The Angel Of My Life - Interview With Cesar Valderrama
Cult Critic- "The Angel Of My Life" explores the complexities of a relationship where one partner is in the closet. What inspired you to tell this story, and what themes or messages did you aim to convey through the film?
Cesar- First off, I want to state that even though I used experiences that me and my ex-partner went through to develop the film script, this is entirely made up and not based completely on real life. Right before the pandemic happened, my current partner at the time broke up with me. That affected me drastically, especially after a couple of weeks later I had a life-changing event that nearly took my life, and then the pandemic shut down the entire world. I was going through a lot during that period and even though I had my family with me at home, I still felt somewhat alone, but most of all depressed. I felt that the best way for me to express and release my emotions was through art, and I did find writing as a creative outlet for me, and thus I began writing the script for the film that is now called "The Angel Of My Life." Honestly, I didn't know exactly what the theme was until I had finished what I wrote and had time to reread it and reflect on it because I had no intention of showing this at all. That was until I attended a friend's open mic for artists to show their work and I decided to participate by presenting a monologue from my piece, and everyone loved it. That's when I knew I had something, and from thereafter, I carefully reread the script and made the right changes. The message is to never let the past hold you from moving forward. Javier, who is the character I portray, struggles with leaving his partner. After all, he remembers the good times he had with his partner and is not capable of seeing clearly that the person is doing more harm to him because he is in the closet. He is allowing his memories of his partner's promises that things will get better in the future to cloud his mind, but after some time when things don't change, there is certain doubt that arises in his mind that his relationship could last any longer. It is also about acceptance and understanding your identity. Through a relationship, you start understanding your worth, what your values are, and who you are as a person. There is also some commentary on how in certain Latino cultures the reason why homosexuality is heavily scorned is because of past family mentality and religion, which are two huge factors as well.
Cult Critic-As both the director and writer of the film, how did your personal experiences and background influence the development of the characters and their journeys? Were there any challenges you faced in translating these experiences into a compelling narrative?
Cesar- I believe that because I took the time to reread, reflect, and understand every character's perspective, that it makes this piece relatable to everyone. I wanted to show redeeming qualities and flaws in every character, including the conservative mother, because I wanted their reasons to be justified. I wanted whoever the actor was chosen to portray whichever character to have enough reasons to what motivated them to act upon their decisions. I had more fun with this script because I was able to write every character to have a purpose to help move the story between Javier and Jesus's relationship. To make every supporting character feel like they were people from the audience themselves and have their certain viewpoints presented, pushing or tugging the main characters to certain directions. The only real problem I had was seeing what the ending should be since I never received any closure from my ex until recently. Luckily we had a lot of time working with each other, and by the time this scene came around, we both knew how the characters would react on the day of filming the last section of the movie, I just let it organically play out with me and Ivan (Jesus) to see what the emotions were, and it felt raw and real.
Cult Critic-Bilingualism plays a significant role in the film, with English and Spanish languages used. Can you discuss the importance of representing these languages and cultures, and how it adds depth to the storytelling?
Cesar-It plays a huge part in the film because quite often miscommunication can occur with language barriers. When someone comes from a different country, trying to learn that place's language and try to live their life, it can be overbearing. Jesus felt comfortable with Javier because one of the windows he had with him was being able to talk in Spanish freely, and two, helping him learn English without being judged. Javier also felt comfort in not only helping Jesus with English but also being able to practice his Spanish as well. However, also not fully being able to understand and speak the language 100 percent, there can be misinterpretations that we believed we said the right thing but might have been heard differently. I also wanted to show how we spoke mostly with our emotions to the language we can express ourselves the most, hence the back and forth between English and Spanish. But most importantly, it's a part of our identity and I wanted to portray that to the world, our beautiful language of how we spoke. That's why I made sure that every actor that was cast spoke fluently in Spanish from their respective country.
Cult The cast delivers compelling performances, bringing depth and authenticity to their characters. Can you share your experience working with the cast and the collaborative process in bringing these characters to life?
Cesar- Honestly, I was overwhelmingly happy with my cast. I rarely had to give much direction to them because I honestly chose the right people for the right part. A lot of the time movie directors have a huge ego and believe they know everything and must stick to the script word for word. I am huge on collaboration because I am a firm believer that the movie script can adapt and that it doesn't end once the last rewrite is officially completed. There were lines that I didn't notice that didn't make sense or felt that was missing that the actors provided, and I allowed them to have some creative freedom to try out things. Spanish was also a second language for me, and since most of my cast understood Spanish more so than me, they would tell me certain lines didn't make sense and would translate it for themselves how they felt they would comfortably say it. There was also a blessing in disguise where the original doctor was given to a caucasian actor and the entire scene was in English, but because of a personal emergency, the actor had he couldn't make it during the set. However, I had a backup actor who was Latino and was free that day to come in to play the role and once we were doing the scene my producer commented and asked if the actor spoke Spanish. He stated yes, and then my producer said that this scene probably would be more interesting if the doctor spoke in Spanish for the important information, which I'm very happy worked out very well. So I allowed creative freedom. If I rewatched and didn't like what was done we wouldn't do it, but most of the time my cast knew their characters pretty well, hence making my job a lot easier but also less worried about their delivery of performance, where I can then focus on my part and behind the scenes as well.
Cult Critic-"The Angel Of My Life" blends elements of drama, LGBTQIA+ representation, and romance. How did you approach balancing these genres to create a cohesive and engaging narrative that resonates with a wide audience?
Cesar- Even though this is about two men in a homosexual relationship, the experiences that both characters go through are experiences that I'm sure everyone's gone through once in their life. The thought of your partner cheating and having temptation there yourself I'm sure many people have been in that scenario or had that happened to themselves. The sense of being disowned by family, especially moving to a foreign place where you have no idea how it works, can be a lot of pressure. The sacrifices we make to keep our partner happy and determining at what lengths is enough. All of these issues are relatable in one way or another, it doesn't just exist in homosexual couples. In the end, I just wanted to make sure that everything made sense and relatable to the public.
Cult The technical specifications of the film include a runtime of 2 hours 13 minutes 28 seconds and shooting in Digital BlackMagic Raw. Can you discuss the creative decisions behind these choices and how they contribute to the overall visual and storytelling aesthetics of the film?
The actual script and pre-final cut were longer, and when we had the second/third rough cut completed, I knew that it was too long. I tried to convince myself that everything needed to be shown and if it had to be three hours long to have a fully completed film that made sense then it would be that long. However, I am very happy that I had multiple pairs of eyes with whom I trusted their opinions and convinced me to cut it shorter. Taking out scenes at that time that I felt were essential to the film killed me, and now looking at it over again I am very glad it was cut. The parts that were cut didn't necessarily progress the story, and if it doesn't move the film then it's just better off being cut entirely. Everything that made the final cut was important. My goal was to try to hit two hours, and while I wasn't entirely successful at hitting that mark, I know the audience will forgive me for those extra minutes because everything that is shown completes that final ark of Javier and Jesus's story.