Gael García Bernal stars as Moises in Desierto. (STX Productions)
Jonás Cuarón’s Desierto seeks to examine the very real experiences both Mexican and Mexican-American families face through the lens of a thriller. The film is Mexico’s official entry for foreign feature in the upcoming Academy Awards.
Star Gael García Bernal shares this about tackling his role in the film and giving a respectful representation to the people who cross the border in order to provide a better life for their loved ones: “When Jonás asked me to play this character, I would have stopped in my tracks had I not had all the experiences I have had doing other films about this issue. I’ve filmed short films and documentaries about migration for Amnesty International. I’ve done a documentary, Quien es Dayani Cristal?, about tracing the life of a body found in Arizona going from Honduras to the United States, the journey of the migrant. Being close to them and experiencing all that research for many years allowed me when Jonás approached me to this project to tell him, ‘Yeah, man! Of course I can play this,’ because I felt I had already the elements to have ownership of the character and to know that I could pull it off in a way.”
The survival tale centers around Moises (Bernal), who has to cross the border a second time to get back to his son when a trigger-happy white nationalist (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) decides to casually mow down immigrants at the border. While harrowing, Bernal and Cuarón worked to make the character of Moises carefully reflect the all too real tribulations people have undergone for their families.
“We wanted to give it another layer. Instead of just having the character cross the border for the first time, we said, ‘Let’s make him a character who’s going back home.’ He’s a character who’s going back home. This is a new phenomenon for migration,” Bernal explains. “There are many people who, for simple reasons like having a light out, have been deported who have been here for years and years. People who have family here. They’ve been paying their taxes, they’ve been incorporated into society and all of a sudden for a traffic violation they get into this loophole of self-deportation, which is terrible. The process that they go through, there’s an emotional blackmail there that forces you to self-deport.”
Bernal goes on to recount his interactions with people he personally got to know who have done just that.
“I met a lot of people while I was doing Dayani Cristal that had just been chucked out. They were wondering, ‘I have three daughters and my work there, my house … what should I do? Should I risk going back, or should I bring everyone back to Mexico?’ Some of them are not Mexicans or rather their life is there [in America]. This catatonia is where my character Moises is. He’s like ‘I’ll just cross. I’ll risk it. I’m going home.’ We wanted to do right by this character and feel like we were not vandalizing it because it is very delicate.”
Desierto is now in select theaters.