Red Shoes – The Big Winner of Sofia

in 27th Sofia International Film Festival

by Rosen Spassov

The minimalist story from Mexico won the sympathy of three of the festival’s juries.

During his lifetime, the great cinephile Georgi Angelov used to say that if you sleep in your own bed, then you are not at a festival. For a long time, I did not fully understand his aphorism, until I was invited again to be part of the FIPRESCI jury this year at the Sofia International Film Festival 2023, after the unfortunate 2020 when both screenings and discussions took place online. So, torn between commitments at work, going to screenings, and home-related engagements, which also require attention daily , I managed to see only 11 films for the duration of the festival – those from the international competition (The Art of Falling by Orlin Milchev I had already seen before). 

We presented the award to Red Shoes (Zapatos rojos, directed by Carlos Eichelmann Kaiser, a co-production between Mexico and Italy). The film also won the Youth Jury Award, as well as the Grand prize ”Sofia – City of Cinema”. This can mean two things: the film is actually good and/or the different juries share the same taste. Red Shoes tells the story of an elderly farmer, Tacho, who receives tragic news and is forced to take a long journey to Mexico City. The narrative structure of the film is surgically split into two parts right in the middle of its runtime. The two parts differentiate in emotional content but are organically intertwined and complement each other, welded by the adequate directing.

In the beginning, the action develops slowly and silently in a remote suburban area – the real-life habitat of the unprofessional actor Eustacio Ascacio. To have him is an outstanding casting decision that adds to the authenticity of the story and breathes life into the film. He was picked by accident while the director was working on a screenplay about his relationship with his father. During filming, the film crew learnt that Tacho has lost his daughter in real life and the director realised that not the casting, or the producer, but the energy of the film itself has picked this man for that role. His home is a two-hour plane ride from Mexico City, followed by a seven-hour drive, two of which offroad!!! The adventure is worth it, because Tacho’s face, captured in brilliant close-ups, says it all. The overall performance of Ascacio is impressive and memorable. Carlos Eichelmann Kaiser mentioned that the key to him was his wife, who was the mediator between Tacho and the film crew. A chance meeting changes the direction in which the film develops, as well as the original idea of the authors, since the personal story of the actor also interacts organically with the living matter of the story.

The second part of the film is much more dynamic and visually rich. We enter the chaos of the capital and bureaucracy. The bright sun of the desert landscape is replaced by a humid and rainy night-time Mexico City. The cactuses turn into heterogeneous, mostly obscure characters. The contrast between the two is brutal, but they complement each other and intertwine so organically. Naturally, chance introduces the main character to a noble sex worker – a colossal cliché that is generally irritating, but its adverse effect is mitigated by Natalia Solián’s performance. She brings in a completely different energy than that set in the first part of the story, and the main theme of the film smoothly modifies to include violence against women—as much locally for Mexico, as it being a global issue. The two actors make for an unusual, but complementary tandem. Their performances culminate in two confessional monologues. Generally, cinema should rely on the visual means of narration, but in this case, the two actors’ performances achieve a strong effect on the viewer, who in turn is left to rely on their imagination and intelligence. The violence in the film is rather abstract, nevertheless its presence is completely palpable for the viewer.

At the award ceremony, Keiser several times described Red Shoes as a fragile film. Maybe it is, but make no mistake—it hits hard and right on target, because it is direct and frank, albeit silent… as is Tacho.

Rosen Spassov
Edited by Savina Petkova