In Times of Rain
Official Selection Mexico Fiction Feature
Dir. Itandehui Jansen
The Richter Scale says: Wherever he grows up it’s going to be difficult. This is what no mother or grandmother wants to admit when they must make decisions about the children. We all want to make the best decision, but we never know for sure what the best decision is for sure, be it an Indigenous village where the scenery is beautiful, but opportunities are scarce, or a city where there are more job opportunities, but can lead to other complications. José (Nu Kahnu) lives in an indigenous village in the mountains of Oaxaca with his grandmother Soledad (Ángeles Cruz), the village healer who also acts as a psychologist, visiting the people who need help, which includes reconnecting a dying man with his brother who he hasn’t talked to since he abandoned him at the border. Meanwhile, Adela (Alejandra Herrera), Soledad’s daughter and José’s mother, has been living and working in Mexico City since José was a baby. He doesn’t remember her and he has built his life with his grandmother, but now Adela thinks it’s time for José to come live with her in Mexico City, bringing about a conflict with Soledad, who doesn’t believe that Adela is mature enough to raise him.
We spend most of the film exploring the lives of Soledad in her town and Adela in Mexico City, separated, interacting only through the pone until the last act of the movie, and these scenes are charged with a potent tension. Screenwriter Armando Bautista García could have made many different choices with this setup and while others might have decided to take José to Mexico City or Adela to the town with Soledad, this decision to show us Adela’s life so the audience can decide whether her environment is fit for a child is new and fascinating. While it’s understandable that they portray Adela in an abusive marriage, it’s a shame that nothing new is done with that (mostly because Harold Torres, who plays Chucho, Adela’s new husband, is one of Mexico’s best actors and deserves a better part to play). What director Itandehui Jansen takes advantage of, herself a native of Oaxaca, is the mountain town and the rituals Soledad practices, as well as the characters we meet in that village. The story of brothers Camiro (Baltimore Beltran) and Juan (Noé Hernández) is so fascinating and moving that one wishes we’d spent more time with it.
The pacing is meditative, but never slow and the cinematography done by Iwao Kawasaki captures the beauty of the Oaxaca mountains that clearly put the Mexico City sequences at a disadvantage (since it’s not as picturesque), but we appreciate that the director is using visuals to further complicate the story, portraying Adela as a woman doing her best. They could have found a more expressive child actor top lay José (his voice is monotonous, though I have seen some children who talk like that), but outside of that, it’s a film that portrays a beautiful place, fascinating traditions and a gripping central conflict.
Nights of Julio
Official Selection Mexico Feature Film
Dir. Axel Muñoz
The Richter Scale says: There’s someone for everyone. No matter who you are, someone will accept everything that’s crazy about you. You just have to find that person. Julio (Hoze Meléndez) is a quiet young man who Works at a drycleaner. He has a criminal record for crimes that are never specified, but it’s bad enough that his working opportunities are very limited. Everybody tells him he needs a woman, which is hard for him to find since he has this nasty habit of following women he’s interested in, breaking into their houses and touching everything they own. He’s one of those people who sets off all the alarms in the minds of mothers with daughters, but he’s about to meet his soul mate. We meet Mara (Florencia Ríos) before our protagonist does. She’s a student at a culinary school who has her own quirkiness. Julio sees her for the first time when she picks up a binder that someone else dropped and he follows her home, like he’s done many times before, but this time it will be different.
That may sound like the plot of a romantic comedy and if it were treated with a different tone, with more dialogue and a few jokes along the way, this same story written by Claudia Garibaldi could be a romantic comedy, but she and director Axel Muñoz are interested in something different with this scenario. They make it into the portrait of this isolated and apparently disturbed character. He talks very little and antagonizes the few people he interacts with, including his landlady (a cameo from the great Martha Claudia Moreno, one of those actresses who should be getting better roles) and even rejects it when they offer him a raise. A lot of what we know about Julio comes from Hoze Meléndez’s face, one of those actors who projects creepy and tender with just his face and the way cinematographer Oswaldo Toledano lights it. The silences and expressions that Meléndez employs, one could believe that this guy might hurt somebody, so it’s admirable that an audience can still make a connection with this character.
Like we’ve seen in most films in this festival, the pace is slow, and the plot is minimal. We spend most of the running time watching Julio connect to these women through the houses he breaks into. The texture of their dresses, the photographs he finds, the walls, this film is a triumph in art direction (done by Liz Medrano) in creating an entire world for each character. The music by Federico Schmucler at times feels like it belongs in a horror movie, giving it a certain idiosyncrasy, portraying something scary in a story that, under other circumstances, would make us see Julio as a hero we’re rooting for to find love. It’s an awkward film at times and Julio may not be a lead that many will connect to, but it is a hopeful story for anyone who hasn’t found that person they can make a connection with. If someone like Julio can find someone that wants to be with his insanity, why can’t the rest of us?