Three Great Things: Carlos Reygadas

The Mexican maestro, writer-director of Silent Light and the new Our Time, discusses his favorite non-cinematic pursuits.

Three Great Things is our series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To celebrate the release of his new film Our Time — out in theaters now — the great director Carlos Reygadas told us the three things that make his life special outside of cinema. — N.D.

1. Gardening
My grandmother and my mother have always loved gardening. When I was young, I saw how they would trim trees, cutting the branches to make sure you could see the mountains. I always thought that was very cruel and that there was a better way. When I went to Japan, I started observing how they treat trees, how you can direct them and make them grow the way you want. So rather than solving things for the short term, you prepare things for the long term.

All the parts of gardening I like most are related to trees. I’ve lived in the countryside for 12 years and I collect a lot of seeds from different places, plant them where I want the trees to be, and then make sure they grow correctly. I also work on all the trees to make sure there’s the right amount of foliage and that branches are growing in the right directions. If you want, you can make a tree grow out of a window and back into the house, by tying branches with strings and helping them go the way you want them to grow. You don’t have to cut them ever, and that’s something I appreciate very much. I found gardening a very relaxing, creative and also demanding activity and dedicate an hour or two to it almost every morning.

Gardening and filmmaking must be connected somehow because I know gardening helps me rest and recharges my batteries for the creative impulse. Gardening is my most soothing activity, the part I enjoy most of everyday life. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I had to stop making cinema; I think I would dedicate all my time to gardening and that I would be very happy.

2. Construction
With gardening, I’m a learner – although we’re learners in everything, and the learning process never stops – but I have much more experience in construction. My grandfather was an architect and when I was young I would see all his maquettes and miniatures. I remember going with him to a lot of construction sites; I always enjoyed being there, but I didn’t really learn anything. Then 15 years ago, I decided I wanted to live in the countryside and build my house myself, with my hands. It was a wooden house – like a log cabin – that I’d bought somewhere else, so we had to dismantle it and then rebuild it. After that, I built a lot of things around it and learned to weld and to work with cement and wood.

I have continued building over the years: I’ve built a couple of other houses for friends, and the studios where we live. Now I’m building a kind of fountain around a waterfall near our house, and also an open stable with stone walls, where the rain and wind are cut off and the animals can roam free. When I’m working on these projects, I’m very happy.

For me, building is a special thing to do between films that allows me to live new experiences and recharge my batteries. The mind is nourished in so many ways, and I really enjoy being able to foresee an idea and then work toward it. Construction sites always look like disaster areas, and if you’re not patient, you can easily lose faith in what you’re doing. You always have to keep a very clear image of what you want to do in the end so that day by day, little by little, you move in the right direction. It’s very similar to making a film, actually.

3. Reading
When I’m not making films, I build. But almost every day, I tend to the garden and also – even when I’m shooting – I read. There are times in my life when I read novels and poetry, and there are times when I like to read essays and philosophy. Reading is an activity that always keeps me company. I read before going to sleep. I read every morning. I read when I’m traveling. I read a lot of the time. It seems almost old-fashioned now, though. I don’t see a lot of young people reading; I see a lot of people watching videos. But I really enjoy reading.

When I was young, my parents insisted that my brother and I read a lot, and he actually started reading earlier than me, even though he’s younger. I wasn’t an early reader; I think I started reading when I was 11 or 12, rather than seven or eight. I was very imaginative and I preferred to play. I really became passionate about reading when I was a teenager.

The first book that I really enjoyed was The Catcher in the Rye which I read when I was about 13. It was like a door opening, the first time in my life I was completely thrilled reading a book. I’ve read Catcher in the Rye several times more since, and it’s something that doesn’t grow old. It’s the other way around; it gets better and better.

I’m always reading four or five books at the same time. Never less than two, and sometimes seven. I have the Tao Te Ching with me now. It’s an amazing text. I must have had it for about 20 or 25 years. I like to read a little of it whenever I can.

For me, reading is about companionship; when you are reading a book, you never feel alone. If you’re sitting alone in a restaurant, you can just get out a book. It’s amazing. I always make an effort to put the book away so I can be present with myself, to be aware of the people, of the unknown, of everything that surrounds you. But it’s beautiful to have a book with you.

Carlos Reygadas is a Mexican film director, writer and producer whose latest film, Our Time (Nuestro Tiempo) is currently in theaters through Monument Releasing. He studied law in Mexico City and later specialized in armed conflict law and the use of force in London. After quitting the Mexican foreign service, he made four short films in Belgium before filming Japón, which was presented at the Rotterdam and the Cannes Film Festivals in 2002, where it received a special mention for the Camera d’Or. In 2005, Reygadas premiered at the Cannes Film Festival his second film, Battle in Heaven, in competition. Also at Cannes, he was awarded the Jury Prize in 2007 for Silent Light and the Best Director award for Post Tenebras Lux in 2012.