Every active career is a work-in-progress, but that of prolific, resourceful Toronto-based Mexican-Canadian filmmaker Nicolás Pereda captivates us in part because its development is so unusually organic and accumulative. (Full disclosure: Pereda's a friend, so my captivation is also something of a personal interest.)
At 31, he's already made seven films, all shot in Mexico, each building upon the preceding film's assets. Many are populated by fractured families and draw upon the same stable of actors, especially Teresa Sanchez and Gabino Rodríguez, who together embody variations on the mother/son dynamic that give his stories their emotional anchor.
Such continuity rewards viewers willing to watch Pereda's films in chronological order - and that's precisely what's on offer this weekend in Where Are The Films Of Nicolás Pereda?, TIFF Cinematheque's long-overdue retrospective.
Set partly in rural Puebla, partly in Mexico's teeming, raucous capital, Pereda's 2007 first feature follows its protagonist's attempt to stop his uncles from selling his elderly grandmother's land. It bears the awkward title Where Are Their Stories? (screens Thursday, November 22), and if this somewhat meandering film never quite answers that question, it firmly establishes the striking dichotomies of class and access to basic amenities that resurface in subsequent works.
It also conveys his sensitivity to tensions within a family divided between those aspiring to ascend in class, often at the expense of personal integrity and relationships with elders, and those determined to hold their ground and honour familial debts.
Such family matters become only more nuanced in 2009's Perpetuum Mobile (Friday, November 23), in which Rodríguez plays one-half of a shaggy Mexico City moving company frequently called upon to do the heavy lifting in the midst of domestic strife. Twice the boys are hired to help a woman leave her partner.
The film is an essay on the pointlessness of all those things we covet, steal, stow or carry with us. Its anti-materialism is underlined by a death that occurs in the final act, closing the mostly breezy Perpetuum Mobile on a moving, sombre note.
But here's the funny thing: Pereda's often best when he's making comedies. His humour arises from behaviour, situations or, especially, repetition of dialogue or even of entire scenes, a technique that burgeons over Pereda's next few films. Yet it also emerges from his particular camera placement, how he frames spaces and allows time to pass before making a punchline out of a cut. His is that rare brand of humour that exploits all the key elements specific to cinema.
The brand new Greatest Hits (Sunday, November 25) fuses his now fully matured handling of tone, theme and comic style with a playful structuralism. It takes a striking trope involving repetition and memorization from 2010's superb, internationally acclaimed Summer Of Goliath (Saturday, November 24) and pushes it to the foreground. Riffing on the film's title, Rodríguez is constantly reciting the track list of a pirated CD he sells in Mexico City's subways.
The story concerns the return of the music seller's deadbeat dad after many years away, but as Pereda's crew and equipment become increasingly visible, things slip from fiction to documentary, and the film's real subject - something to do with preparation, rehearsal, the process of working toward deeper truth through artifice - emerges.
Which makes this young auteur's seventh film feel like a kind of new beginning. So best catch up with Pereda now. I suspect he's just getting warmed up.