This unusual film was introduced by its writer-director Alejandra Sánchez who joined ¡Viva! programmer Rachel Hayward for a Q&A after the screening. Ms Sanchez is a documentary filmmaker who has here moved into ‘documentary drama’. In 2006 she made a documentary about the violent attacks on women in the city of Juárez near the US border. She made contact with a woman whose daughter had been killed in Juárez in one of these attacks and who was now looking after her two small grandchildren. Ten years after her daughter’s death this woman was herself attacked and shot several times outside her house. Somehow she survived the shooting (which Alejandra Sanchez argued was prompted by her work as an activist in the campaign about violence directed towards women). The director then decided to dramatise the story of the two children, one of whom witnessed the shooting. She wrote a script and then decided to cast the real teenagers to play themselves. As well as this element, she also used photographs and ‘home movie footage’ of the children and their mother as part of her film.
In the film the two children, Jade and Kaleb, now teenagers, are visited in the hospital where their grandmother is in a coma by a journalist, Martha, who has been summoned by the family’s lawyer, David. Martha (Nora Huerto) is asked to take the teenagers on a trip, away from possible danger, with the hope that they will be able to meet up with their grandmother in Mexico City when she has recovered and go with her to a safe house in Canada.
Seguir viviendo thus turns into a road movie. The brother and sister are understandably traumatised by this second attack. Kaleb never speaks (a device suggested by the director) but his sister eventually comes round. Later it is revealed that Martha has lost her small son in a car accident and one stop on the road trip is at the bar owned by her former lover, the dead boy’s father. There isn’t a great deal of plot but the road trip includes some of the familiar generic moments, including a drive down the coast and various overnight stays in motels and at least one village house. The film has an ‘open’ ending with a song and an animated sequence – which I certainly wasn’t expecting. During the Q&A Alejandra told us that she chose the ending against advice because she preferred it to the more realistic end point of the airport where the teenagers would board a plane to take them to the safe house.
Why was the children’s mother murdered in the first place? Why are women being attacked in Cuidad Juárez? These are the questions that several people in the audience wanted answers for. Alejandra was not able to answer such questions directly (it may have been simply a translation problem). She said that the attacks and killings had been going on for more than 20 years and that you really had to live in Mexico to appreciate what this meant. I took her statements to imply that the children’s mother was killed almost as part of the overall violence of the city rather than for something that she did and that the grandmother was attacked because she was an activist campaigning for better police and judicial action against the killers. This discussion did, of course, raise the spectre of violence associated with Mexico’s drug gangs, especially in the areas near the US border. A Guatemalan filmmaker in the audience said that this violence should be discussed and audiences needed to be educated about it and why it has happened – otherwise the representation of Central American societies remains simply barbaric for outsiders. This is something people feel strongly about and indeed it does need discussion. Both Rachel Hayward and Andy Willis asked questions which tried to focus on how Alejandra felt in dealing with such highly emotional (and possibly personally dangerous) filmmaking. There are a couple of scenes where the characters think they might be being followed and Alejandra admitted that the paranoia was ‘real’ for herself and the teenagers and her crew.
This an emotional and at times very moving film and Alejandra Sanchez is a brave filmmaker who deserves support. The film is technically well-made but it is quite short (81 mins) for a feature and I did feel that the final section lacked something. I fear that the film will mainly be seen at specialist film festivals but I hope it does find a wider audience and that it encourages other filmmakers to be equally brave and authorities to initiate action against the violence and towards support for the victims.
If you haven’t yet made it to Manchester’s new palace of the arts at HOME, this coming weekend offers an excellent introduction to its cinema programme with the second ‘weekender’ of the well-established ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival now in its 21st edition. This year, with the move from Cornerhouse to HOME, ¡Viva! is appearing as three separate ‘weekenders’ and this one focuses on New Mexican Cinema.
Starting on Thursday June 18 there will be six films, four of them playing twice, plus various other events. On Thursday at 18.15 before the first film En el último trago, HOME’s new Director of Film Jason Wood will draw on one of his own areas of interest in a ‘One Hour Introduction to Mexican Cinema and the Tradition of the Road Movie’. Three of the weekend’s films are road movies and the first will be introduced by its director Jack Zagha Kababie – who will also be the focus of a Q&A after the second screening on Saturday. On Sunday there will also be a Q&A with Alejandra Sánchez, writer-director of Seguir viviendo, another road movie. Paraíso (2013) directed by Mariana Chenillo is described as a “delightful comedy drama” about moving to the big city. As well as two public screenings this film will also be screened for an Adult Study Morning on Saturday 20 June (10.30). Ana Valbuena will present the film and lead discussion in Spanish for adult language learners.
Only one of the films, Güeros (2014) (showing on Monday), has a UK distributor so this weekend is a chance to see Mexican films that are unlikely to appear anywhere else. Cornerhouse/HOME performs a valuable service for cinephiles and Hispanophiles alike in bringing Spanish and Latin American Cinema to Manchester. The films in this weekender all look as if they engage with contemporary Mexican society in different and exciting ways. I hope to be there on Saturday and Sunday and I’ll be reporting back. It’s going to be good!
Further details about the weekender can be found here or click on the image above. Reports from previous ¡Viva! Festivals are archived via this tag. HOME has five comfortable auditoria with big screens. Projection is top notch and admission prices compare favourably with multiplexes. Come and enjoy yourself.
Apart from co-productions, I think I’ve only seen one other Venezuelan film and that was at a festival. All credit then to Matchbox films, the distributor of the UK DVD released today, 27th April. In some ways very familiar, this is actually quite a complex and unusual film. Ostensibly a distinctly Hispanic Gothic ‘haunted house’ story, the title reveals that there is also a ‘time’ dimension which adds a further element to the mix.
The central character is Dulce (played by Ruddy Rodriguez), a mother with two young boys living with a man who is the father of the younger child. The narrative begins in 1981 when Dulce is arrested for the murder of her partner in circumstances she doesn’t really understand. Thirty years later she is released from prison but held under house arrest in the same old house. Where are her two sons? By constantly moving between 1981 and 2011 the story is gradually revealed. This ‘reveal’ also requires an ‘investigator’, here a young priest. Added to the Catholic discourse is a visit from a medium and a spirit guide drawn from Venezuela’s African and indigenous cultural mix. The priest will discover that the house has a history and that previous families who lived there also had problems.
At the beginning of the film I felt that there was something odd about the aesthetics of the film and for the first few minutes I wasn’t sure if this was meant to be Spain or Latin America (I hadn’t checked before sticking the DVD in the player). The haunted house and the female-centred family melodrama have been explored in several high profile Spanish films including El orfanato (2007) but I sensed rather than saw directly links to Mexican horror films like Kilómetro 31 (2006) or in the case of the spirit guide, aspects of Cuban cinema and Santería (a religious tradition found across Cuba and Venezuela). Another Cuban link and the first indication that confirmed Latin American cinema for me was the importance of baseball.
I can’t imagine that first time producer-writer-director Alejandro Hidalgo had much of a budget to play with but he handles the complex shifts in time and the repetition of sequences from different perspectives very well. The house itself is a great setting and although the pacing and use of music teeters on the edge of constant portentousness, he manages to keep control and deliver. Looking at the comments from various horror fansites the film has gone down well with its intended audiences. If I have a criticism it’s that I would like to have found out more about the early history of the house, but really the story is complex enough and the closing sequences spring some surprises and twists. I hope the film finds its audience in the UK.
Official trailer (US?):
As part of the ¡Viva! Weekender, Cornerhouse also offered a ‘One Hour Intro’, ostensibly to complement the screening of María y el Araña but in fact also useful in thinking about the other two Latin American films screening at the weekend as well.
Dr James Scorer, Lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester delivered a talk for exactly an hour, showing a multitude of clips and setting out some intriguing arguments in what was an entertaining and informative session.
James began with a statement that certainly made me think. Latin America is now the most urbanised region on the planet with 80% of the population living in cities and surrounding urban areas. Given that for many years the image of Latin America on screen often included the rain forests of Brazil, the Andes, the pampas of Argentina or the varied topography of Mexico, it is certainly worth considering just how many recent films have focused on urban life. James grouped films in terms of how they addressed the problems of rapid urbanisation and how these have produced shanty towns/favelas alongside modernist architecture and gated communities. Inequalities have helped to create criminal gangs and kidnappings. The transport problems and the lack of planning has produced an alienated workforce, broken up traditional communities and traditional communities etc.
Although I had seen several of the films used as examples, there were many others that I’ll certainly try to see. What struck me eventually though was that all of the examples pointed to universal problems with urbanisation. The same issues about crime, health etc. issues in shanty towns can be found in numerous Indian films (or in films set in Kenya or South Africa) and it also struck me that some of the stories were similar to those found in Italian films of the 1950s/60s as well as other European films. There are some specific differences in Latin America of course but the issues of migration, alienation, homelessness, public health etc. are pretty much the same everywhere.
This introduction has provoked me to think in some different ways about Latin American cinema and in the process it’s reminded me of what a rich film culture there is to discover. Roll on ¡Viva!’s Mexican weekender! (By which time it’ll be at HOME!)