Colombian filmmaker Laura Mora lost her father, a lawyer and academic, in 2002, when she was 21 years old. Some hitmen murdered him and years later he decided to transform that rage into his first film, kill jesus (2017), a heartbreaking and raw work with which he searched for the memory of his father and with which he also focused on a society that harbors violence.
In the last edition of the San Sebastian Festival, six years after that celebrated debut, the director won the Golden Shell with her new film, titled The Kings of the worldan initiation journey of several adolescents who move from the city to the countryside in search of a “promised land” in which to find security and where they can fulfill their dreams.
On the occasion of its premiere in Spain, Laura Mora has visited Madrid to present the film and has spoken with Vozpopuli on the restitution of lands in Colombia, the fragility of the human beingthe absence of mothers, solidarity or the trip from the city to the countryside.
Question: Your first film was autobiographical. What was she looking to tell on this occasion?
Answer: After making a film as autobiographical as kill jesus I wanted to talk about the issue of land, it was something that I had very much in mind, but the film was born in a very particular way. When I finished shooting my first film in 2016, I went on the same trip that the boys do, which is a trip I’ve done a thousand times, because it’s the road you have to take to leave Medellín, cross the mountains and get to Sea. It contains all the historical tension of landscape and geography. While I was traveling by car I began to have some images of some boys crossing that landscape, and that came from having been affected after the casting of kill jesus, in which I had met some amazing guys who had talked to me about having a place to be safe. On that road, after making such a personal and difficult film, something in me was released. I stopped and wrote a few sentences: “Guys take revenge on the world. We are the kings of the world.” That’s where it started.
Q: The central issue of the film is related to a topical issue in Colombia: land restitution.
A: The argumentative thread was very thin: what happens if you have nothing and one day you receive a letter informing you that you are going to get land back? What does it mean that the State recognizes you, names you? It is not only the promised land for this boy, but also going back to the origin and taking his friends with him.
Q: What political moment was this issue at when the film hit theaters?
A: In 2016 we were in the midst of a crisis in the peace process, in the plebiscite in which the “no” vote won. For me it was not possible that this would reappear, the restitution of the lands, which had been the center of the discussion of the peace process and on which many people voted against because they were not in favor of the land law. Having a progressive government that puts the issue at the center and that this coincides with the moment the film is released is a very pleasant coincidence, because it energized the conversation, it annoyed many people who are very much against it. “What do the kings of the world call lazy people”, some wondered. But that’s also why movies are made, to make people uncomfortable.
In my life -I have grown up in a very masculine context- I have seen men love and care for each other a lot and with these boys we achieved that, they created a family. In the movie, they are their land, they are their homeland”Laura Mora
Q: Often, when a film that is strongly anchored to a sociopolitical moment in a country travels and reaches other countries and new festivals, it has new perspectives and new readings. Has the same thing happened this time?
A: In Colombia people have a very different reading, more anchored to reality and what is credible, when the truth is not something that interests me in the cinema. Due to the political conditions of the country, people seek to anchor it to something very precise, while when films travel and viewers do not know what the land restitution unit is, they are read in a more free way. The film may be the story of some migrants, it is more connected with a universal and mythical journey that has existed in the history of humanity: looking for a place where we are going to live safely.
The Kings of the world: friendship and family
Q: One of the most moving aspects of The Kings of the world It is the friendship, almost family relationship, maintained by the main characters, who take care of each other. Why was it important for you to contrast caring and community with the individualism of these times?
A: Individualism has gone against an aspect that is fundamental for the construction of the social pact that has to do with solidarity and generosity. Friendship is an existential value. My friends have saved me many times. I have a family that is beautiful but it is very small, so the family that I have built on the outside has been very important. I feel like the movie is a celebration of friendship. Also, see men who take care of themselves. In my life -I have grown up in a very masculine context- I have seen men love and care for each other a lot and with these boys we achieved that, they created a family. In the movie, they are their land, they are their homeland.
Q: There are no women among the protagonists. The important women are absent -the mother and the grandmother- and the only ones that appear are prostitutes who become an almost maternal figure for these adolescents.
A: I grew up in a world of men and it is the cinema that has brought me closer to women. A Chilean anthropologist, Rita Segato, says that the first victims of patriarchy are men because they are condemned to behave in a way that ends up being the great whip for women. I am concerned about that condemnation that implies being a man and looking at her as a woman. I understand violence as a very masculine heritage and, since I have experienced violence so closely, I like to question that masculinity and try to weaken it in order to approach it in another way. What happens when the woman is absent in these men? They are looking for a promised land, but they are looking for a homeland more than a homeland, a place where they can be safe, where they can love each other and dream, and that is a very maternal place. In that brothel there is also a symbiosis, because not only do they find a mother figure, but they embrace their children. Many times I have fought with the concept of the female gaze in my short filmography and suddenly in this film I feel that this is my film that most clearly shows that the one who looks is a woman. They are looking for a place that gives what the mother who is not present would give: a place where they can dream, be safe and love each other.
Whenever we cross a highway in Colombia, those of us who are Colombians are tense because that landscape is a container of decades of horror. That beauty has a lot of blood, those rivers are also a graveLaura Mora
Q: This is a trip from the city to the countryside and in Spain in recent times there has been a tendency to take cinematographic action out of the city, with examples such as Àlcarrás, as beasts either suro. In this idyllic destination, however, violence, human greed and the voracity of the current system to the detriment of families also appear.
A: Carla Simón attended a screening this week and when she left she wrote me a very long message in which she told me about the similarities between the two films and told me that, despite how different the two are, they put the sign of interrogation in aspects that have to do with the land and with the pain of belonging. That is a world problem, there is a very savage capitalism. Now in Colombia the trip from the countryside to the city is made from the filmography, because the issue of displacement is addressed, of abandoning the land to this tragic destination that is the city, but I was interested in the opposite trip and what that implies . They move very well in the city, with their violence, with running and fleeing. I was interested in seeing them in a new world, facing other forms of violence that are more underground and are more silent and contained. Also facing a landscape that is far from idyllic. Although it is beautiful, it is more sublime because it contains horror and beauty. I wondered how to film that landscape so that this pressure is understood, because whenever we cross a highway in Colombia, those of us who are Colombians are tense because that landscape is a container of decades of horror. That beauty has a lot of blood, those rivers are also a grave.
Q: How has winning the Golden Shell contributed to the film for this film, five months later?
A: This movie was almost impossible to make. The award has made it much more visible in Colombia, because no one would have gone, and there has been a lot of conversation. Now it will be released in France, Switzerland and Spain, and in Latin America Netflix has bought it.