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Programme 2012

Sangre dir. Amat EscalanteSangre dir. Amat Escalante
"Mexican Cinema" takes wing with Carlos Reygadas

With over a dozen films from some of the most fascinating Mexican directors of recent years and an accompanying retrospective of Carlos Reygadas' complete body of work, this year's 'Mexican Cinema' section is set to be one of the highlights of this year's festival lineup.

The Mexican cinema that has been the toast of the festival circuit of late has little in common with the spectacular style of Alejandro González Iñárritu or the films of Diego Luna, Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Robert Rodriguez. This New Horizons retrospective shows that today the work of many Mexican filmmakers is much closer in spirit to European and Asian minimalist cinema than it is to the Hollywood glitter of American movies. And that isn't too surprising - Mexican culture, after all, is made up of enduring contrasts. Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz's classic collection of essays on the Mexican search for identity, The Labyrinth of Solitude, published in 1950, in many ways still rings true today: the effusive, direct, passionate and brilliant Spanish heritage continues to clash and meld with what is fundamentally Mexican - the melancholy stoicism, the cordiality, the humility, but also the attention to esthetic form.

Paz's reflections, though penned over half a century ago, could very well stand today as the manifesto of Mexico's youngest generation of filmmakers, those born in the seventies and eighties, and whose films have been described, not altogether generously, as 'chamago cinema' (grimy cinema) by some of Mexico's more conservative critical voices. Directors identified with the movement break traditional conventions of film writing, hire untrained actors, and improvise on the set. Their films are marked by stylistic restraint, a lack of conspicuous devices or effects, and a break from conventional narrative. Much of their work focuses on everyday experience, is frequently enigmatic, even brutal in its naturalism, and leaves viewers to search for their own answers to only vaguely articulated questions.

The current's flow owes its direction largely to the style's leading exponent, internationally acclaimed director Carlos Reygadas, who has firmly established himself among the pantheon of contemporary cinema. Formally sophisticated, detached, and minimalistic, his films Japón (2002), Battle in Heaven (2005), and Silent Light (2007) are seductively contemplative works. His films tackle value systems with a refreshing sobriety and make startling juxtapositions between sexuality, violence, politics, and religion, while examining the subtleties of the Mexican character. A shining light among his contemporaries is the younger and (for now) less prominent Amat Escalante, whose debut Blood (2005) jolts, as do Reygadas' films, by its almost biological naturalism in exploring the darker sides of a marriage. Characteristic for both filmmakers are evocative sequences designed to throw us just a little, or maybe a lot, off balance.

Nicolás Pereda has been called the movement's boy wonder. Attentive to the intimacy of family relationships and the lives of Mexico's working class, he mixes an offbeat brand of humor with a melancholy sense of decline and loss. His Perpetuum Mobile (2009) casts returning collaborators Teresa Sánchez and Gabino Rodríguez in yet another variant of the director's recurring theme of a mother and son living a difficult, yet unbreakable emotional bond.

Another adherent of the style is Matías Meyer, son of French-born historian Jean Meyer. The elder Meyer is the author of books on the contentious subject of the Cristeros Wars, Christian uprisings in the 1920s and 1930s against the repressively anti-clerical policies of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Following in his father's footsteps, Matias Meyer made his anti-western, The Last Christeros (2011), in opposition to the big budget production on the same theme, Cristiada, by director Dean Wright. In Meyer's film, a lone holdout unit of cristero rebels roams the sun-drenched Central American landscape, battling against the government forces tracking them down, and even more so against their own doubts and painful longing for the past.

The section will also feature several debuts from promising talents. In Misadventure (2011), Michel Lipkes' static camera follows an elderly balloon salesman on the last day his life. We watch as the man walks the streets of Mexico, fearing the death that is on the doorstep, alone, but surrounded by memories. Daniela Schneider, known for her scriptwriting on films by Reygadas and Escalante, makes her directing debut with Cesado (2011), the story of a middle aged couple, she a former model, he an intellectual who hasn't been himself since suffering a stroke and indulges indiscriminate urges when not watching classic horror films. The story plays out with a bare minimum of dialogue but with a keen attention to images in this film set in a beautiful 19th-century house whose tasteful furnishings become the sadly ironic canvas for a family's hardships.

The retrospective's audiences will take in varied visions of Mexico. Dog Days (2011), by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Jose Álvarez, examines the traditional rituals and arts of the Totonac people of Veracruz. The collection of short essay films Revolution (2010) brings together three generations of filmmakers who offer their interpretation of what the Mexican Revolution menas today, on the occasion of its centennial. Rounding off the retrospective with force will be one of the few female directors working since the 1980s in the male-dominated industry - a luminary of Latin American women's cinema, María Novaro directs a story of love and resilience in The Good Herbs (2010).

Agnieszka Szeffel,

"Gazeta Wyborcza Wrocław", 17.05.2012

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