The first time that Hernán Jabes read jezebel, the fourth novel by Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles, was in 2015. He did it in one sitting. And he was shocked. He liked the story so much that he immediately thought of making a film adaptation. He took on the task of looking for the author to propose the adventure, who, without hesitation, accepted. Thus began the journey of the feature film that explores the moral conflicts of four young people from Caracas.
jezebel –which is part of the Vertigo crime novel collection, from the label EditionsB– narrates a heinous crime, the murder of the young Eliana Bloom, whose body was found in her apartment in Caracas with signs of physical abuse and sexual violence. The novel reconstructs the events through the memories of Alain, one of the best friends of the victim. In the process, he had to confront the trickery of his own memory to hide a painful reality.
«One of the things that caught my attention in the book was not only its irreverence and shameless language, but also the analogy it makes to society, which is not only Venezuelan. So, I think the film was successful in the sense that it has a universal story”, says director Hernán Jabes from Mexico, where he has lived since 2016.
For adaptation of jezebel, Jabes and Sánchez Rugeles immediately began working on the film’s script. Due to the distance, the author lived in Madrid while he and the director were still in Caracas, they worked through Skype. They met twice a week in three-hour sessions, in which audio or image failures were always present. However, they remember that stage as a constructive, healthy, kind and fun experience.
«The structure of the script was very fluid, very comfortable, I think it was a very correct collaboration. We are very satisfied with the work”, assures Sánchez Rugeles.
Although they did not know each other, they connected immediately, says Jabes. In the writing process they did not have major differences. They shared the same vision of history. “For me it was important to maintain the essence and the characters,” says the filmmaker, who adds that Sánchez Rugeles gave him all the licenses to make the adaptation.
jezebel It is the second film adaptation of a work by Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles. The first was Opposite direction, by Alejandro Bellame. For this reason, the changes in the film did not cause him concern, quite the opposite. «Unlike literature, cinema is absolutely collaborative and that is very good for the story. If the cinema needs something, it is that you trust the other. I know the script is just one piece; I’m not a purist with the script, I know it’s something that needs to be modified. I take the beauty of that confidence as something positive and it doesn’t bother me at all. Even when the actors improvise on my text I love it », he says.
The first approach of Sánchez Rugeles to the writing of screenplays for cinema was with Opposite direction. From that experience he obtained a great learning that was useful for the adaptation of jezebel. «It was a course, a master’s degree in screenwriting. I had never written a script before. I had some idea of what the format was like, but I was largely unaware of what the script structure of an audiovisual project was. So, working with Alejandro Bellame to Opposite direction I learned many things, I began to understand and perceive the difference between audiovisual action and narrative, which sometimes doesn’t work for film. Without a doubt, to jezebel I arrived with more maturity and learning to write scripts”, recalls the author.
Sánchez Rugeles found it strange to revisit works that he had written some time ago. «It generates a feeling of resentment, of whether I find myself or not, I recognize myself or not. In the case of Opposite direction Y jezebel it was essential that he had already forgotten those texts. It happened to me, not so much with jezebel but yes with Opposite direction, being my first novel, that when I read it I found things that I did not like. With jezebel I feel that, at the level of structure, form and language, it is a more mature novel, so there was not so much shock, but the things that were excluded or modified were so that they could be comfortably adapted to the audiovisual story, “he says.
finish the script jezebel It took them a year and a half, approximately. Filming began in 2018, it was done between Caracas and Mexico City. The feature film is narrated in two times, past and present, so it was filmed in two parts. First the stage of memories, the adolescent; then the adult stage of the characters. “We stopped for about five months for various reasons: for the actor to have a physical and psychological change and, as it was an independent film, we had run out of money and we needed to find the resources to continue,” says Jabes.
The cast is made up of Gabriel Agüero as Alain Barral, Eliane Chipia as Eliana Bloom, Johanna Juliethe as Loló, Shakti Maal as Cacá and Erich Wildpred as Salvador. Also acting is César Augusto Cova as Flema, Armando Cabrera as Loló’s father, a small appearance by María Conchita Alonso as Alain’s mother, Héctor Manrique as Professor Rafael, and Diana Volpe as Alfonsina Mathinson.
The selection of the casting was in charge of Hernán Jabes and Adrián Gueyer, producer of the film. They contacted actors they wanted in the film. Although she did not participate in this selection, Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles suggested the name of Eliane Chipia. “One of the things I like most about jezebel It’s acting work. I am very satisfied with the work that was done and the talent of the actors is one of the things that I feel most comfortable with », he says.
For Gabriel Agüero, trained in the theater, co-founder of the group Deus Ex Machina, who has participated in films such as fabulation (2017) or The dance (2019), it was a challenge to interpret the same character in two timelines, due to the physical and psychological change that it required. «It was very clear to me that I had to approach the job forgetting what had happened in the first stage of the shoot. In fact, I did not want to see any material to have a feeling of forgetfulness, of confused memories, of selective memory », he says.
And he adds: “That part focuses precisely on how a person faces their memories, torments from the past, from a confused, conflictive, broken and contradiction-filled stage.”
Like Agüero, for Eliane Chipia playing Eliana Bloom was a challenge. The actress faced a situation similar to that of her character, fortunately not in the same way or magnitude. Although she had the emotional charge to play her character, she was in a different moment, in which she did not identify as a victim but as a vigilante. This made it a bit difficult for him to empathize. “In the end, it was beautiful because reliving that bad experience made me, in a way, cathartic and heal,” she says.
«Without a doubt, the biggest challenge, personally, was to relive a whole situation because I had blocked it. It was like ‘I’ve already experienced this, it’s clear to me’, but opening the door to the wound again is not easy. Many times they will tell you that you do not need to do that because there are a lot of techniques that you can approach to not touch yourself personally, but if one as a performer does not genuinely empathize, it will be noticed. A teacher always told me that you can lie to everyone, except the camera, “adds Chipia.
This is not the first film in which the actress participates. Chipia has acted in films like El Silbón (2018) and the deserter (2015), her debut and for which she received a special mention as Lead Actress at the 2015 edition of the Mérida Venezuelan Film Festival.
During filming, one of the actors’ concerns was to be able to recreate the complicity between the four friends, since not all of them knew each other. Therefore, they had the opportunity to spend time together before starting work to get to know each other better. “Hernán had the brilliant idea that when we arrived in Venezuela we had to be together all the time. So when we went on location visits, which an actor doesn’t have to go to, we were together. We had nothing to do but be together and get to know each other, that ended in a very great complicity, “recalls Agüero.
jezebel is a film that portrays a group of young people from well-off families who are little cared for by their parents, who lack principles and who live in limitless freedom, contained by the sociopolitical context in which they live. Although it is difficult to say that young people of any generation can identify with history, Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles considers that it is not indifferent. «I have the feeling, especially with the film, that you may or may not like it, but it is not indifferent. People after seeing it are surprised and I find that fascinating. I value that impact as a merit of the film.
The film has been presented at the Miami Film Festival and at the Malaga Festival. In both the receptivity was good, says Jabes. However, due to the crudeness of Jezebel, it has been difficult for distributors to be interested in the film, says the director. “From a little before the pandemic, there was a political correctness of how to treat things and what to say and what not. The truth is, when we made the film we never thought about that and as time went by we found ourselves with this new communicative reality that threatens the film », he explains.
“It is a dark film, but I think that in a world so dazzled by the light of appearances and political correctness, the darkness of the film that we present arouses the smallest spark and in any darkness the smallest spark illuminates. That is Jezebel’s intention,” adds Jabez.
Both Jabes and Sánchez Rugeles agree that Jezebel, the novel and the adaptation, is a work that, despite its local history, has a universal language. «I never wrote it or thought about it with that localist look, that was only limited to the Venezuelan territory. I always have universality as a premise and they are stories of love, heartbreak, family, friendship, violence, good and evil. Those are the themes that I work on in my stories and that I think are universal themes,” says the author.
Although jezebel It will have its European premiere at the Barcelona International Film Festival where it will be presented on April 23, 25 and 27 with sessions open to the public –being the only Latin American film in official competition–, it still does not have a defined route. Keep looking for spaces to introduce yourself. The film is an independent co-production between Mexico and Venezuela. Its distribution in Europe will be carried out by Latido Films. “I think it is essential that people see the film, even if it makes them uncomfortable or makes them feel bad because of all the issues it raises,” says Jabes.
The release date or if it will reach Venezuelan theaters is unknown. “I don’t see why it couldn’t hit theaters in Venezuela. I have a little voice in my head that tells me ‘Maybe they won’t accept it’, but on the other hand I question myself and say to myself ‘But why?, if at the end of the day it’s a movie, it’s fiction”, says the filmmaker.
Despite the difficulties, Hernán Jabes assures that he has always opted for making films that move the viewer. From mauro, rock paper scissors and now, jezebel. “In addition to entertaining, making people laugh or cry, I want to make films that make people feel different, that make them question things. That is the cinema that interests me, that entertains, but also moves fibers », he concludes.
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Political correctness threatens the uncomfortable Jezebel