Official Selection Feature Film Mexico
Dir. Iria Gómez Concheiro
The Richter Scale says: Few things bring people together like a common enemy. It’s impressive how ties are built between people when they are threatened by the same force toward which each side feels powerless on its own. In the case of the resident who live in the building at Nicaragua #15 (located in downtown Mexico City), this enemy is the government that is evicting people from the buildings in order to gentrify an area that has been forgotten and thus raise the surplus value. The residents of this building have seen how, little by little, many of the buildings around them have been emptied out and have thus made room in their building’s courtyard and their own apartments to accommodate people and build a community, one that will be ready to resist when the government comes knocking to evict them. They will block the door, they will build barricades, whatever is necessary to save their home, or at least make it a struggle for the police officers waiting on the other side.
What Iría Gómez Concheiro gets right above all else is the camaraderie between these characters, all different people, each of whom have different jobs and day-to-day duties, each building a unique rhythm with every person with whom they interact. The cast is mostly made up of unknowns, but the most recognizable face here is Leonardo Alonso who plays Fermín, a lonely cart-pusher who lives in this building and stays out of this community until he is forced to take a mother and her daughter into his couch. Young Santiago Fonseca also stands out as Maco, a teenage graffiti artist with a heart of gold who constantly seeks to help people (the film begins with this character skating through downtown, a decision that makes sense when you realize he represents the spirit of the story) and so does Patricia Serrano as Elvirita, an old woman from the building whom Maco treats as a grandmother (it’s not clear if she actually is his grandmother) and who once participated in an eviction resistance back in her youth.
The atmosphere is impeccable, creating this world located in buildings that were once palaces, and now are spaces where these people assemble their homes and even businesses (there is even a beauty salon inside the building that Pilar, played by Jonathan Pérez, manages). These spaces are soaked with the personalities of these characters and it leads to several tender moments, such as one where the entire building meet in the courtyard to listen to a boxing match on the radio, since a member of their building is the one fighting (a show of solidarity that gives the viewer back his faith in humanity if he ever lost it), and several details of small things the characters do as a show of gratitude and support (little things like making breakfast for someone or lending someone their shower). There are many independent Mexican films that portray a harsh reality in that country, but few of them take on such a hopeful and endearing point of view. We know these characters will lead tragic lives and it won’t be easy for them to get out of their current predicament, but they’re together and there for each other. That brings a smile.
Official Selection Documentary Feature Mexico
Dir. Luna Marán
The Richter Scale says: How does one put the life of the person closest to them in perspective? How does one look at a person with whom they have lived each day from the beginning of their life, and with whom they may even have a complicated relationship, objectively? Examining it through a documentary is one way, or at least that is what filmmaker Luna Marán decided to do with her father, indigenous activist and troubadour Jaime Martínez Luna (also known as “Uncle Yim”), a man who inspired many people in indigenous communities through his songs and his concept of “communality”, as well as his fight against individualism in order to create a community that can give indigenous people their rights. Unfortunately, he was also an alcoholic who gradually lost his voice and could not keep his ideas and illness from affecting his relationship with his family, which led to Luna, the youngest of his three children, running away from home. She didn’t see him for 10 years. It was then that her siblings called to inform her that their father had been admitted to the hospital, and this sparked Luna’s fear that he would die and she wouldn’t have a chance to say goodbye, and so decided to return home to spend time with him and make a documentary about her father to know and understand him better.
Something that stands out from this documentary is how self-referential it is. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the filmmaker is an active character in the story, but there are several moments that make reference to the fact that they are making a movie (there is even a moment where Luna’s mother is uncomfortable with the boom mic hovering over her, and Luna points to the said boom mic). This is not distracting because the tone of the documentary is very homely and intimate, so much so that the camera feels like part of the family. The filmmaker interposes that with more formal elements of the documentary format, including a montage of photographs of the family over the years, or old videos of Uncle Yim singing in front of an audience or giving a political speech (which allows us the opportunity to listen to what his voice sounded like before the alcohol shattered it) and interviews with the story’s main players (which in this case are the filmmaker’s parents and siblings, all of whom scold Luna for something while she’s filming), and it is that intimacy that facilitates moments such as an emotional moment where Luna’s mother listens to a song sung by her husband on the computer with tears in her eyes from the pride over what her husband achieved and the sadness that he no longer has that voice.
Once again, it’s the reflections from the subjects of the documentary that make it an overwhelming experience. Whether Yim talks about having lost a child before, or the children reflecting on what it was like to have an absent father who was seen as a hero by everyone else in the community, or Yim reflecting on how it feels to be a role model for many when he himself has made mistakes in his life. It’s a very ingenious mix of a character that is interesting to learn along with a narrative with which we can all identify, since no matter who our father is, we all have one and we all have some complications in our relationship with said father.