The many fans of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s 2012 YA novel “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” are abuzz about the new movie adaptation, which we are pleased to open Friday at our Glendale, Santa Monica and North Hollywood theaters. It was written and directed by a fellow fan, Aitch Alberto, who wrote the following about her filmmaking journey:
When I read Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s YA novel “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,” I was a different person, I read it cover to cover and it affected me to my core. At the time I didn’t understand the journey I would take but, sometimes you just jump in because life is inviting you to.
I’ve been on my journey and exploration around gender and masculinity for years and this book, these characters, and the need to tell this story have been a part of that journey, which is something I didn’t realize until recently. Ari, has been a mirror and a guide to helping me unpack my own misconceptions and internalized stereotypes around masculinity. Dante, with his naivety and fearlessness – has inspired me to embrace and fully become who I am, without concern for the ramifications. In fact, being honest about who I am and giving young people permission to do the same has become my mission.
Ari and Dante at its core tells a story of self-discovery and acceptance. And when I think about the world today and my own journey of self-discovery, I believe there is nothing more important than standing up and fully embracing who we are and being seen for it. One great lesson from the story is that when young people and anyone really are given the room to be who they are, the process of self-discovery becomes a natural part of growing up and, ultimately, a superpower.
With the film, I was motivated to place a lens on male vulnerability that includes a more empathic and compassionate gaze. My goal for the film is to help redefine masculinity specifically for the Latinx community and present us as fully realized human beings.
I wanted to make an accessible, grounded, yet elevated teen love story, playing with perspective, where we watch Ari’s unease and emotional isolation shift and expand when Dante enters his life. And by the end of the film, they are engulfed by a bold star filled sky, a hint of exaggerated realism, holding them, finally safe in the world. Through self-acceptance, they have found their place in the universe and the universe embraces them.
Visually I was inspired by the boyish wonder of “Stand by Me”, the surreal pallet of “Virgin Suicides” and the photographic choices in “Badlands,” as well as the composition and color in the photography of William Eggleston – both musing and grounded yet with an ethereal sensibility, an almost gauzy, golden, faded photo album look. There is a naturalistic quality to the book and the script that I wanted to maintain. We wanted to bring the audience into Ari’s world, making the film an immersive experience, where there is not a big formal separation between subject and audience. ~ Aitch Alberto