Last year’s edition of the Toronto International Film Festival saw the world premiere of Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe, the film adaptation of the 2012 novel of the same name. Benjamin Alire Sáenz was responsible for the creation of the story, exploring the romantic relationship of two boys who must determine who they are while they’re growing up.
Awards Radar had the opportunity of speaking with Aitch Alberto, the filmmaker behind the movie adaptation of the novel, who had plenty to share about the characters she worked with for a long time, as well as what attracted her to the story in the first place. Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe can already be seen in theaters across the United States.
Awards Radar: What drew you to the story of this book?
Aitch Alberto: There’s so many reasons. I really try to do these and not give the same answer. Mostly for myself, because it’s such a nuanced answer to give. There’s so many reasons why I liked this story and why I wanted to bring it to the screen. I think the obvious is the way our “latinidad” and latinos are handled.
It’s a very gentle, beautiful and nuanced story about this community we don’t always see this way. That was the first thing that spoke to me. Other than that, there’s also the joy. It’s a story about two young boys who go on this journey together. I think that’s also really important, specially right now. We don’t shy away from the darkness, but we focus on the possibility of magic.
AR: Before casting the leads, what was important to look for when finding the right actors?
AA: I think that was also the most important thing to me. I wanted the movie to feel like when you read the book, even if it’s a different medium. I wanted the essence of it to be there. That was the first sort of character I knew I was bringing with me. But what really mattered to me is that both of these characters are the representation of fear and love.
I really wanted to explore that through both of them. I think that when we meet Aristotle, he’s choosing fear, while Dante represents love. He’s choosing love. And we see how those two choices juxtapose each other. Then you dive into the families, and how they also influence that. It’s a constant evolution rooted in fear and love.
AR: As a filmmaker, what does a teenage love story bring to the table, compared to a love story between adult characters?
AA: I think that anything is possible. I think it’s rooted in a lot of feelings. And it’s untainted by life’s demands and the difficulties of it. There’s a pureness that trascends sexuality and gender. It’s truly about this soft connection. It’s not even sexual, I like to say that Aristotle never claims his sexuality in the first book, but he claims his love for Dante.That’s what this story is about. It’s not about being queer or being gay, I think it’s about how love trascends. It’s best explored through younger characters who are able to have that as an option.
AR: How does having a diverse group of producers, like the one including Lin-Manuel Miranda and Eugenio Derbez help the development of a story rooted in identity?
AA: I think it’s rooted in the nuance of identity. It never focuses on just one aspect of someone’s identity, and that’s also why I liked it. They made this story as a movie undeniable. They made it undeniable for Hollywood to listen to this story about these characters and this family. I will always be grateful to the two of them for that. And I think everyone who worked on the film saw the value in that and that’s why they’re in it.
AR: Do you relate to one of the boys more than the other?
AA: I have my own relationship with both characters (laughs). I used to think that I was a Dante, and the reality is I’m more of an Ari. But I think they all live in all of us and we are more like one than the other depending on each day.
Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe is now in theaters.
This interview was edited for length and clarity purposes.