A still from Amat Escalante’s ‘Lost in the Night’

Probing Injustice And Social Inequality In ’Lost In The Night’: An Interview With Mexican Director Amat Escalante

By 22 November, 2023

Lost in the Night (Perdidos en la noche, 2023) is the fifth feature from Mexican director Amat Escalante. The story follows Emiliano, a young man intent on finding out the truth about his mother’s forced disappearance. When his investigations lead him to the bizarre home of an elite celebrity family, he becomes embedded in their lives, navigating the dysfunctional and morbid relationships they keep hidden inside. Ahead of its release this week, we sat down with Escalante to unpack some of the complex themes and influences that saturate the film. You can read our review of the film here.

Jessica Wax-Edwards (JWE): The Spanish title Perdidos en la noche refers to people lost in the night but the story focuses on one young man’s search for his mother. Could you talk a bit about your decision to make a film about Mexico’s many desaparecidos and the challenges associated with the topic? 

Amat Escalante (AE): The film’s prologue is about five people being captured and disappearing during the night – that is where the title first came to me. There’s also something evocative about losing control during the night, which is something that also happens to Emiliano, our main protagonist. 

For me it is difficult to find a justification for talking about the issue of forced disappearances in my country because I just don’t know exactly what else I could talk about when this piercing situation is so prevalent, especially in the state of Guanajuato, where I grew up and live here in Mexico. But what I am interested in exploring in this new film is the complicit guilt of different sectors of society, including the art establishment. How can things stay uncorrupted when we are surrounded by injustice and social inequality. The illusion of good and bad of rich and poor, all come together to form one thing that is what is not working. For me it’s not like Mexican society is not working because certain sectors are corrupted and do bad things, it is all connected.

JWE: What’s also interesting about the approach to me is the focus on unsettling the domestic space that we see throughout your work (home invasion in Los bastardos and Heli, the torture scene in Heli where the kitchen and matriarch are visible in the background), we get a little bit of Emiliano’s home but the majority of the film takes place in and around the Almada mansion. What interested you about this space (which is meticulously set designed) and these people? 

AE: The idea of looking at this family from the outside and how they are protected even from a home invasion, as Emiliano does try to infiltrate them without real success. They are impenetrable in a way, because of the power given to them in this dysfunctional society. Once inside this way of life they can show what they want towards the exterior. We see, along with Emiliano, through windows of this house that in itself is out of place in this landscape. Emiliano does not belong inside but they don’t belong there themselves either. So this house is a violent imposition and that was the feeling we were trying to create with it. Along with my Production Designer Daniela Schneider we designed this house setting that gave a lot of freedom and creativity to the setups from the moment of planning them, even before the set itself was built.

JWE: Any hints about the revolving flesh light? In my reading of the film there is a fascinating dialogue between representation/spectacle and violence and the flesh light often appears in the same sequence as the iconic Mentinides shot so I’d love to hear in your own words how this visual cue plays into that. 

AE: This is a previous artpiece by Rigoberto that was another provocation from his part, and it is related to his wife’s Carmen semi-scandalous sexual abuse allegations a few years back. It was meant to show a bit of his sensibility and backstory. Rigoberto and his stepdaughter Monica are obsessed with death and sex, as I think many artists are also.

JWE: Speaking of, can you talk a bit about the use of red bands in the film? The opening epigraph appears on a dark red (even blood-red) background and during the car chase scene you cut to that same red. It almost felt like self-censorship, especially when contrasted with some of the more graphic scenes of your previous films.  

AE: I like the feeling and unconscious emotions that colours may produce in the viewer and to fill the theatre with that colour. The blood red is a colour that represents life and also death,  so it attracts me to play with it. I have done it in my second film, Los Bastardos also, for a similar effect. I did like the idea of omitting some of the more graphic elements and replacing them with this evocative and aggressive colour. 

JWE: And lastly, the Aluxes play an important role in the narrative and Emiliano’s search for the truth. I wondered where the inspiration for the group came from? 

AE: There are many groups like this in the world and in Mexico and Latin America they are especially prevalent. There is a specific group that is very big and powerful and originated in Mexico. Some of their leaders are now in jail for paedophilia in the USA, there is a documentary series about them in HBO. At the same time it is not exclusively based on them because there are many religious groups like that in the world. I think that religion has been the cause of much manipulation and misguidedness in the world and here in Mexico it was used to control through fear and guilt. It is all still very present in society and plays a big part in how modern Mexico is.

Lost in the Night will be in cinemas across the UK from 24th November.

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