Spanish writer-director Miguel Llanso. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Spanish writer-director Miguel Llanso presents his new film Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway at HIFF Love and Anarchy. It’s an oddball, what-the-hell-is-happening kind of futuristic thriller that may leave you baffled but will not leave you bored.

The man behind the camera proved to be as engaging and funny in person as his movie is. We sat down with Llanso to chat about his inspirations for the film, Afrofuturism, technology and power, and his creative influences. The latter topic led us to gush, after the interview, about the genius of Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits.

How does one come up with a plot as bizarre as Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway? What inspired the story?

I cannot leave anything behind, you know. I was living in Ethiopia, and now I’m living in Estonia, and I’m very much trying to understand what is happening with globalization nowadays. So I try to find certain elements in every country to make that reflection. And I love to portrait places.

But basically, my main question or my main stage is the person, the persona, in front of this big, non-understandable world. That would be the first thing, a certain existentialism, if you wish. We are here; we’re trying to do our best, man, but things are pretty complicated, right?

Are you concerned about the effects of technology on the future of humanity?

Yes, but not only with technology, but technology linked to power. And power, in the end, is basically trying to make you do things that maybe you don’t want to do. Like, what is a boss?  A guy that tells you what to do even if you really don’t want to do it. And what is technology? A kind of complex of machines—mobile phones, etc.—that drag you to do something that at the end doesn’t have deep meaning—why am I going to IKEA again? Why? Why am I going there? So they maybe don’t really fulfill you as a person, but you do it.

How does this dependence on technology, which does seem to be a theme in the film, relate to the idea of the Russian threat, which is also present as a motif?

Well, that’s anchored in 1980s Estonia and the Cold War. But we live in a very similar world. For me, the Soviet Union never disappeared as a political structure. Actually, Vladimir Putin was once a KGB agent. So it’s just that the Soviet Union was not fashionable anymore. Nobody can cope with that situation because they discovered that capitalism was much more effective. Why? In the case of the Soviet Union, there was censorship, there were limitations, politicians had the power. But in the world of capitalism, what do you have? Desires. And they don’t forbid you anything. The root of control doesn’t come from repression, it comes from desire. So I wanted to play with these two realities, of repression and desire.

Your previous work is usually categorized as Afrofuturism. How do you go about building a futuristic world?

Well, I’m not from Africa, but for me Afrofuturism means that you try to think the world we are living in by reflecting on the situation in Africa. That was where I was living.

And I think that science fiction is just an exaggeration of things that are happening in the real world and by exaggerating them these things get more highlighted. For instance, when I was in Ethiopia I was traveling through towns in the south, and you can find these mud houses, and inside they are all covered with skyscrapers from Dubai. So you can find a very big contrast. For me, this contrast between some people living in a very traditional way but at the same time having been impacted by the latest developments of globalization, that produces a lot of science fiction ideas, no? A lot of questions.

What was the thinking behind your choice to use retro graphics and a lot of obsolete technology that’s meant to represent some future time?

The thing is that the oldest machines from the 90s that I grew up with—Amstram, Spectrum, etc.—they look very innocent. You can play very basic games and you can program very basic things. Actually, the program was called Basic. But they were actually the root of the very complicated and sophisticated times we live in now, where computers, programs, and algorithms are able to analyze human behavior in such depth that nobody in the history of the world has ever reached this knowledge. They can analyze data on how we really behave. So I just wanted to go back to these original devices, to load them with a little bit more danger, saying ‘hey guys..’ Like in Terminator, right? Showing that these were the seeds of a technology that has come to control us.

What drew you to Afrofuturism?

Well, Afrofuturism is just a label to say that I was living in Ethiopia and I was reading a lot of science fiction. And I was living in a kind of science fiction situation with a very high contrast in the city of Addis Abeba, where you can find people that live in an almost medieval kind of structure, and at the same time they have the latest iPhones. All this contrast made me think, together with the books of Phillip K. Dick or Kurt Vonnegut, how the world is functioning.

The experience of living in Ethiopia made me really reflect on where globalization is going.

What are some of your other creative influences?

Well, there are a lot. I like surrealists, Buñuel is a big influence. Andalusian Dog, The Golden Age, but also the films he made later on, in the 60s, like The Exterminating Angel. And then, of course, American art-house filmmakers like David Lynch. Another big influence would be the Italian or Italo-Spanish directors—Passolini, Fellini, Berlanga in Spain. All of them are very iconic.

From music, it would be very extreme music, from hardcore, grindcore, black metal. I like exaggeration, I like more is more.

And with books, I read a lot of philosophy: Nietzsche, Foucault. People that have approached reality in a very extreme way.

So Foucault’s ideas of surveillance culture influenced this film?

Totally. Foucault’s ideas about how the institutions are kind of building reality, materially, for the purpose of control. It has certainly made me think.

And there would be correlations between your construct of Psychobook and Foucault’s notion of the Panoptikon, right?

Yeah! I mean, what is Facebook if not a Panoptikon? It’s in your pocket, you don’t even have to go there. Because you reflect yourself and you are performed by the reflection. It goes minute by minute, controlling or performing your taste and opinion.

Would you say Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is more your vision of dystopian future or, at the level of form, a kind of subversion of the dystopian genre? Perhaps both?

Well, I see technology from a bit of a paranoid point of view. I don’t see many positive things in the development of technology. I use it, but I think power is always one step ahead. There are a lot of hackers, there are people who try to reflect on the world, but are just witnesses of what power is doing. So it’s a little bit tragic because we cannot even perform any revolution; we are always behind. All we can do is reflect.

How have you been enjoying Helsinki so far? Have you had the chance to listen to any metal music?

No, not yet. Well, I visit the city from time to time because I live in Tallinn. I come maybe twice a year. But I would like to know more about the hardcore punk scene that was probably strongest in the ’90s or the beginning of 2000s. I don’t know if there is still a good scene here.

‘Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway’ screens at HIFF Love and Anarchy on September 21 and 26.


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