MUBI is exclusively showing Rodrigo Reyes' Lupe Under the Sun (2015) in the United Kingdom from October 14 - November 12, 2016
Lupe Under the Sun
Lupe started as a documentary that transformed into a love-letter for my grandfather. The film’s metamorphosis was surprising and difficult because it forced me to confront a painful and unresolved story that lies of my family.
Several years ago, I was very keen to craft a verité documentary about the summer peach harvest. I live in a forgotten region of California, far-removed from the glitz of L.A. or the sophistication of the Bay Area—the Central Valley. This dusty, massive region is home to some of the largest industrial agriculture developments in the world. I wanted to document the men and women at the bottom of that hierarchy, the ones who live on the wrong side of the freeways and train tracks, the ones keeping the market alive with their backbreaking, heat-drenched fieldwork.
I was busy planning for shooting this film when I suddenly discovered something that brought everything to a standstill. I was visiting with my oldest cousin in Mexico and I shared my plans for my new film. She listened politely and finally said: “That sounds like a good project, but did you know that our grandfather was lost in the United States?”
Lost, as in disappeared—meaning nobody knew where he was. For years, my grandfather worked seasonally, leaving his family in Michoacán every spring and coming home in the winter, like thousands of other impoverished folks in his region. But one year, he simply did not return. Time passed and the questions piled up: Did he die crossing the desert? Was he in jail? Did he start another family? Nobody knew. One morning, grandpa finally returned, wearing new clothes and a brand new hat. He lived out the rest of his life with my family, but never spoke of his time away. He never explained his absence.
My mind started racing. How could my own grandfather do this? I decided that my film had changed. I could not continue making the same project and I had to somehow my grandfather’s story. Amongst the workers that I was following there were older men, tired from a life of labor, who often live alone without their family. These are folks who, for some reason, cannot go home again. What if my grandfather had become one of these ghost men? What if he had not come home at all? What if instead of 5 years, he was absent for an entire lifetime?
Slowly, the story came together around the idea of Lupe wanting to go back when it is too late. He is old, sick, and his family has left him, but he needs to die in Mexico. With that idea, I wrote a lean script of about two dozen pages, using many of the locations I had scouted. I found Danny and his wife Ana, and miraculously, they agreed to star in the film. Although they are untrained actors, their performances are full of beautiful nuances that capture the slow, agonizing break-up of their relationship. Lupe has to return, no matter the price.
It is very awkward to admit this, but during the editing process, my empathy for Lupe disappeared. I simply could not stand him. After a lot of struggle, I finally realized that I was holding a grudge against my grandfather. I was angry at what he did, but slowly, luckily, I also began to see how silly it was for me to judge him. I had a good childhood with him. I have memories of him. He came back. And even now that he has passed on, he has given me this film.