Marking the second feature collaboration between director Alonso Ruizpalacios and Gael García Bernal—and the first in which Bernal stars—Museo is based on one of the strangest, most high-profile crimes in the history of Mexican art. The crime: A 1985 heist in which 150 pieces of pre-Hispanic art were extracted from Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology, on Christmas Eve. Even stranger than the crime were the culprits behind it, two 30-something men still finishing up veterinary school, who had no idea what to do with the priceless Mayan artifacts they’d acquired once the heist was complete.
“Our story is based on this real case, but it’s a big departure in regards to the actual facts and how the story ended up,” Ruizpalacios told Deadline in Toronto, sitting down with Bernal during the film’s latest stop on the festival circuit. “We kind of went our own way in constructing the characters and their family lives.”
Telling a true-life story that is so fascinating, why adapt it loosely, rather than approach it more directly? “As we dug deeper into the facts and tried to make that into a screenplay, there were many things that didn’t work dramatically, so we started making bold choices like eliminating certain characters, the kind of stuff you have to do anyway when adapting something from real life,” the director explained. Secondarily, the story Ruizpalacios wanted to tell concerned itself with “the relationship between history and stories, and how history is made up of a lot of very subjective, little fictionalized stories that have some kind of facts in there.”
“When we realized that that’s what we were talking about, we decided that the film had to be like that,” Ruizpalacios shared. “It had to have facts, but it had to have a lot of fiction, as well, and it had to kind of navigate both.”
For Bernal, while the characters and circumstances at the heart of the film were fascinating, they weren’t the draw in and of themselves. “The storyline was quite exciting…But really, good films, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s the story that draws you to them immediately,” the actor said. “It’s the way that [the director] describes it, the way that he would describe what animal the film is.”
Winning the Silver Berlin Bear award for Best Screenplay at the Berlin International Film Festival, Museo hits theaters stateside this fall, subsequently launching on YouTube Premium. For more from our conversation with the film’s director and star, take a look above.