Hollywood loves a good transformation story, but Canana Films takes a slightly different approach to it with their latest movie, Paraiso, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Telling the tale of childhood sweethearts Carmen and Alfredo (played respectively by Daniela Rincon and Andres Almedia), Paraiso follows the two lovebirds as they depart from their home in the Mexican suburb of Satelite—where the couple is oblivious to body conscious ways—and move to Mexico City. Prompted by a recent promotion at work, Alfredo feels the pressure to fit into more conventional body norms. His decision to lose weight sets the two on a journey of self-discovery.
We sat down with Almedia, Rincon and director Mariana Chenillo to learn more about the impetus for the film, discover the journey they went on to create it, and how all three feel about body image in general.
What inspired you to tell this story?
Mariana Chenillo: Well, this is based on a short story that’s also called Paraiso. When I got the short story, it was more about the context and about the male character and how he felt about going through the weight-loss process. At first I didn’t think it would work with him being the one who tells his story...what happened to the woman character was very interesting, because she’s the one who apparently doesn’t change. But everything happens inside and it’s huge. And I think that she’s the one that has more things to solve at the beginning.
So as I started working on getting the short story to the screen, I started to put in a lot of things from my life and my love relationships—like my fears, what I’m ashamed of and my intimacy into the project...What happens is a very important and significant event, and it’s good because it’s real—it comes from real pages.
Both of your characters take a similar journey, but you approach it as individuals. What was it that drew you to this project and what was it about the characters that made you want to be a part of this?
Andres Almedia: It wasn’t only the characters; it was the whole story that I liked. Just talking to my gut after the first time that I read it, there was something about it that I believed I should be a part of. And I wanted to do something in it, even if it was just a small roll.
Daniela Rincon: I read the script and thought it was so beautiful, because it’s not my character being overweight that is the problem. For quite a while I have lived with this idea that when you’re overweight, that’s all people can see. In this film, that’s not the big deal. She has something more important to tell—the character has a bigger problem than her extra pounds, and that’s amazing to be a part of. People look at overweight people and only see the weight, but behind them is a whole universe. And in this case, the whole universe, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the story, and I fell in love with her.
Almedia: You didn’t fall in love with me?
Rincon: I did—with your lovely green eyes, I did. I promise.
You’re telling this tale in an industry that’s really body conscious. Granted, the world on the whole is, but Hollywood moreso than anywhere. Do you hope the film is going to create change in that respect?
Rincon: My hope is it becomes more and more normal to see women like me, or a guy like he is at the beginning of the film. Because we’re walking the streets just as much as anyone else. We have real problems. We fall in love. We feel heartbreak. We have a life.
Chenillo: And you’re gorgeous.
Rincon: Thank you! But just as much as everyone else, we have stories to tell. My hope is it becomes just as common as everything else to see people with weight in film. I hope it’s not new or outrageous or whatever. I would like for this to be normal.
On the subject of weight and self-esteem, so much of the conversation is centered around women. So much of it is our problem—we’re the ones that have to deal with it. How is it from your perspective as a man having gone through that?
Almedia: I’ve also gone through this process a lot for my job, and I haven’t been so overweight, but I have been above my weight. Just before starting this project I was working on another one where I was almost overweight...So at the same extent, [self-esteem] has also been an issue for me for the last ten years that I’ve been trying to procure for not what I look like on the outside, but for what I feel from the inside for health, which is probably the same process for Daniela.
There is a point in which it’s not uncomfortable to be who you are, but it’s dangerous to be who you are. It’s a state of the health which is not healthy, so it’s a process of moving yourself from doing what you do in your everyday life, and taking you into a different place. And I think it’s very illuminating to be conscious about—not to be afraid of who you are in the outside state, but also to be aware of who you are and what you can change about it. And I do think it’s the same process for men nowadays. I know there has been a lot about weight for women and there’s always been. And mostly, men blame everything on women—even their own overweight. In Mexico they blame their women for what they’re cooking—like, what are you feeding me? That needs to change.
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