Secret Lives and Chance Meetings

in 52nd Cartagena International Film Festival

by Gustavo Noriega

A Secret WorldEven though it didn’t win, A Secret World (Un Mundo Secreto), young Mexican director Gabriel Mariño’s opera prima, was still one of the best quality movies in competition in the 52th edition of FICCI (Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena de Indias). A sweet fable dressed up as a road movie, it depicts the journey of a lonely and troubled teenager through Mexico, trying to find herself and to get away from her mother at the same time.                

A Secret World is also a journey from darkness to light. María (Lucía Uribe) writes letters to herself, fails to communicate with her mother, and gets laid with unknown people, thereby achieving only remorse and guilt. The narrative seems to be heading to what is nowadays a well-known place: the sordid tale of disconnected teenagers in a postmodern world. The turning point of the story — the window that suddenly opens to let air and light in — is the entrance of Juan (Roberto Mares), a boy much shyer and quieter than María. The increasingly warm relationship between Juan and María (take notice of the biblical names) is both subtly and classy told by Mariño. For the first time, Maria will find pleasure in sex and she will feel appreciated. But for her, Juan is just a milestone in her inner journey and soon Maria is on her own again.                    

As María travels from Mexico DF to the North of the country, Mariño chooses to avoid showing the landscape by staying always closer to his character. The film was shot on digital video but the director uses it in a classical way, believing in the value of the tripod and the focus. In fact, the focusing choices are the visual key of the movie. Earlier, María is shown in focus, and all the people around her appear to be blurred. This distinction is lost in the second half of A Secret World, in which everyone shares the benefits of a distinct and clear image.                

Lucía Uribe, as the tormented young girl, gives a flawless performance even though she is not a professional actress. Gabriel Mariño had known her since she was a little girl and thought that the character was perfect for her, even though Lucía’s personality bears no resemblance to María’s. Lucía is very expressive in a restrained way. She can reveal her rage without much emphasis. Her apparently random trip makes sense when she arrives at a natural reserve where whales can be seen and touched.                

Unfortunately, all the subtle self-limitation in Mariño’s art is lost in the last two shots. After María bonds with the whale, she turns smiling to the camera, acknowledging it in a way that betrays the classical and quiet style developed so far. Even worse is the final shot: a view of the road but turned upside down. It must be some kind of metaphor; too bad for a film so clean and sweet.

Edited by Steven Yates