we really love and what we wanted it to be, in some way poetic, is that Valeria has a chance to reconstruct herself as many of the women that help her through this process are around her.

What was really beautiful about the film was that it is groups of women coming together to help each other, because women understand how this feels. It’s just naturally women understand and they know how to deal with it. Script-wise, was that part of the thought or the process?

Abia Castillo: [Regarding] the women in the film, it was something we are very proud of, and I think it’s beautiful but it was also very funny to write the script. I think all these women are very complex. For example, no, even Raúl’s mother tries to help Valeria, but from a parent’s [perspective]. Maybe she’s not gonna be super supportive, but she tries to help. She understands.

I wanted to say to all three of you that you’ve made very complex women. Normally, especially in genre pictures, the tendency is if a woman is complex, she’s evil, and I think you avoided that, and you have a full spectrum of women who have their own motivations, and they’re not bad. They have different needs and different wants. It connects overall to that central theme, which is women are people. That’s what came through strongly, particularly with your performance, Natalia, because she’s so vulnerable, but she’s also very strong-minded about certain things. She’s not admitting it to herself.

Natalia Solián: She’s not a victim in her situation. She can admit that she wants what she wants. I think that one of the things that we worked on a lot and I like a lot about the character is that she is rough. Seriously, she likes construction and she likes to be tough with the torch. She is different and she likes to play rough. She is different. She’s not sweet in the way that we think our women need to have. She’s different.

She has a skill with carpentry. She loves punk music. There are so many different levels to the type of person that she is.

Natalia Solián: In Mexico, these kinds of pleasures are judged. If you are a woman who likes [masculine] things, all the people say like wow, she’s not a woman. It’s more complex. As you said, what you like is more than what you are.

Our society, in general, around the world is starting to come out of the idea of the gender binary. People are given gender assignments with that binary separation, with girls aren’t supposed to do things like carpentry. We’re starting to revise the ideas like that.

Michelle Garza Cervera: Maybe I can add something to what you were saying about the female [characters]. Because you said something that I think was very important for when writing. As the film begins, we start with a vision of Guadalupe, and then we also have like a hint of La Llorona when you’re watching the film. Originally, in one part of the script, we had the ending with something [focusing on] La Llorona. We really strongly thought that we need to build a film that has this big dichotomy. Either you’re a motherly sacred figure or you’re a bitch that kills their own kids. It was really very clear for us [that] we needed to build up a whole palette of grace and show that there are so many ways to be or not to be a woman or to be or not to be a mother in the middle of the film. All around, we challenge this dichotomy that life sometimes imposes on us.

HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN is available in theaters and on VOD from XYZ Films. To learn more, check out our review.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Dolores Quintana
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