Fiesta Mexicana

in 19th Guadalajara International Film Festival

by Klaus Eder

In March, the US professor Samuel Huntington published his research “The Hispanic Challenge”. The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants, he wrote, would threaten to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages. Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos would not have assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, but would form instead their own political and linguistic enclaves — from Los Angeles to Miami — and would reject the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream. (You find his text here).

In answer to this “America in Danger!” war cry, the Guadalajara Festival presented the comedy “A Day Without a Mexican” (Un dia sin mexicanos), the first feature film by Sergio Arau. The movie isn’t particularly interesting, but its story is. It tells of a Californian woman who awakens one morning and discovers that her husband (of Mexican origin) and one of her children (half a Mexican) have disappeared. The story goes on: in the whole of California, all Mexicans have vanished into thin air — one third of the population. For Sergio Arau, this assumption of a Californian day without Mexicans serves as a neat metaphor to reveal the consequences of a Mexican-free society: a veritable disaster, even a catastrophe. No garbage collection. Most of the restaurants closed. The public transportation breaks down. The communication system conks out. A lot of family members are missing. Los Angeles looks like an apocalyptic landscape. The border guards get depressed because there are no Mexicans to be caught and returned. At the end, one day later, the Mexicans are back, enthusiastically welcomed by the American-Americans (with the exception of, probably, Mr. Huntington).

Sergio Arau’s film is a witty, even if not too serious answer to the anti-Latino-mood spilling in from the other side of the border. More noticeable than in previous festivals here, a latent aversion to the United States provoked a much bigger interest in Mexico’s own culture and language. The festival public queued up to see Mexican films. “A Day Without a Mexican” won the public prize at the end. The most successful, most acclaimed and most awarded film was also of Mexican origin, “Duck Season” (Temporada de patos — see Lucy Virgen’s review). Fernando Eimbcke’s first feature film was as surprising and unexpected a discovery and revelation as was Alejando Gonzáles Inárritu’s “Amores perros” four years ago: a laconic, funny, melancholic description of a Sunday afternoon that two bored youngsters spend in a Mexico City flat, with video games, together with a girl from the neighborhood and a man delivering pasta.

The Guadalajara Festival, now in its 19th year and directed by the effective Raul Padilla and the charming Kenya Marquez, has always focused on Mexican cinema and has served as a goldmine for festival scouts. This year, it was definitively extended to a festival on Mexican and Ibero-American cinema, offering two different competitive sections (divided into sub-sections for features, documentaries and shorts). “Ibero-American” (a word which does not exist in English dictionaries) means films from all over Latin-America (including Brazil) and films from Spain and Portugal. This was a daring conception to cover about two different continents. It worked, however, showing amazing similarities between the different film industries. It probably signifies also a dominance of cultural and language points of view over political and economic dependencies on the United States. Considering past values and one’s own origins can be interpreted as a reaction against globalization.

For the first time, an Ibero-American Film Market was established that could develop into a meeting point for filmic relations between Spain/Portugal and Latin-America, and could in particular help Spanish and Portuguese films to enter the Latin-American continent.

As a result of this program expansion, some of the best Spanish films of the season were presented to the Guadalajara public. Among them Manuel Gutiérrez Aragon’s Berlinale-entry “Your Next Life” (La vida que te espera) and the San-Sebastian entry “Take My Eyes” (Te doy mis ojos), a first feature film by Iciar Bollain (read José Carlos Avellar’s review). It’s an amazing debut, rather conventionally narrated, but based on two extraordinary (and extraordinarily guided) actors, Laia Marull and Luis Tosar. Of course, Ms. Bollain’s sympathies are with the woman who is deeply humiliated and brutally beaten by her husband, but astonishingly she tries to understand the man’s nature as well. It’s a film where you see the catastrophe drawing nearer and nearer, and see how the two plunge inevitably into it, without any chance of avoiding it.

The festival is called “Muestra Cine Mexicano e Ibero-Americano” (Exhibition of Mexican and Ibero-American Films), but translates this as “Guadalaja Filmfest”. Fest, not Festival. This might be the influence of Variety business English, but signifies as well an allusion to “feast”, fiesta. Indeed, there’s an extensive Mexican life outside the cinema halls. The opening and closing ceremonies were arranged in an old theater, the Degollado; the subsequent parties were full of life in the midst of the beautiful architecture of the old city. Special guests were greeted with Mexican lunches: Paolo Taviani and Vittorio Storaro (the festival presented homages to them and offered an Italian focus), and Ana Ofelia Murguía, the renowned Mexican actress who was specially been honored.

In 2002, the festival organized a conference on “Women and Cinema in Latin-America”. This time, Patricia Torres presented the book she had composed of the conference contributions, published by the Guadalajara University (one of the major publishers of books on cinema in Mexico — among them the work of the unforgotten film historian Emilio García Riera). In addition, a first printed issue of the online magazine “The Thinking Eye” (El ojo que piensa) (English version / Spanish version) was presented. This website is published in cooperation between the Festival, the University and FIPRESCI and is edited by the wonderful Lucy Virgen. It offers reports, reviews and reflections on Latin-American cinema, in its last issue focusing on the entries to the festival.