BUENOS AIRES — “My Lucky Day” begins with Hector Lavoe – or it looks like him – dressed in white suit, putting on a ring, and dark glasses, as he prepares to dance. Cut to Lavoe’s white shoes, cracked and grimed as the camera pulls back to an establishing shot of the figure in wha looks like a hospital and a credit establishes that this is a psychiatric hospital in Nuevo Callao district of Lima in 1986 Peru.
The figure is indeed not Lavoe but Toño, a downbeat Lavoe impersonator who moonlights singing at locales in Nuevo Callao, including the hospital where his sister is interned, suffering severe depression.
By day, however, he’s a head-bowed, lowly professor helping for students to cram for university entrance exams, living in his grimy family flat, abandoned by his girlfriend who’s emigrating to Spain, unable to sell sacks of sugar piled in his home, suffering a down-trodden Peru of hyper-inflation.
Toño believes, however, that his luck must change, and sees as sign the arrival in Perú of the real Hector Lavoe, booked to perform at four Feria del Hogar concerts.
Bowing Nov. on Movistar in Latin America and Movistar+ in Spain, “My Lucky Day” was hailed by Peru’s website La Prensa as “the most important audiovisual production ever made in Perú.”
“For me, it was key that the first series [Movistar] made in Peru aimed at the international market was really unique, from both an artistic and technical point of view,” said “My Lucky Day” showrunner Joanna Lombardi, Movistar head of fiction Latin America, Telefonica Media Networks.
She added: “It was the first big opportunity to make the industry look towards Peru, to discover it as a potential market for the development of big productions. We’ve made a series which takes risks, which does not underestimate audiences, and which is working very well. Nothing could make us happier.”
Movistar’s second Original Series in Latin America, it is directed by arguably the country best-known upscale auteurs, Daniel and Diego Vega, after breaking out with their first feature, “October,” a Cannes Un Certain Regard winner. Written by another lauded filmmaker, Hector Gálvez (“NN” ) and Diego Vega, who also co-wrote “Matar al Padre” for Movistar+ in Spain, the series’ international distribution is now being negotiated.
The series’ title, and indeed spirit, is taken from one of Lavoe’s most famous songs, which runs, “Soon it will come, my lucky day, I know that before I die, my luck will surely change.” Toño believes that, but almost everybody in the series believes that too – a punk band which signs the lyrics as a protest sing, even Lavoe, rich and famous ,and it seems the Aztecs, according to one of Toño’s history classes.
Constantly contrasting fantasy and reality, “My Lucky Day” delivers a comedic but mordant comment on Peru in 1986 and indeed, of the modern day and the eternal optimism of the downtrodden human spirit. Daniel and Diego Vega fielded questions from Variety after Ep. 1 bowed on Movistar and Movistar Plus in Spain.
Almost everybody in the series dreams their lives will change. That of course is a comment on their dissatisfaction with current circumstance, a Peru and Latin America where people can’t live out their dreams. Could you comment?
Especially the time when the series is set, when there was that feeling of dissatisfaction, daily desperation, when Peru was living through really terrible times: Terrorism, shortage, hyperinflation. Beyond the situation in the country though, I think it’s very human to feel the need for your life to change, for something to happen to improve things around you. I think anyone can identify with that.
Diego Vega: That’s true: Several characters are trying to change their lives, and for different reasons. In Peru and Latin America today, in 2019, those characters resonate with us. Although the context is different, and more than thirty years have gone by. Dissatisfaction still very much defines us, which is good, because it forces you to act. If we don’t act, we’re dead.
Series these days must trap spectators fro the first few minutes. One of ‘My Lucky Day’s’’aims in Ep. 1 seems to set up multiple questions, which generate suspense: Can Toño’s life really change? If so, is it just for one day? And can he pass it on – help others as well, as the singer promises in Lavoe’s original song.
Daniel Vega: Though it might sound obvious, the most important thing about any series is making sure viewers are left eager to see what’s going to happen in the following episode. I think “My Luck Day” does that; apart from the fact that it’s a real quality series. At the end of each episode, you’re dying to know what’s going to happen next, not only with Toño, but also where the story’s heading. That’s the interesting thing, why it’s got to be told. And as for Toño, I think he’s thinking only about himself, not about whether he’s going to be able to help others. That doesn’t make him a bad person. That seems perfectly human to me. The question you do ask though is, once his luck changes, because that’s where the series goes, is he going to help others? And you’re going to have to watch the series to find that out [laughs]
Diego Vega: The viewer gets hooked because he sees a man obsessed with something good happening to him, and that’s nice because that’s happened to us all. I always hear people around me say “if you think it, it’s going to happen to you”. The mind is a very strong force. The title of the series gives a clear clue: It already gives away that this man’s luck is going to change, the song says it. It then becomes all about discovering how his fate will change while we discover the world Toño takes us through, that world of Lima in 1986.
The series has been acclaimed by La Prensa in Peru as “the most important audiovisual production ever made in Perú.” How do you see it breaking with past productions?
In fact, it’s the second series in Peru made outside traditional audiovisual television [parameters]. And that’s very important for the Peruvian market. Not only because there’s a foreign eye bringing quality to Peruvian productions (which also brings with it the possibility of foreign productions being shot in the country), but also because of the type of series that was done. It’s a risk. The platform has gone for a very different kind of content, something very different from what could be expected of a national production. That’s thanks to Joanna [Lombardi] and the top brass executives she roped into the project.
Diego Vega: It’s very important for the Peruvian audiovisual industry that a platform as big as Movistar decided to do a project like “My Lucky Day” Bear in mind that unlike Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, other big platforms have never financed a project revolving around a Peruvian story and Peruvian talent. When this happens for the first time, it’s good news, and it’s always because someone decides to vouch for it.
What were your guidelines when directing the series?
Daniel Vega: We wanted to make a series rooted in stark realism, showing clearly the era and the situation in the country at that time; but we also wanted something irreverent, frenzied, full of humor, with a tone that made you think about something mad, that spoke of something very human, that many people could identify with. The script written by Diego and Hector was already riddled with references from “Underground,” by Emir Kusturica and “The Day of the Beast,” by Alex de la Iglesia. That was the tone they were after, and the entire team worked towards that end. I think the result is very good. And, on top of that, it was shot like a feature film.
Diego Vega:I think the general thrust was also defined by the way in which we chose to deal with the madness of the characters. The tone was pitched in keeping with that. Marina, Toño’s sister, is in a mental institution, but seems more mentally together than Toño. Almost all the characters are lost, and cling desperately to anything. For example, the four students: We decided always to shoot them together as a group, always looking for their teacher, Toño, who’s even more out of it than they are.
You shot four episodes together of “El Chapo,” and Diego, you wrote, seven episodes of the series and co-wrote “Matar al Padre.” What are the attractions for you of drama series, and their challenges?
Diego Vega: For writing series, I like team work, exchanging points of view, a collective outlook on the story, discovering the world of the series. The challenge for me always is taking good decisions, from all the ideas that crop up along the way, and taking them relatively quickly. With regard to directing the four episodes of “El Chapo,” apart from the challenge of shooting action scenes and traveling to another country to become part of a big team that’s been shooting for months, I was also marked by the experience of constantly treading that dangerous line between shooting an entertainment product and dealing with an issue that had involved so many deaths for so many years. There, I didn’t feel uneasy because the focus brought to the project from the very beginning always carefully took that into account.
Do you see any links or continuity in theme or style between and your films?
Daniel Vega: I feel that it’s a series with a different tone vis-à-vis our films, but I do find similarities and things that make me think about our films. Faith, in many different ways, is present, not necessarily as something religious, but as a need to believe in something, to cling on to something: Sofía in Octubre, Constantino in El Mudo, Bob Montoya in La Bronca. Because, as I was saying before, it’s very human, the idea of believing so you don’t cave in completely. In "My Lucky Day", that notion is clearly visible in Toño. And I think we can also see similarities in the way of shooting. There’s a lot, though it might seem different: the use of a certain type of lens, for example, or certain shots.
Diego Vega: With regard to directing, I think the tone we sought for the direction of the actors is different from the line we had gone down before. And as for the narrative, though it does have certain points in common, it is different. But there are moments that recall “October”, like when I see Toño seated on the sofa of his living room. During the shoot, I’d look at him and think: “I’ve seen this before.”
What are you working on now?
Daniel and Diego Vega: We’re developing a new film, trying to work out what we want to talk about; that’s a long process, often not found in the writing – rather in other phases. In a way, it’s also got to do with faith. We’re condemned… ha ha ha ha! We hope to have a script in early 2020. We’ve also got a project that’s got Ibermedia funding, “Panza de Burro,” an omnibus filM, where we’re working with directors such as Joanna Lombardi, Javier Fuentes, Rosario García-Montero, Gianfranco Quattrini, Diego and yours truly. And, finally, we’re thinking of ideas for a series.