We all have a place where we fit in. For Alejandro Vizcaino, this place is the high class scene of Mexico City, where his future is decided for him and his father’s money rules. For Rosa this place is Michoac¡n, where her future is decided for her and she is married to a corrupt land owner. Fernando Lebrija’s film Amar A Morir premieres at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Friday, January 23 at 7:30 p.m. in the Lobero Theatre. The slang phrase “amar a morir” means to “love someone with everything you’ve got” says director Fernando Lebrija.
Amar A Morir is a modern Romeo and Juliet story, in which Alejandro and Rosa are forced overcome obstacles, even risking death, in order to be together. The film opens with a night shot of a skyscraper in Mexico City and the accelerating sounds of a BMW as it races alongside a Mercedes-Benz. Alejandro is behind the wheel of the BMW and is racing his friends, only to be stopped by the horrifying sight and sound of a body breaking his windshield.
The audience is then taken a day earlier to catch a glimpse into Alejandro’s life. He works for his father’s company and is pushed to marry Rebecca, his fiancee who cheats on him at their engagement party. Back at the scene of the crime, Alejandro and his friends panic as the gravity of the situation begins to sink in: They’ve killed someone and are going to have to pay. While his friends leave that “poor Indian” to die, Alejandro refuses to leave and is arrested for his crime; his Dad chooses to pay in cash.
Alejandro attempts to make things right by giving the money meant for his freedom to the family of Juan, the man he killed. When that backfires, Alejandro gets lost in Michoac¡n where director Lebrija says, “He’s a fish out of water where his money doesn’t count.” He falls in love with Rosa, and instead of taking the hint to leave town, he refuses to leave without Rosa.
Alejandro and Rosa represent the ultimate unlikely pair, shown by their difference in class and physical features. Their love story is used to represent the different facets of people in Mexico and the tensions of race and class. Amar A Morir shows “the way it is” in Mexico with a high society that is “very peculiar,” according to Lebrija. “They’re very ignorant,” explains Lebrija, “and very cocky and they treat the indigenous people : very bad. Not all of them, but most of them.”
The film depicts a struggle between lighter-skinned Mexicans and the indigenous people. In some scenes, light-skinned Mexicans use the word “Indian” as a racial slur, and some indigenous people refer to Alejandro as “white boy.” Lebrija explains that “movies are not just about entertaining people” sometimes people need to be “in your face [about] what’s going on where you live.” He hopes that his honest portrayal of life in Mexico will in some way help alleviate this tension among the different peoples of Mexico.
While the film takes place in Mexico, the love story is universal. “It has a very happy and dramatic ending,” explained Lebrija. “It’s the only way they can survive together.”
In order to bring about this conclusion, Lebrija and his Japanese director of photography Masanobu Takayanagi, create distinct palettes and environments to differentiate Mexico City from Michoac¡n. Lebrija believed that “a Japanese eye in Mexico would bring something great to the story.” Both chose to give Mexico City a darker color palette as a contrast to the brighter palette of Michoac¡n’s beach community. They used different shots of birds as metaphors for freedom; these birds are rarely found in Mexico City due to pollution.
That pollution and corruption in Mexico do not allow people belonging to different groups to live in harmony. “Mexico has so many faces,” says Lebrija, “and it’s a beautiful country,” which he manages to depict through beautiful shots of Mexican beaches and natural settings. Lebrija hopes to continue to make edgy action films with “strong stories that will keep you on the edge of your seat and keep your heart pumping.”