It’s 9:30 on a Tuesday morning, and I think I’m about to watch Tamae Garateguy die.
Her geographic location—Argentina, or, “the end of the world,” as she calls it—precludes my usual phone interview method, so she’s been kind enough to chat with me on Skype about her career and her latest film, Mujer Lobo. It’s midway through our conversation when her doorbell rings. Excusing herself, she moves to the window, strolling backwards away from the camera. The image is striking in its’ composition: Garateguy softly silhouetted against the afternoon light coming in through the blinds, which gives a soft glow to the cotton candy pastels of the room.
“There’s no one there,” she says, and what follows is an extended moment of palpable, unbearable silence. Time freezes. Garateguy is almost entirely stationary, her head gently pivoting as she surveys this way and that, her body suddenly small and isolated in what seems to be the growing expanse of the room. And this is when it’s going to happen, I think. Some hooded figure or nightmare entity is going to enter stage left, and I’m going to see it all unfold before me here on the webcam, powerless to do anything, and then when he—or it—is done it’s going to turn and look at me…
Of course, Tamae Garateguy is still alive and well. Her son and his friend are coming home from a day off of school, and checking in to see if there’s any plans for the afternoon. She discusses the itinerary with them, sees them off, and then returns to me. But it’s a powerful endorsement of her own work that an apparent ding-dong ditch has me thinking that I’m about to play witness to a real-life episode of Unsolved Mysteries; for the last thing that I watched before talking to Garateguy WAS Mujer Lobo, and this is the state of mind it’s left me in: Jumpy, paranoid, and on the edge of my seat, looking over my shoulder—and into my webcam—for any boogeymen waiting to come lurching out of the shadows.
The story of a shape-shifting female serial killer stalking the streets of Buenos Aires for men to bed and bleed, Mujer Lobo isn’t just one of the more unsettling horror films I’ve seen of late, it’s one of the sexiest, too, and this is what’s intrigued me about Garateguy’s work. As she herself points out, while plenty of horror films have incorporated sexual elements over the years, the audience is seeing that sex as focalized through an almost necessarily male point of view. Her mission, then, is to even the playing field a bit, injecting a feminist perspective on the bedroom antics and barely-clad shenanigans that dominate the genre. So far, she’s succeeding admirably—if you see Mujer Lobo and don’t find yourself at that uncomfortable intersection of fear and arousal, you may want to check your pulse and make sure you haven’t died at some point prior to the movie. Consider checking it out after you’ve read my interview with the woman herself—you might keep it in mind for your next date night movie. Then again, the way most of the film’s encounters end, maybe not…
Preston Fassel: You do all of your work in Argentina, but you’re developing a following in the American indy horror scene. How do you get distribution?
Tamae Garateguy: Film festivals. Because my work is not easy to sell. You know Shudder? Which is new, but, before that, it was—where’s our work going to go? The fucked up people of the world? (laughs) We live at the end of the world. We live far, far away from everywhere. It’s really difficult for us, for everybody, in Argentina, in relation to the world, because we’re really far away. It’s like being in Australia. And I’m a woman. So it’s three times more difficult, five times more difficult. So I met this community. It’s a big community. We all are friendly with each other, we are not trying to make competition. On my very first film, which I codirected, I had the opportunity to travel around the world to film festivals that were not genre festivals, and it’s different, you know? Because the other movies and festivals are really snobby! After that I went to the fantastic, super fun world of Fantastic Fest, Morbido, Bifan, all those festivals that like extreme works or different or weird things, weird stories, weird movies. So I discovered this amazing, crazy world of crazy people. Like me! So I felt like I was in a family. Actually, with the Soskas, you know—I went to Fantastic Fest in 2013, and I heard about the Soska Sisters there, and I said, I have to know them. And after a year I met them at Fantastic Fest. You know, you start to be friends with these people. It’s really a community. For me, I tell you again, I live far away. I live fifteen hours away by plane!
PF: From your personal experience, what’re some of the differences of being a female director in Argentina, versus other countries?
TG: Argentina is a weird example, because, we have a lot in common with Canada. Because we have subsidies. When you have that system with subsidies for cinema it’s about culture. I believe in Canada it’s a little better than in the States. We have really good directors in Argentina, a lot of female directors. Not enough, of course. We’re between 10-20% of the total number of directors. Genre female directors, I think we’re two or three in the country. One’s me. (laughs) And it’s not about being a female, it’s about where the money comes from. In Argentina we have a lot of help, so because of this contribution, I was surprised at SXSW because everybody talks about filmmaking as a business. THE business, independent business, and nobody says “this is art.” I was impressed. Being a female? No… it’s difficult if you are doing something different, but, at the same time, I believe for all the girls, I would say that if you’re a female and you do something different or are trying to make something different, hardcore, bloody, weird, or fucked up things, that’s a good thing. It makes you distinctive. So I’m not famous but people know me, people in the film industry know me because I do fucked up things. I’m not into fashionable things, I’m a kind of punk.
PF: Where do you get your inspiration?
TG: Life. I have two kids, so, it’s an intense experience. And also if you have my morbid mind, it’s a little bit… (laughs) It’s contradictory. Being a mom, and trying to be healthy, and teach good things about life and the world, and at the same time, filming these movies that they CANNOT see until they’re twenty. (laughs) Also sometimes I get inspired watching things. Last year I was in Bogota in Columbia at a film festival, on the jury. I watched this documentary about euthanasia, and it was really strong for me, it really impressed me a lot. I ended up making a movie about that. I’m finishing it up, my third solo movie. And it has that in it, because it was a subject that impressed me. And of course, sex and death, and when they come together, it’s my favorite subject. Sex and death. And I always try to think of issues that I’m interested in. And especially sex.
PF: Why is sex in horror your particular fascination?
TG: Because I think that there’s not enough movies about sexuality—not porn, because I believe porn is another genre, you know—but, movies in general. I always like movies that can talk about sexuality in different ways because sexuality is a really vast subject and I’m very passionate about sexuality. That the same thing that can be funny and hot for one person can be very violent and aggressive. There’s a spectrum, and the spectrum is really, really big and amazing. I found that working with sexuality as a subject, that the same thing that for me is hot and funny and a joke is aggressive and violent… Also, because all of us, even female directors, have a masculine language about sexuality in filmmaking. It’s masculine. 90-95% of movies, and especially those that speak about sexuality, are made by men. So I have in my mind the things that I think I like but are maybe coming from men. As a director, I work on trying to figure out when maybe it’s masculine, feminine… I have both. I mean, male directors can also have two things at the same time. That’s why, I don’t know, Paul Verhoeven can make Elle, and it isn’t, “Oh, how do you work with the female world so well?” You can do both. I can do very masculine things. My first film is very masculine, it’s about the Mafia and about a gang of boys… Mujer Lobo is about that. Death and sex.
PF: What is it in the intersection of sex and violence that made you want to make Mujer Lobos?
TG: I believe that women are always near those subjects together. Violence and sex. Especially, because of men’s fantasies about it. Sex and exploitation and violence and the representation of violence through women. Because men never represent sex and violence over men. You watch a lot of films and you see a lot of girls and women being beaten, being raped, and—it’s okay, I’m not against it, it’s a genre, and it’s a fantasy, but, for example, do you know Deliverance? I found that film really fantastic. It’s a strange thing, violence between men and the representation of that. I believe women, women of my generation, we have all these mixes between desire, violence, and sex, and sex coming with violence.
PF: How does Argentina’s horror culture differ from that of other countries?
TG: I was thinking about that the other day. I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to watch or research Argentinian movies, but we make mixes between genres. We are a little bit more free. We maybe don’t make horror with strong rules. All of my colleagues that I know break the rules. Sometimes you get some weird, weird movies that don’t work very good but sometimes you can get really interesting movies. Like, it’s like a fairy tale, but then gets really fucked up at the end. You can get really different movies crossed with horror. Actually, Mujer Lobo, my last film, I didn’t think about that movie as a horror movie. For me it was a psycho killer, serial killer that tries to have sex with her victims. After that then it was black and white, and, you know, it ended up being horror mixed with sexy things. So I think the Argentinian horror cinema tries to break the rules by doing maybe mixes, weird mixes between genres and stories, and that’s the interesting thing. It’s not about money. It’s about originality and the opportunity to do something new. Compare it with Brazil. Brazil has this system—Is this boring to you?
PF: Oh, no, not at all.
TG: I just can’t tell, if it’s boring you or not. (laughs) In Brazil, they have this system, where big companies can pay taxes on Brazilian art movies. But if you are a person in a big company, you are going to be attracted to committes, committees with famous people from the TV, so what kind of films are you going to get at the end of the day? Comedies, soft comedies. Nothing interesting at all. So that’s why Brazil is 100 years better in everything than Argentina. They have an identity, a cultural identity, amazing, and they do really good things. They have art. But in cinema, Argentina always has more risky cinema than Brazil. And aroun the world you can see in film festivals that Argentina, even though it’s far away and a small country, we have good cinema.
PF: Tell us a little bit about making Mujer Lobo?
TG: The brunette, with the long hair, she’s a well known actress. She’s not famous but she’s really well known in the independent scene here. She has this physical role, and she always plays people from the countryside, like poor people. And when I asked her, do you want to be the She Wolf, she said, “Listen, if you give me high heels and makeup and I can be sexy, I’ll do whatever you want me to do. I’m so tired of being the poor woman having trouble in this South American place.” It was a really risky change, this physical role. It was really interesting. I take risks. Everybody said, “Is she sexy?” when I said I was going to shoot with her. Yes! “Do you REALLY think she’s going to be sexy?” YES! Of course! Of course, the blonde girl was amazing. She didn’t have to work on these sexy things. She was amazing in that way. She looks like a pinup girl. And the young one, I remember that I said, listen, we start tomorrow. Are you in or not? Because we start tomorrow in an Hour Motel… It’s, here, a really common thing to… You call them motels too, right? Where you pay for an hour and you have sex and then you go, no?
PF: Oh, yeah, like a dive motel.
TG: Here we call them “hotel alojamiento.” Which is really—everybody goes there. Even married people. They go there and they have—they have kids, and they can’t have fun sex at home, and it’s full of kids. So we shoot in these hotels. Like the film I am finishing now, we also hot that in a hotel. Because it’s a very common thing here. So that’s where we started the shooting of She Wolf. They were naked, it was real intense. It was an inspiring thing for all of us. It was like magic. Alchemia.