You don’t need a movie to tell you that family dynamics are a tricky beast, but Dario Aguirre’s Cesar’s Grill does a nice job of spinning the tale of a dysfunctional relationship into a harrowing little documentary about father, son, and food. The plot is simple enough: Dario, a vegetarian, lives in Germany, about 6,000 miles from his family and native land of Ecuador. Meanwhile, back home, dad’s meat-centric restaurant is floundering, and Dario’s financial help appears to be its last chance for survival.
Against his better instincts, Dario returns home and attempts to help his old man climb out of debt. The relationship is strained, ‘til mom falls ill and the two men reconnect in a way that’s both touching and refreshingly free of sentimental chatter.
Below, Aguirre discusses the making of the film, and his on-screen folk rock hero moments.
At what point in the conversations with your father did you decide to pick up a camera and start filming?
The first takes I made are the Skype conversations with my father after he has called me on my mobile. That was his first call ever, since I was in Germany. I was in Hamburg having a barbecue with friends when he called for help. I was so surprised that I decided to start to film the conversations. The entire situation was new and unknown to me. This is my obsession when I make films; it was interesting for me to see this change of our “father-son” role. Three months after the first call, I felt that there was more in this father-son-restaurant situation. I thought a film project could be the chance to speak about more than only about “how big should the corn be and how does the Excel table work.”
What made you think his story could become a feature film?
I began to suspect that my situation was more complicated than I thought. I had a lot of questions and no answers, and no idea how to resolve the conflict with my father. Other people have similar family problems, but nobody talks out [about it].
How did your father react to the idea of filming this increasingly difficult time in his life?
At the beginning it was okay for him because it was like our first common project. I helped him with the restaurant and he helped me with the film. But later on after my mum has died the camera helped us to be able to speak with each other. The camera became a kind of mediatory. One month after my mum had passed away my father asked me, “When we will go on filming?” A camera has a magical effect — people join you. It’s like playing a guitar.
Can you talk a bit about the musical interludes? When did you pick up the guitar?
I decided to write a song talking about the whole disaster after a Skype call I had with my father when I was still in Germany. Everything was so absurd that I began to singing to calm down. I’m a musician too, so this was my way of trying to understand the situation. Music is a good way to assimilate the daily life.
How do you feel like you changed over the course of making Cesar’s Grill?
Now I can understand a little bit better how family structures work. And I discovered that family and political structures work very similarly. But this was not the only thing; every time I see the film I still discover new things about our relationship and my family. The film changed the relationship with my father; now we talk turkey with each other.
What do you hope people who see Cesar’s Grill take away from the film?
Talk with your relatives and never open a grill with you father. Enjoy the meal!
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