It’s the quintessential 500-pound gorilla in the room, so there is no avoiding mention of it in an interview or review. Rodrigo García is, yes, the son of the late literary icon, Gabriel García Márquez, and his legendary wife, Mercedes Barcha.
But García has carved his own path as an independent filmmaker in this country, writing and directing such critically-acclaimed and award-winning movies as Things You Can Tell By Just Looking at Her (2000), Nine Lives (2005), Mother and Child (2009), and Last Days in the Desert (about Christ’s 40 days in the desert—which surprisingly was never fully embraced by Christian audiences in this country). García also developed, wrote, and directed HBO’s In Treatment. As a producer and executive producer, he’s been busy of late, overseeing the TV miniseries adaptations of Tomás Eloy Martínez’s Santa Evita for Hulu, News of a Kidnapping for Amazon Prime, and the nearly impossible-to-adapt 100 Years of Solitude for Netflix, which recently released a teaser trailer announcing the start of production.
The last two projects, for those that don’t know, are based on the works of his late father, known affectionately as “Gabo.”
And one should not attempt to read anything autobiographical in his new film, Raymond & Ray. After all, García already wrote about his father’s final days in A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes: A Son’s Memoir of Gabriel García Márquez and Mercedes Barcha, now out in paperback.
His film does, however, address how we mourn, how we cope with loss, and how we confront death, even if the person we are mourning is as despicably complex as Harris, the now-deceased father of half-brothers Raymond (Ewan McGregor), a real estate executive, and Ray (Ethan Hawke), a trumpet player who abandoned his musical career. They embark on a journey to the town his father called home for the last years of his life. Their memories of him are not fond: He mistreated them physically and psychologically. However, the man they knew is far different than the Harris that the townspeople and his current lover, Lucía (Maribel Verdú), with whom he had a child, fondly recall. They also find out that Harris’ last wish is for them to dig his grave and bury him.
Raymond & Ray opened in select theaters last Friday and is also streaming on Apple TV+.
I spoke to Rodrigo García the day after he presented his film at the 58th Chicago International Film Festival. This interview was originally conducted in Spanish and has been translated into English and edited for clarity.
Most of your movies have been female-centric, but since Last Days in the Desert, you have been writing more and more about the dynamics between men. Is there a different approach to writing male and female characters?
I use the same approach. It’s about the story and the character. What is the problem? What are the obstacles, the traumas? Those [early] films are not about femininity. As it turns out I wrote better female characters than male ones at first. I couldn’t make my male characters complex enough. Now, with age, I can write better male characters, and I am now more interested in them. But the story is always the point of departure for me.
The original idea for Raymond & Ray was that of a man, a trumpet player, digging a grave. The priest is there as well as a woman with a kid. It would have ended up as a 30-minute short. Then I came up with the idea of two half-brothers who share the same name, something common in Latin America where men father different children with different women and give them the same name. I felt I could talk about the problems of father and son relationships, a father who has many homes, many wives. But that image of a man digging his father’s grave was the starting point. You always start with a conflict, not a theme.
How did that initial image, that initial idea, evolve?
When I expanded it into a feature, I started with the idea that one half-brother reaches out to the other, and both embark on a road trip. They discover that their father behaved differently with each person than he did with them. It’s very plausible that a man may be a bad father because of his own frustrations, but that he will be a completely different person with friends and colleagues. As Lucía says: “Your father was a racist who got along well with everybody.” We never meet Harris. He is a ghost, we only hear what others think of him.
The scene in the cemetery is the heart of the film, with a wide variety of emotional registers that go from the playful to the chatartic.
Digging a grave is a repetitive act that doesn’t offer anything emotional, so I had to come up with a journey for these characters for those three or four hours that they are at the cemetery. People get used to anything. After 48 hours at a funeral, people start gossiping, making out. You begin to lose respect. So I came up with these twin brothers who never met Harris, even though he is their father, and ended up as acrobats. The cemetery becomes a theater of the absurd where you could end up with the largest outbursts of anger.
What did Ewan McGregor, Ethan Hawke, and Maribel Verdú bring to their roles?
I’ve worked with Ewan before (Last Days in the Desert), and I know he’s a great actor. I wanted to see him in a less relaxed role. Raymond is always angry—he has this “let’s move on” attitude. His mantra is “Let’s forgive.” Ethan is a sensible artist, cool, capable of digging deep into Ray’s wounds. Both have grown a lot as actors, and I believe they are enjoying their best moments as such. They have not lost their enthusiasm for the work.
I thought that, as Lucía, Maribel could enhance those qualities in the character that seem to be contradictory: Lucía can be both frivolous and wise, maternal and sexual. Maribel brings those qualities together with a lot of humor as well as a love for life.
I have to unavoidably ask about your father, Gabriel García Márquez, especially since the centennial of his birth will be celebrated in five years. Are there any preliminary plans for its celebration?
I don’t think that, as a family, we will be making any plans. Many institutions will, of course. The closest organizations to us are the Gabo Foundation and the New Journalism Foundation, and they will for sure organize events around the centennial. Personally, I said everything I needed to say about my father in my book.
Featured image: Ewan McGregor, left, as “Raymond” and Ethan Hawke as “Ray” in ‘Raymond & Ray,’ directed by Rodrigo García (Apple Original Films)