The second annual Hola Mexico Film Festival (HMFF), the world’s largest tribute to Mexican Film wraps up a triumphant six city tour this weekend in New York at the QUAD Cinema,34 West, 13th St. Director Samuel Douek’s diverse programming celebrates Mexican Cinema in all its charm and artistry at a time when younger directors are creating a Mexican film renaissance. A MUST SEE!
I was tipped to see the following titles which I missed in LA: “The Half Of The World,” Love on a WKND” and the anthology film “It Happens In One Day” which includes a short, made in 24 hours, by the gifted Daniel Greuner (“Never On A Sunday”).
Pedro González-Rubio’s “Alamar“-A photo-slide show of romantic scenes between Roberta (Roberta Palombini) and Mexican tour guide Jorge (Jorge Machado) celebrate their sensuous incompatible relationship of opposites. Roberta’s narration celebrates their dissolved marriage but, as she says, “I’m unhappy in your reality, as you are in mine.”
Roberta has decided to move back to Rome and sends their five-year-old son, Natan, on a last visit his grandfather’s palafitte (a fishing shack set on stilts) in the crystalline waters of Banco Chinchorro, off the Yucatan Peninsula. (Quintana Roo, the world’s second-largest coral reef, is an intact eco-system.)
Roberta wakes sleepy Natan (Natan Machado Palombini) in their apartment, packing him up, as the two chatter in Italian. Joining his charismatic bare-chested dad, Natan switches to Spanish, at home in both languages. Jorge and Natan ride through the jungle towards grandfather’s fishing community. Natan has to adjust. He’s seasick on board and wary of work. After all, “they don’t fish” in Rome, because “the fish are already in the store.” Bit by bit, the two older men initiate Natan in his heritage, teaching patience and respect for Nature’s gifts. Their time together takes on the simple joys of a trip to Never Land. The visuals and rhythms of the seaside oasis are irresistible in González-Rubio’s rapturous ode to fatherhood, hard work and the natural life.
First, all three cut a window to the sea and paint the inside of the house a sunny yellow. Jorge and gramps Matraca (Nestor Marin) snorkel and spear fish. Young Natan waits in the boat above, studying the sky and soaking in a fisherman’s skills. Matraca perfects Jorge’s hand fishing technique. They clean the fish (barracuda, crabs and sturgeon). Whatever they don’t sell goes into their pot of fish stews.
Jorge, whose seen the tourist centers, and traveled the world, chooses this Edenic homeland and wants to make his young son at home. This is last chance, for who knows how long, to share their Mayan heritage, their practical traditions or “linaje.” Young Jorge is an active, playful father who knows the taxonomic names for plants and animals, and which plants can do what. How tender the men are with each other. Never an unkind word, just the pleasure of good time spent together. Matraca gently teaches by example. “Fishing is about luck and patience,” he explains to Jorge, or is he giving sly advice to the director?
The love between the three generations is evident. (Roberta, Jorge and Natan play themselves; grandfather is played by a local fisherman who Jorge and the director bonded with when they were location scouting.) All the performances are utterly relaxed. He gave them daily “tasks” to perform as themselves, running the handheld camera till he got what he needed; the edge between doc and fiction evaded under González-Rubio’s subtle watch. Only Jorge was self-conscious or aware of his image, explained González-Rubio at a Q & A.
They wash the boat, literally sanding it, foot and hand polishing it clean with beach sand, as Natan carries pails of water. When a lurking caiman crocodile swims in, Matraca alerts him to watch out. He dashes onshore.
(I was thinking about American parent with young kids on “leashes” and tagged with GPS systems.)
Almost wordlessly, the three savor the summer. They watch the night sky, the sunrise and sunsets. They fed the seagulls as turtles and crabs scuttle pass them. Respectful sound work by Manuel Carranza captures the tranquility: every plash of the surf, the sound of the night tide, the primal noises of snorkeling under the sea. Their dreamy endless days of waking, fishing, eating speak to us about the remaining pockets of the natural world we are charged to protect.
One day, a cattle egret wanders onto their deck. Quiet Jorge (and Natan) tame the water bird, which is on a migration from Africa. Deftly, like a magician, Jorge coaxes the wary egret onto Natan’s arm. They hand feed it bugs from the house. Naming the leggy elegant bird Blanquita, they begin to expect her visits. When she disappears, they search for her. Climbing a tower, the two peer over Jorge’s waterside jungle domain, and muse about Natan’s departure. The climb itself is a sweet moment, as Jorge keeps Natan safe with his body, while letting him climb an adult course. It’s a poetic moment, unburdened by melodrama, but conscious of endings, of a separation of father and son and homeland, and of a fragile age-old lifestyle threatened by globalized development and tourism.
In interviews González-Rubio describes the cattle egret as a creature that forced herself in them. What a miracle of filmmaking: a simple joy that recalls equally fortuitous moments in early silent or sound films.
It’s a wonder how González-Rubio’s camera disappears as he lives with the trio on the palafitte and small boat. In one rainy day scene, as gramps eats in the background, Natan draws a catalogue of things he’s seen on his stay, Including “the camera” he explains looking at González-Rubio’s behind the camera. It makes sense. We accept it. Then Natan and Jorge toss it into the sea in a bottle. “Will it wash ashore in Italy or Mexico?” asks Natan, discovering a metaphor for his young life.
A closing scene, with Natan and Roberta on a bench in Rome, show a loved boy, involved and content in his Roman present. The shot of Rome spread out behind them in an urban tangle speaks volumes about the fragile Eden he left behind.
DP Alexis Zabé (“Lake Tahoe“, “Silent Light“) contributes a second underwater camera for the snorkeling scenes. Pedro González-Rubio (“Toro Negro”) shot Eva Norvind’s “Born Without,”
Robert Koehler of Cinemascope celebrates the film as an example of “the cinema of in-between-ness.” Like the ‘narrative’ films of of Pedro Costa, Albert Serra, Michael Winterbottom’s “In This World” and C.W. Winter and Anders Edström’s “The Anchorage” or the ‘documentaries’ of Nikolaus Geyrhalter (“Our Daily Bread“), Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash’s “Sweetgrass“, or Eugenio Polgovsky’s “Los Herederos”, the subtle manipulated or merged ‘non-fiction’ “permits all manners of wild possibilities” while documenting the end of cyclical rural work cultures.
“Inspired by the simplicity of happiness,” Pedro González-Rubio’s film, which ravishes us with its simplicity and visual splendor, is a penultimate film of Mexico’s emerging film renaissance.
Juan Carlos Rulfo (“In The Pit“) and Carlos Hagerman’s brilliant documentary “Those Who Remain“, digs into the subtext of the Mexican immigration narrative, focusing on the usually invisible family members who stay in Mexico. Beautifully crafted portraits of family members capture the emotional nuances of a lifestyle where departures and loss are a daily occurrence.
Lured by jobs, millions cross over. Their kids, who are schooled with money sent back to Mexico, imagine streets paved with gold. Some men come back, then have to leave again. Some send money home for building projects. Some are so changed, so detached, that their long distance families become metaphors.
The directors leave the perilous illegal journeys out, watching for the unrecorded changes the splintered families experience. Fields are left fallow. Towns dwindle to ghost town status. There’s a defiant Cinco de Maya celebration in a half empty town.
Like an after image, unstated thoughts swim to consciousness as you watch the even-handed documentary. Farmers can’t make money raising corn crops. (Blame the US’s farm subsidies and agro-business.) They have many mouths to feed. (Blame the Catholic Church’s ban on birth control.)
The filmmakers lived with over a dozen families for almost a year, catching the small things the migrants have left behind, the sounds and smells of rural family life. One father repeatedly calls home from pay phone. His tenuous connection breaks as his distracted little girl walks away from the phone.
Marisela tries to figure out a way for her whole family, the littlest kids and her eldest daughter Evelyn, to make it to the US to join her husband, who they haven’t seen in years. Young Chiapeca widow Raquel is overcome recalling her last phone call from her husband, tragically murdered on “the other side.
Cameraman -director Rulfo captures the sere beauty of the Yucatan deserts and the green glory of Chiapas. Francisco, a truly happy man, returned from the US to his father’s land, to build a rodeo ring. His rocky ranch is the only place on earth he wants to be. “I will die here,” he declaims, pointing out the eagles wheeling overhead.
Grey haired Juanita and Pascual pine for the three of her kids who live in the US. Eight years without them, as they work their little farm in the state of Puebla. “There’s no turning back the clock. We spend our time thinking about our children … about how far away they are,” says Juanita, Adriano waits for the birth of his third child before he leaves for the US.
In an amazing, fortuitous sequence at the end of the film, the crew races back to the farm, in time to see Marcos, Sergio and Flor trek over a hilly road to their home and a jubilant welcome. It is an astonishing, poetic moment. This haunting, remarkable piece of filmmaking has garnered Best Documentary awards at Guadalajara International Film Festival, Documenta Madrid, DOCSDF, and Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, 2009.
Eugenio Polgovsky’s “Los Heroderos” follows groups of rural Mexican child laborers working side by side with their families to survive, brick- making, gathering firewood, herding goats, harvesting, and weaving. These kids work to survive, like everyone else in their family. No schooling. Relaxed before his camera, kids smile, stare and work. A baby lies beneath a tomato plant as his brother picks nearby. Moments of play, and dancing underscore a life as hard as feudal peasant life of the middle age. No dialogue, no titles; diegetic sound all give the film is angry force. These kids could move to urban slums or cross the border but working for subsistence wages with their families may be the best of their options. (Reviewed at AFI 2009)
Rigoberto Pérezcano’s debut film treats “hot-topic” immigration in a new way. Largley ignoring the border “Northless” depicts the provisional life of Oaxacan Andrés (Harold Torres) who winds up in TJ after a failed attempt to cross. Offering to unload boxes for Bodega owner Ela (Alicia Laguna), he’s befriended by the lonely “border-widow“, wary helper Cata (Sonia Couoh) and buddy Asensio (Luis Cárdenas). Possessive of his friendships, Asensio finally makes way for Andrés.
The foursome makes a humane quartet, as warm and unexpected as the characters in “The Station Agent.” Lonely Ela makes her intentions clear, but he’s drawn to the shy Cata. Their long-gone stateside husbands and André’s Oaxacan family are pushed to the sidelines in the quest for the Yankee Dollar. The film is a marvel of sly detail, silent for long patches. Cinematographer Alejandro Cantú’s desert scenes remind us of the Biblical travail of the journey north. A Border capture is dispatched with minimal shots, a line of tired people processed by agents, a turnstile trip to the potholes of Tijuana. The actors disappear into the skins of the characters living in limbo. There’s wonderful incidental music (“Claire de Lune”). Humane, original, lacking pretense, Perezcano’s portrait of the border dilemma skips melodrama and keeps its sense of humor. (reviewed at AFI 2009)
Nicolas Pereda’s deadpan “Perpetuum Mobile”, shot on video follows Gabino, a hustling 20-something amateur moving man who still lives at home with his mother. Introverted Gabino Rodriguez plays Gabino. Every week, Gabino and his nagging mum Teresa (Teresa Sanchez,) make a special weekend dinner and wait for his successful older brother to arrive (He never shows) When her refrigerator dies, Gambino’s sent downstairs to beg fridge space from their elderly neighbor. ( He never goes.)
Gabino works part time with friend Paco (Francisco Barreiro), who moves in with a houseload of purloined goods.) The stacked furniture drives Gabino’s mother crazy. The film follows the slacker pair’s adventures with various clients, each struggling with some domestic issue.
Portraying 21st century urban loneliness, Pereda conducts an autopsy on the Mexican nuclear family. Gabino’s successful brother can’t be bothered to visit. His grandmother lives alone with “no-one to console” her. Each client Gambino visits faces some familial dissolution of his own.
Gabino’s grandmother lives alone, as we see in an extended opening scene. Later, in an unexpected poetic flourish, she wanders into her room, sees her husband’s ghost and dies.
Towards the end of the story, Teresa and Gambino drive the stolen stuff to her mother’s apartment. Finding her long dead corpse, they remove it (it’s just another job for Gambino) and bury it in an unceremonious illegal grave in the country, telling no one else in the family, as they wouldn’t be interested.
Shot for about $20,000, this is the fourth well-received feature for under-30 Pereda. His “¿Dónde están sus historias?” (2007) won the Best Feature at the Morelia International Film Festival.
Alejandro Gerber Bicecci’s “Vaho” (Becloud) weaves the stories of three schoolyard friends in a dilapidated, dusty neighborhood of Mexico City.
Bookends set the story. Water trucker Efrén parks along a desert road to screw a woman. She asks to be paid then wanders off, following the sound of a crying baby. They discover a baby lying on its dead mother’s chest, trying to nurse. Flash forward a few years. Hustling Efrén has transformed the remote place where they found the baby, to a miracle site. He’s hired musicians and charges the faithful who stroll around the handmade cross. Pissed that he’s losing money, he accuse the whore, now draped in the Madonna’s light blue veils of driving people away. “Whores don’t become saints”, he howls as she hops on the musicians’ truck, taking the adopted boy (she calls Efrén, to the trucker’s rath) with her. In the present day, we follow Ándres, who dances with a pre-Columbian troupe, and lives with his drunken father; Felipe who works at a Cyber cafe and attempts to court one of the female clients; and Efrén, who runs an ice factory with his son José, who hustles car washes, runs afoul of other car wash guys, and sleeps in the trunk of his car. A school yard tragedy marks the grown boy’s relationship, as we discover in an onion-peel of flashbacks. Bicecci’s title refers to a creation tale told in the film. The god’s rendered men harmless by beclouding their eyes, they can no longer understand reality, once the god’s beclouded men’s eyes to render them harmless.
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