Two Seasons in Mex Hell Diego Trerotola on Mexican Independent Films

in 5th Mexico City International Contemporary Film Festival

by Diego Gustavo Trerotola

Mexican indie cinema is experiencing a bright, expansive moment. Far from the lavish, baroque universes of the Mexican Holy(wood) Three — Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro —, young filmmakers are behind a series of no budget, highly creative, narrative movies that bring minimalistic experiences to fest audiences. (In Mexico City during the recent FICCO Cinemex 2008, native-made independent movies were the main interest and attraction.)

Marching straight though the desert heat, Matías Meyer’s Wadley ultimately reaches an oasis of the mind: a moving hallucination in the middle of a landscape of uncontrolled nature. An anonymous young loner walks through a horizon of stones, grass and trees, on a quest to mix the Mexican terrain with his mental scenario. This kind of head trip is not unusual for young educated Mexicans looking for an introduction to a primitive sensation: to find peyote hidden under the earth, then to touch the sky with a blown-out mind. Peyote is a hallucinogenic cactus used in Indian rituals, and the movie is about reaching alternate states that provoke a confusion between outer and inner space. Straightforward in style, Wadley is, at its best, a drug movie as a cosmic voyage, and with a great cinematic beat.

At the beginning, the land is a primal beauty of shadowless wilderness, identifiable under stark sunlight as rural Mexico. But when the trippy night starts, the flames, flashlight and fireworks cause the feeling of a private inferno. Is the essence of cinema the writing of movement through light? This movie’s hand-held HD camera creates a visual portrait — from the intimate pulse of a simple travelogue to dreamlike illumination, from contemplative moments, peaceful and still, to stylized slow motion tracking shots. The movie isn’t far from being surrealistic, and maybe it’s very close to Antonin Artaud’s Peyote Mystic. Whatever, Matias Meyer finds a wide range of moods to represent the devilish charm of liberation in the Mexican desert.

Like Wadley, Parque Vía, Enrique Rivero’s first feature, is a one-character movie with a minimalist narrative. Beto is the keeper of an expensive home in Mexico City, though inside it’s barren, empty. During the last ten years, he’s been living in confinement, with a life reduced to cleaning up and watching TV. His routine includes the visit of his lover, a prostitute as deadpan as he is. The character of Beto is very close to Peter Sellers’s Chance in Being There (1979): the outside world is not an option in his agoraphobic life.

Based on real events, Parque Via reminds of other movies about confinement in Mexican cinema, i.e. films of Arturo Ripstein, Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel. But the situation here doesn’t have a melodramatic or religious context; its dry narrative is only about social struggle, a special representation of social problems, how capitalism builds prisons in the most unimaginable places. The protagonist, Beto, has a panic attack during his visit to a market, the epicenter of capitalist scheming and bargaining. The representation of space in Parque Vía is a succession of terrible postcards of solitude, terror and illness. The filmmaker, Rivero, was an industrial architect before he started making his movie. He shows a perfect eye for framing his locations. To have such a director with such a different background, and with an unusual point of view to explore the possibilities of cinematic language: that’s a good beginning for a new generation of Mexican indie filmmakers.