The word “erection,” even when – or especially when – used in non-anatomical terms, can still produce a giggling reaction. And director Adrián Saba understood what he was doing when he included the word in the title of his bold, heartfelt human comedy, the Peruvian Oscar selection for Best International Feature.
“I think there are a lot of factors for the title,” Saba explained to TheWrap during a Screening Series Q&A for the film. “The first one and the biggest one is that I wanted for the film to transcend its own premise. It talks about much deeper things than you might think on the surface. So it was very important for the film to evolve from its title.”
Set in central Lima, the film is about a widower named Toribio (Peruvian star Gustavo Bueno), who is nearing 70 and in a state of desperate yearning for a resurrection of, as it were, the tall height of his manhood. But the story also concerns Toribio’s presence in the lives of his three semi-functional adult children (played by Gisela Ponce de León, Rodrigo Sánchez Patiño and Michele Abascal).
“If you take away the sexualization of the word ‘erection,’” Saba added, “then (it can also symbolize) the path of rising up or of building something.” Toribio’s relationship with his kids, each facing his or her own existential crisis, is the narrative pulse that carries the story.
Saba is a 35-year-old filmmaker who was born in Spain, raised in Peru, and went to film school at Hofstra University in New York, graduating in 2010. “Erection” is his third feature after 2012’s “The Cleaner” (about loneliness during a pandemic, prophetically, which was also Peru’s Oscar selection) and 2016’s “The Dreamer.”
During the video interview, Saba also discussed the balance of deadpan comedy along with philosophical depth in his film; working with his four lead actors, especially with risky material; and the classic animated Disney film that still influences him to this day.
Hint: An elephant gets separated from his mom in the film. “It’s about orphanhood and there’s a lot of that in my movies,” Saba said.
In a separate conversation, Saba also mentioned the name of Alabama-based Elvis impersonator Jeff Golden who provides a dynamic rendition of the opera classic “Nessun Dorma,” which plays during the climax of the film. Saba found Golden via YouTube and the two are still in touch. “He is someone I never thought I’d know in my life,” Saba said. “That’s what I love about making movies.”
Watch the full interview with “The Erection of Toribio Bardelli” director Adrián Saba here.