‘You need to go to your own dark places’

Chilean thriller ‘Chameleon’ one of SIFF’s ominous, most compelling features

Gaston Salgado is disarmingly charming. 

The Chilean actor boasts an endearing smile, and the 30-something carries an almost innocent sense of calm about him as steps onto the screen in “Chameleon.” 

But what starts as a soft-spoken party guest returning to the home of a wealthy lesbian couple to apologize for the previous night slowly unravels to reveal more sinister motives.

In an instant, the mysterious air about him — trifling inconsistencies in his small talk with the women — transforms into a villainous persona, as he physically and emotionally assails the pair. 

Like the color-changing lizard, he isn’t what he seemed just a moment prior. 

“In the beginning, it’s just under the surface,” said director Jorge Riquelme Serrano through an interpreter. “There’s normalness, and then it pops out on you,” he said.  

Salgado and Serrano were both in Seattle last week, along with producer Daniel Diaz to discuss the film and attend a pair of screenings as part of the Seattle International Film Festival (the last is Thursday at 9:45 p.m. at AMC Pacific Place). 

“You become a little bit mad every time you create a new character,” Salgado said through an interpreter. “Something happens that you leave some of you behind.”

The path to create the thriller was unique in Chile, at the time the largest successful film crowdfunding campaign in the country.

The film was the debut feature for Serrano, and the first project for Laberinto, a Santiago-based production company with a focus on films with a social perspective, and the guiding principle that art can help create a better society 

Filming itself was conducted on an accelerated timeline; just three days start to finish. 

Serrano said while there was plenty of rehearsal time in advance of that window, the crux of the on-screen performance of the three actors was improvised. He said that method generates very humane characters, and it’s what allowed international audiences to relate to the film. 

The other side of that is how the actors themselves respond. 

“There’s a moment in which it’s so fast that the brain doesn’t have enough time to catch up,” he said. “So this is when you actually see glimpses of the actual actor, and their own darkness.”

Indeed, that’s what Salgado felt he tapped into in the role.  

“You need to go to your own dark places,” he said.

Though Salgado plays a character who shows himself as considerably darker than he initially appears, his director said part of the challenge was crafting someone that wasn’t merely a psychopath, but maintained humanity as well. Serrano said it the small snippets of everyday life is part of what allows viewers to better connect to the characters. 

In this role, as with any he plays, Salgado said he has to, in essence, hit reset from where he is in that moment of time.

“It’s kind of like destroying yourself, and then being reborn into this new character,” he said. 

Diaz said it was the necessity of the group to make the film, and the manner in which it was produced that dictated the production. 

“As a collective, it was the first film that we made,” he said, “and it was very much out of the necessity of creating something, having that calling card, and getting the ball rolling.” 

And roll it has. Before playing at SIFF, the movie had its theatrical debut in Chile last year, and screened at both the BFI London and Havana Film Festivals, while the company has two other features in development. 

But the response outside of South America to “Chameleon,” has been somewhat of a surprise, Diaz said. 

“Being able to see how universal this fundamentally Chilean film managed to be was,” he said, “the reaction was fantastic.”

To learn more about the film, or the production company that produced it (Laberinto), visit www.laberintofilm.com. To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com