DID YOU MAKE A FILM IN MEXICO?
Because the story of EL PATRULLERO was set
we were scouting locations for WALKER, Lorenzo O'Brien and I had
met a driver who had been a member of the Federal Highway Patrol. His
stories always remained with us and we wanted to turn them into
a film. Interestingly, the story our Highway Patrolman
told us which stuck in my head most never made it into the film.
WHAT WAS THAT?
Our friend had pulled over a
car at night on a long highway called the Recta de Matehuala,
in North-Central Mexico. A
gringo was at the wheel. The guy had the stereo cranked
way up, and it was playing "Sympathy for the Devil." Our
young cop knew the gringo was stoned and he could probably bust
him, but he thought, what the heck? It might turn out to
be a hassle, maybe the gringo had lawyers and money, and it was
late at night. He turned his back on the guy for just a moment,
planning to let him go, and he heard this little click-click sound...
Our friend recognized the lock-and-load of
an Uzi. He
threw himself to the ground just as the shooting began, scrabbled
off into the dirt and dark, into the nopal-filled night, and lay
there, in a cactus patch, with a bullet in his leg, pretending
to be dead and listening as the Camaro started up and drove away,
hearing the Rolling Stones grow fainter and finally disappear. And
of course, his car had been destroyed in the firefight and he had
to walk back, with a bullet in his leg, to the destacamento (police
I loved that story when I first heard it,
because it seemed to be about how no good deed goes unpunished,
and about the impossibility of ever behaving properly or achieving
helps the bad when they outnumber the good." And yet
it is essential that we do the right thing, as we can, that we
not behave as badly as the monsters that confront us, that we have
our own code, and do our best to live by it...
Mexico is a great teacher of this lesson. Because, no matter
how the Mexicans are abused by their powerful neighbour to the
north, no matter how much their politicians are bribed, their activists
murdered, and their cops corrupted, they always retain a high degree
of dignity and repose, a sense of politeness and personal honour
and correctness which can never, ever, be defeated. The poorest
man in Zacatecas or Durango or Cuahuila will address a stranger
with such courtesy, such absolute formal respect, and will hope
to be dealt with courteously in return. "Bienvenidos,
señora, caballero. You have take possession of your
house." "Now I must take my leave of you." "Here
you always have your home." "Hopefully we
will see each other again before too long." "Indeed
so - if God wills it."
WAS THE CREW THE SAME AS THAT OF WALKER?
The producer / writer, Lorenzo, was of course
the producer of WALKER. Cecilia Montiel, who had been WALKER's art director,
was the production designer. Miguel Sandoval and Claudia
Becker were again responsible for casting. And, of course,
Carlos Puente was the editor. Aside from them, it was a different
crew - from the STIC union instead of the STPC. STIC was
based at Estudios America in Mexico City - which is now a television
studio only - and STPC is at Estudios Churubusco / Azteca. I'd
wanted to work with Miguel Lima, who is a great first assistant,
but he was unavailable: instead the first a.d. was Rene Villareal,
who is also exceptional though quite different in style. The
cinematographer was Miguel Garzon, who had done outstanding work
in Jorge Fons' brilliant ROJO AMANECER.
WHAT'S ROJO AMANECER?
It's a feature about the Government's massacre
of students at Tlatelolco (the Plaza of the Three Cultures) in
Mexico City in 1968. It was made in the mid 80's in a warehouse in
Mexico City: made clandestinely, without the support of any
studio. When it was finished, it was banned for a couple
of years by order of the Presidential Guard: but its reputation
was such that the system of State Censorship collapsed, and ROJO
AMANECER became, domestically, the most successful Mexican film
of all time. It stars Hector Bonilla, Maria Rojo, Demian
and Bruno Bichir, and Jorge Fegan.. The whole movie takes
place inside one family's apartment, overlooking Tlatelolco: the
massacre itself is never seen.
WHERE WAS EL PATRULLERO SHOT?
In Mexico City and on location all over northern
began in Parras, Coahuila, which - by complete coincidence - was
the town where Peckinpah filmed THE WILD BUNCH. We travelled
west through the desert to El Chocolate, Torreon, Gomez Palacio,
and Mapimi; thence to Durango and the surrounding hills; and
down to Sombrerete in Zacatecas, and the Desierto de los Organos. Superb
locations, but we were only scratching the surface -- as I learned
later, directing DEATH & THE COMPAS and acting for Arturo Ripstein
in LA REINA DE LA NOCHE and for Luis Estradda in LA LEY DE HERODES,
Mexico is the most visually stimulating place on earth.
WAS IT DIFFICULT DIRECTING IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE?
Not for me! But for the crew and the actors, I'm sure it
was a nightmare.. My Spanish was a little better than it
had been on STRAIGHT TO HELL and WALKER, but it was still pretty
rudimentary. But Roberto Sosa, Zaide Silvia Guttierez, Bruno
Bichir, Vanessa Bauche, and everyone else was very patient with
me. Everyone was very kind to the mad gringo making a film
about the Highway Patrol.
WHAT DID THE MEXICAN HIGHWAY PATROL THINK ABOUT THE FILM?
I doubt that they liked it, any more than
REPO MAN appealed to real repo men or SID & NANCY to real Sex Pistols. Lorenzo
and Alejandra Liceaga, our production manager, actually went to
see the chiefs of the Federal Highway Patrol at their office in
Mexico City. They wanted to see if the cops would lend us
police cars and uniforms, maybe a helicopter or two, as they had
done for other films. But it was not to be. The chiefs
were known by their code names - Dragon and Puma - and they were
not pleased with Lorenzo's version of the Highway Code. One
of them asked him if he was gay or if he hated his father (this
part of the interview made it into the script, in the scene where
Pedro Rojas visits the Police Psychiatrist).. The other confessed
that all policeman that he know had the same fantasy: to
reform a prostitute. It was an interesting interview, and
it ended amicably enough. The Highway Patrol certainly weren't
going to lend us any uniforms or cars, but neither would they give
us a hard time as long as we "fictionalized" the police
corporation. Hence the massive Dart police cars, designed
by Cecilia, and the original uniforms - the work of Tolita Figueroa.
HOW DID IT DO?
Roberto Sosa won best actor award at San
Sebastian for his portrayal of Pedro Rojas. Though the
film didn't get much distribution, EL PATRULLERO (called HIGHWAY
PATROLMAN in the U.S. and Britain) received pretty good reviews.
is maverick director Alex Cox's finest film to date and
represents his best work since his terrific debut feature,
the funky, surreal 1984 REPO MAN. Released in the
US in 1994, HIGHWAY PATROLMAN, in Spanish with English
subtitles, opens just the way one would expect of Cox --
with a darkly satirical take on the subject, an idealistic
young Mexican's training at the National Highway Patrol
Academy in Mexico City.
"But the British-born
Cox and his producer-screenwriter, Lorenzo O'Brien, a Peruvian
raised in Mexico, gradually get more serious once their
wiry, wistful hero (Roberto Sosa) takes up his first assignment
in a remote town in Durango.
"It would seem that
working in a foreign language has given Cox the necessary
freedom and detachment not to worry about being hip and
to take the plunge into classic screen storytelling, backed
by O'Brien's superbly structured script. While it
rightly skewers American hypocrisy and complicity in Mexican
drug trafficking, HIGHWAY PATROLMAN abounds in the
virtues of traditional filmmaking. Indeed, there
is an epic quality, moral as well as visual, to the hero's
odyssey that recalls the westerns of John Ford and such
John Huston films as TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE...
"In its way, HIGHWAY
PATROLMAN is a coming-of-age film, both for its hero and
for Cox himself. It's also a beautiful, gritty film,
shot by Miguel Garzon and scored evocatively by Zander
Schloss, steeped in the atmosphere of vast, desert-like
vistas slashed by highways sizzling in the heat."
Thomas, LOS ANGELES TIMES
"The hero is a young
idealist fresh out of the police academy in Mexico City,
ordered to a post in a mountainous, fir-treed outback where
corruption reigns supreme. No one can tread these
grounds untouched, not even him. The performances
throughout are intelligent, understated. There's
a nervy moment of stylish flourish when Cox's floating
steadicam [sic -- read CAMERA] accompanies our hero, bloodied
and limping, down a stretch of highway, midway though his
life's defining gun battle -- but for the most part Cox's
calm, feline gaze never judges or reproaches, never telegraphs
to us what we're supposed to feel about what we're looking
at. HIGHWAY PATROLMAN is an astonishing, mature piece
of work. It's like a Bresson film with a rock & roll
Feeney, L.A. WEEKLY