‘Museo’ blends reality and fiction in one of Mexico’s most notorious robberies

Manuel Alcalá

23/10/2018.- Two friends decide to loot Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology and steal some of the country’s most important cultural artefacts. This is the plot of Museo, a Mexican production competing in the Meeting Point section of the 63rd Valladolid International Film Festival.

Museo revisits a story which unfolded on Christmas Day, 1958. The feature-length production, director Alonso Ruizpalacios’ second film, won the award for Best Screenplay at the Berlin Festival. Its scriptwriter, Manuel Alcalá, who travelled to Valladolid to present the film, explained how it has taken ten years for him to see it on the big screen, he revealed during a seminar following the film’s first screening at Seminci.

“It all began when my father was working as a journalist back then and that same year there was very big news, an earthquake in Mexico. From that point on I became obsessed with the news and shortly after the robbery took place”, commented the scriptwriter. Alcalá also talked about how many versions of the script were drawn up while they looked for a director who could “translate the story into something digestible”.

In just over two hours, the film tells a story which, in reality, lasted more than four years, something which presented difficulties that made them merge characters, the scriptwriter added. As for these changes given the reality, Alcalá commented that they wanted to better explore the characters, some differences in the film that developed into the idea that you cannot put a good story next to the truth.

The film is set during the festive season, meaning that family scenes are inevitable, a topic they also wanted to delve into when it came to making the film, especially with regards to the father and son relationship. “We wanted to really explore the topic of looting, not only regarding the museum robbery but also when talking about moving unearthed pieces from places like Palenque to Mexico City, which for me is another type of looting”, the scriptwriter said.

Alcalá also went on to say that what pained him the most was changing the name of the characters, who in real life were not called Juan and Benjamín but rather Carlos Perches and Ramón Sardina. “In the true story they deal with drug traffickers and the first died upon leaving prison”, the screenwriter added.

Furthermore, the scriptwriter explained the obstacles they came across when trying to shoot the film in the same museum where the event unfolded. However, after much insisting, they managed to shoot outside, although the indoor scenes were staged. The film’s premiere was also held at this very location after several persistant efforts, the Mexican reiterated. “It was a surreal experience; you saw the robbery of the room on screen and you had it right behind you”, he added.

Alcalá revealed an anecdote to the audience. During filming, a cousin of Sardina approached him and told him that after the robbery, the fugitive fled to Spain. He changed his name, married a countess and is now a count in Norway. The scriptwriter also reminded us that the film will be released in Spain on 9 November and on YouTube in December, making it the first Spanish-speaking film produced by the platform.

Posted in 63rd Seminci.