Karim Aïnouz on Cannes Competition Entry’s ‘Motel Destino,’ Its Joyful Sex and How It Was Made by ‘Almost an Army of Youth’

Shot between his directing Alicia Vikander in “Firebrand” and Kristen Stewart in “Rosebushpruning,” “Motel Destino,” which bows in Cannes Competition on May 22, can be seen as a return by Brazil’s now most international director to his Brazilian roots.

This axis between international and local, plays out in “Motel Destino” and Aïnouz insists, in now his whole career.

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An erotic thriller, “Motel Destino” turns on Dayana, the young wife of a roadside sex hotel owner who seduces on-the-run minor mobster Heraldo for great sex. But she soon conceives the idea of his helping her to kill her terrifyingly abusive older husband.

“I was really interested in a kind of Brazilian interpretation of melodrama and noir cinema, how to take genre, which begins in Hollywood, and appropriate it make it local and ours,” Aïnouz tells Variety.  

“Motel Destino” is melodrama “in the sense these characters that are trying to survive, by any means.” But the film is also “a kind of Equatorial noir,” supplied by “the suspense, the crime element.”

So a key to Aïnouz’s take on the world he’s created is where it bends genre, significantly breaking with its inspiration. That cuts several ways in “Motel Destino,” Aïnouz observes.

“Instead of translating suspense through shadows and black and white, color was really, really important. I also wanted to translate a sense of isolation in these characters, the motel is a really isolated place,” he adds.

In a sun-drenched, steamy crime drama, the contrasts remain in the film, but sparked by its tropical pinks and aqua blue sky set off by the electric shades of the motel’s neon signs and a pitch black sky at night.  

Informed by the Hayes Code, Hollywood ‘50s genre was often prudish in its sexuality. Not “Motel Destino.”

“Something that I really wanted to bring to the film is a sense of sex as joyful and liberating. Sex scenes discover a lot about our characters. There’s something about a character that escapes them,” Aïnouz says. “Sex is also a place of revolution. There’s something about the way that people relate to each other physically, sexually. There’s a sense of alliance, of ‘We can do this together,’” he adds.

Produced by Aïnouz’s label Cinema Inflamável, Gullane (“The Second Mother”) and Globo Filmes in Brazil with Maneki Films in France and Germany’s The Match Factory, which handles international sales, “Motel Destino” is his first film shot entirely in his home state of Ceará since 2006’s “Love For Sale.”

If this is a homecoming, however, in many ways Aïnouz has never left. “Motel Destino,” for example, can trace its origins to Cena 15, a development lab co-founded by Aïnouz and fellow filmmakers Sergio Machado (“Lower City”) and Marcelo Gomes “Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures”) in 2013 in Ceará capital Fortaleza, aimed at firing up the creative economy of the Brazilian North-East.

Motel Destino
Motel Destino

Wislan Esmeraldo, the film’s lead screenwriter began researching the theme of what would become “Motel Destino” as part of a working group, Creative Nucleus, a federal initiative, exploring crime related themes, and co-ordinated by Aïnouz.

All told, 11 Cena 15 alums worked on “Motel Destino,” ranging from screenwriting to the art department, casting and location scouting.

Does he see “Motel Destino” as part of a drive to build film culture in Brazil’s North-East? Aïnouz warms to the idea. “Motel Destino” originally won government financing in 2017. But when Jair Bolsonaro came to power, “the contracts were not honored. I never thought I would be able to make it. With the election of Lula, the money was made available once more and so we could start financing again.”

So “Motel Destino” is very much a homecoming project in another sense. “There were not only ex-students but a whole generation that was in this movie, particularly in the crew: it was almost like: ‘Let’s take back the country that has been stolen.’ There was almost like an army of youth. Something about that energy and vitality inhabits the film.”

“Motel Destino” will play in Cannes Competition just a year after “Firebrand.” There’s no contradiction in moving between their film worlds, he says. Quite the opposite, “they feed off each other,” says Aïnouz.

“‘Firebrand’ is a movie that’s spoken with a Brazilian accent,” he says. “‘Motel Destino’ is 1000% Brazilian, but it’s also coming from my big industry experience. It’s really a privilege to be able to move between both worlds. It’s exactly what I would like to do for the rest of my life.”

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