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Guadalajara Film Festival

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Guadalajara Film Festival

The hotel that serves as the headquarters of the Guadalajara Film Festival and the Guadalajara Film Market is a high rise hotel, the Fiesta Americana. Hermetically sealed in air conditioned artificiality, it faces a drive-thru Starbucks and Burger King.

It's an odd counterpoint to the festival whose every impulse is to reject the post-colonial globalism of commercial America culture and re-establish identity and significance for Mexican and Latin American cinema. The culture of the Spanish-Portuguese diaspora for which the Festival strives was reflected in the Festival's opening night film, Iberia. It is directed by Carlos Saura, the veteran Spanish director. Once considered by some as successor to the great Luis Bunuel, for almost two decades Saura has preoccupied himself with films that aim to capture the essence of the Iberian culture in dance. In Iberia, Saura moves to the Roma regions of southern Spain. The dances are performed against a minimal background and the cast features some of Spain's biggest music and dance stars in flamenco, ballet and modern dance.

Saura's earliest dance films began with narrative motifs, based on famous Spanish themes like “Blood Wedding,” “Carmen,” and “El Amor Brujo,” and more recently switched to wordless expressions of flamenco and tango, beautifully and seamlessly staged and shot.

In Guadalajara, it is clear that despite the economic problems faced by Mexican filmmakers, like those in Argentina and Brazil, Mexico now boasts a number of strong, independent, and very talented and unique voices. Some like Guillermo del Toro or Alfonso Arrau or Alejandro Inarritu now work in Hollywood. But there are Mexican filmmakers who are smaller, independent voices, less capable of assimilation by the mainstream industry.

Carlos Reygadas, who started with his existential meditation Japon, reaches in a more ambitious, often dazzling, though not entirely successful second film, Battle for Heaven. Visually, with a brilliant soundtrack, the film pushes the envelope in sexual explicitness. At the same time it is a sharp critique of Mexican class divisions.

Reygadas' protégé, Amat Escalante, now directed his first feature, Sangre, which was shown in Guadalajara and is also in the New Directors/New Films Series in New York. Made on a very low budget, using non-professional actors, this wonderfully understated study of a couple whose life consists of watching telenovelas and engaging in mechanical sex, often on the kitchen table, is a sharp critique of everyday life.

The film which was a discovery for me in Guadalajara is called Resisting Life. It is, again, a first feature by Ramon Cervantes. The film is set in Mexico City in 1960. The pleasure of Resisting Life is its small scale. It is a film of intimacy, filled with little details, which shield its subversive message. An impoverished family—a mother and her three daughters—live in a slowly decaying house. Leonor, the oldest daughter, had to quit school to help her mother support the family. Beatriz, the second daughter, is completely wrapped up in her music. Real life for her does not exist—she lives, as if in a dream. The youngest daughter is Nadia. She is still in school—though both of the younger daughters are being pressured to go out and get a job and help support the family. Nadia is pretty and not afraid of adventure, and while she is surrounded by boys, she begins an affair with the married school principal.

As we participate in their life like cinematic voyeurs, it becomes clear that the mother is slowly withdrawing from reality. Her way of dealing with stress—most of it financial—is to turn herself into an object of martyrdom, in which the only real sensation of which she is capable is pain.

Just before the film's closing sequence, she joins a strange traveling circus, in which she becomes the subject of an illusionist act—she is crucified by having her hands punctured by long needles.

Each of the characters in Resisting Life is struggling for survival. Each looks for an escape from the family decay, which is at the same time paralleled by the decay of the house in which they life.

Like Sangre, Resisting Life captures the subversive in the everyday, revealing the pain, boredom, violence, irrational beneath the placid surface—the volcano of twisted desires and emotions just beneath the skin.  

This is Milos Stehlik for Chicago Public Radio's Worldview.

Worldview film contributor Milos Stehlik is the director of Facets Multimedia.

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