As far as movies are concerned, the summer is off to a great start. Blockbusters like Star Trek: Into Darkness, Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby have more than satisfied the summer movie crowd’s desire for big budget entertainment. In the midst of such films, the second annual Domino Mexican Independent Film Tour was a refreshing change of pace. The two-day festival exhibited both short– and feature-length films that showcased a snapshot of the unique perspective that Mexican film has to offer. Both nights also featured Q&A sessions with some of the filmmakers, which shed some interesting light on the inspiration behind their work.
Over the course of the tour, I saw films that portrayed universal themes of humanity, love, friendship and death—but they did so in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Where many films today beat audiences over the head with over-stimulation and clunky morals, these films lure you into their world, not promising a happy ending nor are they promising a sad one. It’s cinema that just needs to be watched until all of the layers of a story are stripped away. In the event that you’re able to catch any of these films, make sure you take advantage. It’s some of the best filmmaking I’ve seen in a long time.
El Pescador/The Fisherman
During Dia de Los Muertos, an elderly gentleman takes a fishing trip. It sounds fairly unremarkable until he produces his bait—a jar full of old photographs. Using these photographs, The Fisherman reels in everything he needs to recreate a treasured memory between himself and his deceased wife. They have dinner, they dance, and as quickly as it began, the evening is over. According to the film’s director (Samantha Sierra) and writer (Davy Giorgi), it’s a story about the importance of nurturing the memories we have, especially since they can fade away as we get older—the scene of The Fisherman opening a shed full of empty jars is a bittersweet reminder that memories are precious.
La Herida de Lucrecia/Lucrecia’s Wound
When we first meet Lucrecia, she’s alone. The audience is pulled along with her through her daily routine, but there is a hint of crippling sadness to the way she makes breakfast and goes to work. Glimmers of happiness arrive when she bumps into her neighbor, a young man with a goofy smile full of braces. As the film progresses, we find that Lucrecia has undergone a mastectomy—a tragic reminder of a long battle with cancer. Marisela Penaloza manages to capture Lucrecia’s pain and frustration in every blink and every footstep. The film’s conclusion was a bit ambiguous—but ambiguity isn’t always a bad thing.
Yuban (Tierra Viva)/Yuban (Living Earth)
In this documentary about a village-wide festival in a Zapotecan community, the audience gets an intimate view of a group of people living in rural Mexico that come together to celebrate the Earth that gives them life. Every aspect of this celebration is documented—men building fences for a traditional rodeo-like competition, women grinding corn into tortillas and a slow-motion capture of a cow being slaughtered (admittedly, that was hard to watch). While this small community prepares and enjoys the celebration, voiceovers tell the story of the Zapotecan ancestry and their reverence for all living things.
The first animated film of the tour, Enraizado had the beautiful animation and clever dialogue that one would expect from a Pixar short. It’s about a tree in the middle of a park that happens to fall in love with a woman who likes to sit and read under his branches. The thing is, she only sees a tree. As the tree attempts to impress his guest—he goes so far as wearing a necktie—it just drives her further away. The silver lining to this story is that, without the tree’s machinations, his ladylove would not have been guided to a handsome doctor. At first, the tree is distraught. But as he sees their relationship evolve under his branches, he begins to see that things would never have worked between them, because, you know, he’s a tree.
Para Armar un Helicopter/To Put Together a Helicopter
From a very humble beginning about a rainstorm and a tenement building, Para Armar un Helicopter evolves into a beautiful story about how a bit of optimism, teamwork and resourcefulness can triumph when the world at large forgets about you. The tenement building in question houses an assortment of characters that, when faced with a power outage with no end in sight, work out their own solution. Their idea snowballs from a Dynamo Light—a bicycle lamp that is powered by the act of pedaling. Eventually, they pool the resources that they have collected and find different ways to power their building. The scene in which the windows of their tiny building light up amid a city plunged into darkness perfectly enunciates the spirit of the film.
The second animated short of the evening, Monarca presented a sharp contrast to the more lighthearted Enraizado. The story of Monarca is told without a word of dialogue being spoken, and the animation style was a mixture of Japanese Anime and the Rankin/Bass cartoons that I grew up watching on Saturday mornings. The story unfolds slowly, beginning with a little boy pondering the death of a white butterfly that he found while traveling through the forest. He soon meets The Monarca, an elderly man with a loyal retinue of Monarch butterflies. The pair ends up magically reforesting an area that has been decimated by lumber harvesting—but at the sacrifice of The Monarca’s own life. It’s a poignant scene when the young boy picks up the old man’s hat and places it on his own head as he ventures forth to heal a sick and abused planet. The buildup to this inevitable climax was captivating, but the heavy handed ending made it a bit unbalanced.
The final short film of the evening was also the most disturbing—but I mean that in a good way. Ismael begins with a Saturday morning that is probably all too common in our society—Mom’s hung over on the couch, and a little boy has the responsibility of making sure he and his sister have breakfast. As he prepares their food, he puts a mug of milk over the stove and as soon as he turns the burner on, the discomfort begins. The film snaps back and forth among unnerving close-ups to Ismael’s sister as she frenetically laughs at the bizarre images played out on TV, Ismael’s drunken mother, and the milk on the stove. The hyperactive tempo speeds up as Ismael walks into the bathroom to see that their dog has crapped all over the place. The TV characters start chanting and howling like Satanists, the sister giggles, the milk (of human kindness?) has turned into a burnt sludge. Ismael takes out his frustrations on the family pet, and the cycle of abuse and neglect repeats itself. Director Sebastian Hofmann fielded questions after the film, and explained that he was both fascinated and appalled by the cycle of abuse that usually begins when children start mistreating animals. He was also quick to mention that the dog in the film was never actually mistreated.
Todo Mundo Tiene a Alguien…Menos Yo/Everybody’s Got Somebody…But Me
Day two of the tour was dedicated to feature-length films, and Raul Fuentes’ Todo Mundo was an excellent place to start. It is a story about the rise and fall of a tumultuous relationship between Alejandra, a successful 30-something who works at a big-time publishing house, and Maria, an 18-year-old high school student. Fuentes tells their story in a fractured timeline a la (500) Days of Summer where we see their relationship go from a passionate and exciting beginning to a painful separation. The film constructs their relationship perfectly. Alejandra is attracted to Maria’s passion for art and literature, Maria is attracted to Alejandra’s sophistication and intelligence, along with the fact that she’s an older woman. Throughout the course of their relationship, however, the contrast between Maria’s desire to experience life without any limitations and Alejandra’s occasionally brutal cynicism drives a wedge between them. There are several scenes in which Alejandra attempts to “teach” Maria how a cultured and intelligent person should act, in which she fills the role of a surrogate mother as well as a lover. It is these attempts to restrict Maria that lead to the ultimate downfall of the relationship—no young adult wants to be in a relationship with their mother. In the end, Todo Mundo is the type of film that pushes the boundaries of filmmaking by telling a fairly straightforward story—it should be required watching for any serious film class.
Gimme the Power
Before seeing this film, I had heard of Mexican rap-rockers Molotov, but had never really heard their music. It’s belligerent and crass, but it was precisely the kind of belligerent and crass that the Mexican people needed. Gimme the Power is an enthralling documentary that begins with a crash course on how the history of Mexican politics and music clashed with one another, and ends with a selection of lecturers and college professors analyzing the impact that Molotov has had on the modern Mexican political scene. I have to admit, I felt a bit like an ignorant American for not knowing more about the brutalities and censorship that the Mexican government has inflicted upon its people. However, I found it interesting that right around the time that American hippies were protesting the Vietnam War and holding the very first Woodstock, a musical revolution was also taking place among the young people of Mexico. The difference? Mexican government controlled the media and was known for shutting down radio stations when music became too controversial. As we flash forward 30-some-odd years, a group of hard-drinking musicians took all of the frustration, fear and oppression that had been festering among the Mexican people and launched an aggressive musical attack on the corrupt PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional/Institutional Revolutionary Party), and called themselves Molotov. The incendiary nature of their music along with the Mexican youth culture’s disillusionment in their system of government catalyzed a reaction that nearly got Molotov banned from Mexico. Director Olallo Rubio has created an excellent film that outlines decades of governmental oppression while emphasizing the power that musicians and artists have to help create awareness and foster change.
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