Jorge Cuchi’s haunting drama ‘Bad Actor’ premiered at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Fast-paced as a thriller yet probing as drama, this film intricately questions consent and proportionality in the post #MeToo era.
The story follows actors Sandra Navarro (Fiona Palomo) and Daniel Zavala (Alfonso Dosal), ready to co-star in a prestigious new film. On set, their friendly rapport horribly shifts when Daniel assaults Sandra, raping her during an intimate scene as the camera rolls. With only the SD card and cinematographer as witnesses, the film closely chronicles the escalating fallout through each character’s perspective.
Makeup artist Ximena (Patricia Soto) immediately demands punishment while pragmatic assistant director Regina (Karla Coronado) involves lawyers. Director Gerardo (Gerardo Trejoluna) and producer Monica (Monica Jimenez) urge silence to save their production.
As tensions heighten and the actors stand firm in their accounts, Ximena leaks the incriminating footage online, igniting public outrage and vigilante violence against Daniel. While explaining she only sought justice for Sandra, Ximena’s actions still raise proportionality questions. Soto told us she was attracted to Ximena’s headstrong beliefs, though admits “she acts first, thinks later.” Her character embodies many Mexicans’ frustration with the judicial system being notoriously slow and corrupt.
According to Cuchi, he deliberately wanted to have two parallel stories unfolding: the gradually developing investigation into Sandra’s assault accusation, which sees her spending almost the entire film motionless on a bed to preserve any evidence, contrasted with the rapid escalation into social media justice and mob lynching, leading to devastating consequences for Daniel’s life and reputation.
The script cleverly sows doubt even for the viewer over what exactly transpired between the actors. Dosal plays Daniel with nuanced believable innocence and genuine distress over the situation, just as adeptly as Palomo perfects the complex portrayal of a victim struggling to process and come to terms with a sexual violation. Their layered performances make Daniel’s later pleas for understanding and forgiveness feel earned, validating what happened for the audience more than anyone else. “What we see is that Daniel is not a ‘bad guy’ stereotype, yet he still rapes a female actor and has to answer for his actions,” Cuchi explained.
Inspired by actress Maria Schneider’s past comments about feeling “a little raped” by Marlon Brando during the infamous butter abuse scene in Last Tango in Paris, the film attempts to realistically depict how such an on-set violation might play out for perpetrator, victim and wider society in the post #MeToo era. Cuchi came across the controversial 2013 interview where director Bernardo Bertolucci callously admitted they sprung the non-consensual butter act on the uninformed Schneider simply because he “wanted her to act humiliated as a girl, not as an actress.” Discovering this in 2019, Cuchi thought “That interview would never happen today; Bertolucci would be in big trouble now. Men are afraid of women in a new way. We’re learning we can’t get away with things like that anymore.” While abuses still occur in the industry, attitudes are shifting.
Beyond the initial disorienting camerawork, Cuchi’s shrewd storytelling compels throughout this rollercoaster of clashing emotions. While brutal at times, the film’s messages linger. Cuchi set out to deliver “a neutral film where viewers make their own judgments.” He hopes stories like Sandra’s teach that “rape hurts women” and meaningful change requires nuance on all sides.
Some aspects like on-set misconduct or hasty activism might strain belief for UK viewers unfamiliar with the Mexican context. Cuchi acknowledges that intimacy coordination was only implemented in Mexico in 2022. “There are two sides to intimacy coordination – choreography and consent. That’s how we approached scenes.” And sadly, mob justice is not uncommon either. “Since 2016 until 2022, around fifteen hundred lynchings occurred in Mexico. We hear stories of mobs setting people on fire just for being accused of a crime.” With his media background, Cuchi bluntly tackles harassment and mob justice with an urgent, ripped-from-the-headlines feel.