Mindbender in the Making ‘Patio de Chacales,’ Starring  ‘Prófugos’ Néstor Cantillana and Blanca Lewin, Unpacked by Its Makers

Chilean editor-turned-filmmaker Diego Figueroa (“Los Vecinos”) is set to unveil his debut feature “Patio de Chacales”(“A Yard Of Jackals”) at Sanfic Industria’s prestige Works In Progress strand, offering a suspense-addled mindbender that pivots and retreats through the depths of its protagonists’ minds as atrocities unfurl close-to-home.

Produced by Alejandro Ugarte at Santiago-based Infractor, which co-produced the Juan Cáceres Malaga-winning title “Perro Bomba” alongside Chile’s Pejeperro Films and France’s Promenades Films, “Patio de Chacales” toys with the medium to present a singular take on clandestine crime networks.

“When Diego contacted me and proposed this subject, I found it very interesting. It’s a common and recursive theme in Chilean cinematography, but his point of view was fresh, interesting, something different from what was being done,” Ugarte told Variety. “To deal with these themes from this genre with an auteur’s vision, it’s very engaging, I think it’s a project that will impact audiences in Chile and other parts of the world.”

Raúl is a humble middle-aged man spending his days constructing models and figurines and caring for his bed-bound mother until new and depraved neighbors usurp his quiet street. As their reign begins, he sets out to anonymously quell the violence and meets a brutal resistance, threatening his steady tranquility. The stakes are high, and a claustrophobic, urgent tone winds the audience into his terrifying predicament.

“I was interested in exploring empathy,” Figueroa relayed. “The idea was to make an immersive film that would be reflected in the protagonist himself, we’re not going to go beyond what he knows. This also leads him to confront aspects of his past, to get to know this same character as he reveals himself. It was a narrative force, that all this was concentrated on him.”

Taking place in 1978, in silent tandem with the Pinochet dictatorship, the film employs a vintage aesthetic and supremely develops its main character, giving him a multi-layered persona that unravels with each scene, holding a rigid tension over the narrative.

“Tension was an essential aspect, also that the character was passive, that added a layer of danger to the film,” Figueroa admitted. “For me it was important that what happens next reveals aspects of Raúl’s character, that he gets involved and also drives the narrative.” 

To further reflect the unease and ensure its successful transfer from script to screen, the team utilized sound alongside a healthy dose of clever editing and a team that fully understood the core motivations of the gripping plotline, from art and photography departments to dedicated cast members and beyond.

“There are some tracks that can be identified as incidental sound but most of it’s about addressing the emotional and affective line of the character based on the music,” commented Figueroa. “It also has to do with how the era felt and that’s marked by the sound of the helicopters from the radio, to build a space that doesn’t try to be realistic but plausible, as a metaphor of what we needed as a character, so you could breathe in the film’s tension.”

A labor of love, Ugarte added that the project was “a very sacrificial job. It’s a low-budget film, but with big ambitions.” 

“At the beginning we dedicated a lot of time to the script itself, because it was a difficult script with dramatic twists that were complex to solve without making the viewer dizzy. From the beginning, the development of the script was very important. It’s work we did together with Diego and with Gonzalo Maza, who was the script advisor, with a lot of script reading and rehearsals in order to arrive at the script we wanted to shoot,” he continued. 

Renowned Chilean actors Néstor Cantillana and Blanca Lewin lead the tight-knit ensemble. The two, who previously shared the screen in the Pablo Larraín & Jonathan Jakubowicz HBO Series “Prófugos” (“Fugitives”), make easy work of relaying the script’s intricate emotion.

“It was important to have characters that were charismatic and I think that’s achieved by the performances of Nestor and Blanca, who give a warmth and humanity to the characters necessary for us to be able to identify and feel what’s happening on the other side,” opined Figueroa.

The film is a natural continuation of Figueroa’s short “Los Vecinos.” Figueroa, admittedly enamored with psychologically-charged films, nodded Polanski’s “The Tenant,” and explained that in “Patio de Chacales,” “how the space is configured speaks to the characters, we didn’t want the film to ever feel static but to create a world within a world that didn’t feel passive just because it predominantly took place indoors. Quite the opposite: We strived for something that was full of tension and dynamism.

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