Turtles Know Something About Grief By Dana Duma

in 19th Toulouse Rencontres des Cinémas d'Amérique Latine

by Dana Duma

Though Turtle Family (Familia Tortuga) did not win the FIPRESCI Prize in the 19th annual Festival Rencontres Cinemas d`Amérique Latine in Toulouse, it was one of the best movies of the selection, and one of the three contenders from which the members of our jury ultimately had to choose. We all were happy to see this opera prima from the Mexican director Rubén Imaz Castro win the Grand Prix of the competition Coup de Coeur.

If La marea struck us with its visual beauty, Turtle Family – which is also an exploration of grief– impressed with its solid and skilful narrative structure and the amazing complexity of the portrayals. The movie depicts the everyday life of a middle-class family, composed of a widower, his son, his daughter and the disabled brother of the deceased wife. The uncle with a minor mental defect desperately tries to replace the mother, offering the teenagers the care and affection they need. Everything in this house spins around this gentle character, the most “normal” member of this disturbed family, as they prepare to gather at the mom’s grave on the anniversary of her death.

A year later, the grief is still in place, but the father and the children refuse to talk about it. Uncle Manuel witnesses each one’s crisis, but hesitates to interfere. The failed dialogue with the others is replaced by large monologues in front of a pet turtle, the sole member of the family who seems to accept his affection. While the father, the son and the daughter look for comfort in drinking, sex or drugs, Manuel tries to find the power to go on by offering compassion and protection to the others. The film leads us to understand that his choice is the better one, making us admire Castro’s ability to avoid didacticism and cheap melodrama. Thanks to the careful control of the story and the accumulation of minute details that comprise human nature, Turtle Family offers us an insight to the enigmatic workings of the soul. Manuel Portero’s powerful performance increases the interest of this moving opera prima, with a nuanced meditation on the fluid boundaries between normality and abnormality. The debut of the young Mexican Rubén Imaz Castro, recognized by the main jury “for its authenticity” would not be possible without the support (won in 2006) of Cinéma en construction, a section of the Rencontres Cinemas d`Amerique Latine that makes the Festival of Toulouse a friendly harbor for young film directors.