“Michelle, I’m not funny. I’m depressed, which you seem to think is hilarious,” says Mary Angélica Molina.
Her manager had just told her she was funny, very funny. Molina refused to believe otherwise but Michelle undeterred, pressed further. “Take your mouth and the things that you say, just put them on the page. Stop overthinking it.”
Predominantly a writer of dark films about revenge, she had never considered tackling comedy. Her short, “Valentina”, started as a joke because nothing else was working. Incredibly, only a few months after premiering at the New York Latina Film Festival, HBO called with an offer. Rejection in her career had become so routine, the struggling writer initially didn’t take the call seriously. “It’s like going back to my own fucking pathology of why. This doesn’t happen to people like me.”
Curious, I ask about the very moment the premise for “Valentina” sparked.
Earthy as the Santa Monica café where we hover over our beverages, Molina delivers beyond my expectations.
“Like any good Latina, my thighs rub together,” she recalls of that ‘icky’ New York Summer day. “It was unbearably hot and uncomfortable, and I started to think I’m sure my vagina is pretty sweaty right now, but I wonder what it would be saying.”
“Valentina” illuminates the plight of a fastidious housekeeper whose vagina inconveniently pipes up at work via the zesty voice of Lara Quinones. The elevator pitch? “What starts as a simple cry for air turns into an intervention as Valentina’s vagina asks after her wages and demands better working conditions.”
Long before filmmaking entered the picture, Molina lived in Barranquilla, Colombia, surrounded by eight aunts and uncles and thirty-two cousins, who always encouraged to speak her mind.
Upon migrating to New York, it wasn’t long before Molina’s parents divorced. To survive, her mother labored in factories and cleaned houses, where young Molina would sometimes tag along. The self-labeled “precocious, very smart, very mouthy daughter” would hear the way people spoke to her mother, and struggled to suppress her frustration. “I didn’t like it but I felt like I couldn’t really say anything because she was counting on the money. She also didn’t really feel like it was her place.”
“This character Valentina and her revolutionary vagina really became a way for me to talk about some of the things that are a part of common consciousness, using comedy to do it,” she says. “How can you talk about climate change without talking about immigration, without talking about women’s rights, without talking about sexuality.” Gathering steam, the filmmaker adds, “All of those things are super interconnected, and so it was just a really good way for me to talk about those things and bring them together.”
“Music is everything,” says Molina. She’s even written a couple of songs, one about privileged white kids on cocaine and “like a very good lesbian, I play guitar”.
I laugh and the cheeky twinkle deepens, then goes further. “To be a demi-butch or a soft butch lesbian, it’s good if you play the guitar, acoustic guitar, know a couple of Ani DiFranco covers, a little Indigo Girls.”
For score, the filmmaker felt organic sounds would fit best and turned to composer, Stuart Bogie. As a multi-instrumentalist, Bogie sketched an audio roadmap with temp keyboard tracks that would subsequently bow out for real instruments. When they reconvened, Molina was so taken with the synth guitars and pianos, she abandoned her original idea and told him to “go Blade Runner on this fucking thing!”
To complete the soundtrack, Molina engaged music supervisors to locate individual songs and simultaneously initiated her own search through Songtradr. Watch “Valentina”, and take particular note of the scene where the doorman delivers a package to the apartment where Valentina cleans. During the unrequited flirtation, his cell phone interrupts with a ringtone of the track Molina licensed through Songtradr. You would be hearing Israel-based musician and producer, Idan K.’s track, “The Cumbia Within”.
And now the fog has lifted, any advice to others on filmmaking?
“Making Mistakes is great. Everybody’s journey is so unique to them but I think making mistakes, making things, period,” Molina offers. “I think you have to make things and not get stuck because I was stuck for a very long time.”
“I come from an immigrant background and if you want something, you work. Work, work, work and you do it. I was driving myself crazy with it so I think you have to not be afraid of making mistakes and putting yourself out there.”
It must be good advice, as the new “funny” Molina hasn’t stopped working since. She now writes for TV regularly and sees a very different future from before. As we part ways, I ask if she could still be labeled as the “precocious, very smart, very mouthy daughter”? The answer is a laugh and an unequivocal, “Yes!”
“Valentina” stars Emma Ramos and is currently airing on HBO GO until November 1, 2018.