The Voices That Emerge

in 37th Guadalajara International Film Festival

by Robert Horton

Not only were the films in the FIPRESCI selection of the 37th Guadalajara Film Festival an intriguing selection, they were also presented in some of the most congenial circumstances possible. This had to do with the welcoming attitude of this exuberant festival, and also with the spaces in which the movies were projected.

I didn’t get to all of the venues serving the festival, but saw a couple of films at the Cineforo, a comfortable single-screen theater in Guadalajara’s Centro with the feel of a basement cine-club for movie fanatics. The opening-night gala, devoted to Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, took place at the Telmex, a huge performing-arts theater that ably handled the raucous visual and acoustic needs of that gargantuan film. But most of the screenings our jury attended were in the Cineteca, Guadalajara’s temple of cinema (affiliated with the university), the kind of building that every movie-drunk city should have. The Cineteca has five state-of-the-art theaters, including the 355-seat “Guillermo Del Toro Room,” plus a wonderful lecture hall and a huge concert theater (in which the closing-night film, Les Tigres de la Norte, a tuneful documentary about the popular musical group, was screened). Cineteca also boasts an astonishing outdoor screen that looks out on its monumental plaza, a screen boasting a resolution of three and a half million pixels—I don’t really know what that means, but the images were razor-sharp and bright even in sunlight.

I mention these movie palaces to suggest the respect with which Guadalajara presents its adventures in moviegoing. This is a festival of large scale and busy programming, and more than a few tequila-fueled parties. Speaking of which, theatrical presentation extended to the parties themselves, including one post-midnight session (on a night with a torrential downpour) at the vast Guanamor Teatro Estudio, where the theatre group CinemaCanta staged a live excerpt of their immersive performance of … believe it or not, Salo, inspired by Sade (and by Pasolini’s film). Whatever you thought of it—and the crowd seemed a little bewildered—it certainly gave evidence of Guadalajara’s willingness to explore the cutting edge.

At the Cineteca lecture hall, our jury attended two interviews, one with Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first Black woman to serve as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a congenial presence who probably had more interesting stories than the ones she got around to telling onstage. The second was a tribute to Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho, whose work includes Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos, Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education, Arturo Ripstein’s Deep Crimson, and Lucrecia Martel’s Zama. He spoke about shooting an upcoming film with Alejandro González Iñárritu, Bardo.

As for the films, the FIPRESCI jury gave its award in the Mexican competition to Courage (Coraje), directed by Rubén Rojo Aura. The director’s mother, Marta Aura, plays the film’s lead role, an actress whose eyesight is beginning to fail her at the same time the theater company she’s been been associated with for years is facing dramatic budget cuts. Her current performance? Mother Courage. The other challenge is the re-appearance of her 50-something son (Símon Guevara), a fuckup in almost every aspect of his life, whose failures at sobriety and business are written in his face. Director Aura uses Brechtian devices in his approach, including an intrusion of the filmmaking process into the story, which keeps the situation from slipping into the overly-familiar.

Other films worth mentioning include The Realm of God (El reino de Dios), which proved popular with the Guadalajara crowd. Claudia Sante-Luce’s portrait of rural life through a little boy’s eyes deftly blended comedy and haunting imagery to create its unusual world. I liked Pablo Orta’s Goya, a story of two brothers, one still in childhood, who decide to liberate a dog that seems to have been left behind in their apartment complex. Lots of droll deadpan humor in this one, and a few genuinely unexpected moments along the way. And by the way, am I right in seeing a parody of Roma in the film’s opening minutes—similar shots of a building entryway, the rectangle of sky that looms above the concrete, even the presence of dog turds? Maybe.

It might not be accurate to talk about “liking” Jorge Ivan Sanders-Ortega’s Brother, Kept (Guardado, hermano), a frequently unpleasant but formally interesting tale of (again) two brothers, one of them disabled. The setting is a small town, where the action veers from cartoonish exaggeration to gritty realism.

There were also documentaries in our voting category, the best of which, to my eyes, was Xun Sero’s Mamá, a touching and sometimes harrowing look at the filmmaker’s mother. A hardworking indigenous woman whose manner seems invariably upbeat, this mother’s past is full of sadness and some instances of troubling violence—some of which coincide with the filmmaker’s own origins. It’s an admirable example of the first-person documentary.

One of the things that fascinates me about the FIPRESCI jury experience is the opportunity to see films from a country while being surrounded by that country’s culture and people. Wandering through the labyrinthine Mercardo San Juan de Dios, the largest indoor market in Latin America, or seeing the cathedral in Zapopan, or spending an evening in a traditional cantina with a band playing Mexican songs and the crowd singing along—these are the experiences that are in conversation with the Mexican films we see. The voices that emerge create a challenging, discordant, ambitious combination, as they should.

Robert Horton