Sundance Film Review: Sueño en Otro Idioma
Sueño en otro idioma (I Dream in Another Language)
Sundance Film Festival
Director: Ernesto Contreras
In Sueño en otro idioma, linguist Martín (Fernando Álvarez Rebeil) travels to a rural area of Veracruz, Mexico, to record conversations between the last speakers of Zikril, a dying indigenous language. He meets Doña Jacinta (Mónica Miguel), one of the last three of Zikril’s speakers, who welcomes him into her home. She introduces him to Don Isauro (José Manuel Poncelis, Hoze Meléndez), an old man with a perpetual cough who speaks Zikril only. Isauro obliges to participate in Martín’s study on the condition that Martín doesn’t force him to converse with Don Evaristo (Eligio Meléndez, Juan Pablo de Santiago). Martín digs deeper, and Jacinta tells Martín that Evaristo and Isauro—once best friends, long ago—had fought over Evaristo’s late wife, María (Nicolasa Ortíz Monasterio), which ended in a brutal fight in which Evaristo almost killed Isauro. Even so, Martín asks Evaristo if he will participate, but Evaristo wants nothing to do with Martín’s study, nor does he care to aid in Zikril’s preservation. Martín initially carries on with Jacinta and Isauro. Once Jacinta passes away unexpectedly, however, Martín faces the challenge of pairing Isauro and Evaristo together to speak in Zikril—after 50 years of not speaking with each other at all.
Martín’s and Isauro’s uncle-and-nephew-like relationship elicits heartwarming smiles as Martín speaks Spanish and Isauro speaks Zikril—yet somehow, they understand each other beyond the surface of their words. Evaristo is stubborn and mean as a goat, but his gorgeous, demure granddaughter, Lluvia (Fátima Molina), warms up to Martín, and she begins to help him reunite her grandfather and Isauro. Martín’s quest to coax Evaristo to meet with Isauro brings about laughs—Evaristo had the audience on edges of their seats near tears of laughter, as he sniffs out Martín’s and Lluvia’s budding romance with each other. Once Martín first brings Isauro and Evaristo face to face, though, Evaristo knocks Isauro down, and Martín asks Lluvia what would cause Evaristo to hold such disdain for his old friend. Lluvia tells Martín of the long-lost friends’ former intimacy, and their estrangement didn’t necessarily arise in the way we would expect.
Sueño en otro idioma is a smashing success. As Isauro and Evaristo finally meet to talk—even after Evaristo’s cold silence—their rekindled friendship makes the screen sparkle. Additionally, Martín’s and Lluvia’s relationship complexifies his investment in this academic project, and we can feel their mutual desire for each other. Once old demons arise again between Evaristo and Isauro, darkness takes hold of Evaristo once again, and his curmudgeonly ways create tension between him, Isauro and Martín—and between Martín and Lluvia. With these trying circumstances, Martín’s and Lluvia’s respective life trajectories come to the fore; and the pressure of Evaristo’s and Isauro’s pasts tarnish the once jovial atmosphere. Amid this transition, viewers experience a mélange of emotions with the film’s characters, alongside the story’s arc. Most saliently, Sueño en otro idoma realizes a fully developed, multifaceted story that engages us through its performers’ capacity to broadcast their characters’ feelings—which transfixes us. Even as the bittersweet ending may choke us up, the journey to that point is invaluable.
Each actor performs impeccably in Sueño en otro idioma—especially the leads. In doing so, the topics of indigenous preservation, sexual identity, academic salvation and socio-economic advancement come to the fore through our characters’ relationships. What’s more, though it’s an enthralling element of the storyline, Martín’s and Lluvia’s love doesn’t eclipse Isauro and Evaristo as the centerpiece of the narrative. Hopefully, Sueño en otro idioma finds widespread distribution in the United States, as it is an essential film. I thoroughly enjoyed this masterful work. –Alexander Ortega