A Female Take on Mexico 

A Female Take on Mexico


During the first few decades of last century the film industry in Mexico, as in other countries, was the domain of men. Yet, a book published in 1992 by the Centre Pompidou in Paris not only lists the names of famous actresses such as María Félix, Silvia Pinal and Dolores del Río, but it also mentions women who began their careers as actresses but later on played their part in film production and direction as well. The first female Mexican movie director appears to have been Mimí Derba (1888–1953), originally a singer and actress who, as a member of Azteca Films, was also involved in the writing and production of several features, at least one of which she also directed back in 1917. Matilde Soto Landeta (1910–1999) was another pioneer in the industry. She began as a continuity supervisor but in 1948 debuted as a director on Lola Casanova, after which followed several other pictures. Marcela Fernández Violante (b. 1941) arrived on the movie set equipped with an education in sociology, which is evident in the short films she made in the 1970s. Sociological themes were also treated by María Novaro (b. 1951), who initially studied sociology and then film at the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos. She began as a cinematographer and sound mixer but shot her first short in 1984, An Island Surrounded by Water (Una isla rodeada de agua), an adaptation of a novel by Juan Rulfo seen from a markedly feminine point of view. Women’s issues are also the subject of other shorts and her first two features, Lola (1989) and Danzón (1990). Maria Novaro, who is active to this day (The Good Herbs / Las buenas hierbas won an award at the Havana Film Festival in 2010), is considered the patron of assertive women’s film in Mexico today.

The founding of the IMCINE film institute in 1983 undeniably facilitated the expansion of these films. It was this organisation which assisted the careers of the country’s most outstanding writer-directors and paved the way towards a new Mexican cinema that soon began making a splash at international festivals. Alongside the legendary names of their more famous male colleagues, some of whom had already moved into international production, the new millennium saw an unprecedented number of women enter the Mexican film stage, the majority born in the early 1980s. According to the statistical yearbook published by IMCINE, movies made by women represented 10% of national production in 2007, while this figure rose to 20% in 2014. Many are now winning awards at festivals, primarily at the national level for the time being (the IFFs in Guadalajara and Morelia), but some have enjoyed success internationally as well.

What is it about these young female directors, most of them university educated, that has captured the imagination not only of viewers, but also festival juries and consequently producers as well? From the representative selection we have included in our programme, we will observe the courageous and spontaneous way they introduce into their films their generation’s specifically feminine take on reality, love and sex, and also issues of parenthood, the quest for the meaning of life and for their own identity. Yet they also have their own special way of looking at social problems, and of isolating aspects of reality which their male counterparts might overlook. An example of this is the short film Borde (2014), shot by Victoria Franco (b. 1983), in which the theme of social exclusion is interpreted with remarkable empathy for the frustrations of the central character. In her first feature Through the Eyes (A los ojos, 2014), which the director made with her brother Michel Franco, an experienced filmmaker and producer (his films After Lucia / Después de Lucía and Chronic are familiar from Cannes), the protagonist is a social worker trying her utmost to help the kind of unfortunates typified by the heroine of Borde. The broad, comprehensive shots of urban streets, where hundreds of similar human wrecks languish amid piles of trash as the victims of alcohol and drugs, reflect the director’s documentary background, which, to a certain extent, prevails over the composition of the dramatic storyline. Elements of social realism will also be found in Claudia Sainte-Luce’s first film The Amazing Cat Fish (Los insólitos peces gato, 2013), whose main character is unexpectedly lifted from her tedious existence as a supermarket cashier when she meets an unusual family who take her into their fold. The young director captured the complex relationships within her heterogeneous society with such distinctive humour and a sense of the poetic contours shaping all aspects of life that, in addition to awards at domestic festivals, she also won the Junior Jury Award at Locarno. Humour, if rather unintentional, also underlies The Pleasure Is Mine (El placer es mío, 2015), whose author Elisa Miller is the best known Mexican female director in international circles and the only one to have won a Palme d’Or, for her short movie Watching It Rain (Ver llover, 2006). The characters in her feature debut Alicia, Go Yonder (Vete más lejos, Alicia, 2010), like those appearing in her second feature, are middle class. The Pleasure Is Mine tells the story of a young couple’s relationship – initially portrayed as idyllic – which is disrupted from the outside and deteriorates under the strain. Here, the director explores the impact of the traditional division of labour between men and women, a division that hinders the latter’s attempts at emancipation. Alongside explicit sex scenes, the filmmaker also delves into the psychological state of the female protagonist. The story of two people living in an unstable relationship and the rejection of the substitute father by the woman’s eight-year-old son is the subject of Semana Santa (2015), whose creator Alejandra Márquez Abella made two documentaries before shooting this feature debut. The sea resort location and the cast add to the picture’s appeal, however, in the second half the director abandons her original line tracing the change in the relationship between the little boy and the mother’s boyfriend and begins to follow each of the three characters separately. A romantic encounter fuels the second film by Katina Medina Mora You’ll Know What to Do With Me (Sabrás qué hacer conmigo, 2015), whose protagonists have to deal with health issues and whose elaboration betrays the director’s experience in stage direction.

Yulene Olaizola made a name for herself back in 2008 with the documentary The Intimacies of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo (Intimidades de Shakespeare y Víctor Hugo), screened and awarded at a large number of festivals. Karlovy Vary will also be showcasing another of her works, the remarkable Fogo (2012), shot by cinematographer Diego García and included in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight in 2012. The languid images of the stark, desert island landscape are brightened only by a handful of local inhabitants who bring elements of fiction into the piece; the picture thus becomes something of an elegiac contemplation on the futility of existence. Melancholy tones also characterise Tatiana Huezo’s Tempestad (2016), recently screened at the Berlinale. Here, too, documentary and feature intertwine in a work that is consistent in its authentic portrayal of the lives of social outcasts. In a certain sense, the characters appearing in Betzabé García’s documentary Kings of Nowhere (Los reyes del pueblo que no existe, 2015) are also outsiders. García set her film in a partially submerged village in Northwestern Mexico; most of the inhabitants have left, and the few who remain try to continue the lives they have always known in defiance of what fate has thrown at them. Betzabé García (b. 1990) is the youngest of the Mexican female directors we are presenting at the festival; their collective talent and vital creativity provide a guarantee that we’ll be seeing their new films in future years, both at the Karlovy Vary IFF and at other world festivals.

Eva Zaoralová

  • The Amazing Cat Fish Neobyčejná rybka / Los insólitos peces gato
    Directed by: Claudia Sainte-Luce
    Mexico, France, 2013, 89 min

    Claudia has no family, nor any close friends. Yet when she meets a sick mother of four children, her life is turned around as she encounters a kind of trust she has never known before. A perceptive and personal story by a debuting director on the joys and woes that can impact any one of us.

  • Borde Na pokraji / Borde
    Directed by: Victoria Franco
    Mexico, 2014, 18 min

    Destitute, lonely and unable to look after her five children, single mother Mónica has hit rock bottom. She finds temporary distraction drinking and huffing with a bunch of dossers. When she discovers that her children have destroyed the only thing that brought a little light into her life, she realises she can’t go on.

  • Fogo Fogo / Fogo
    Directed by: Yulene Olaizola
    Mexico, Canada, 2012, 61 min

    They have spent their entire lives here, but now the remaining inhabitants of Fogo Island have to leave their mystically beautiful yet almost uninhabitable home. But what if they decide to remain in this desolate region in defiance of their inevitable destiny?

  • Kings of Nowhere Králové města duchů / Los reyes del pueblo que no existe
    Directed by: Betzabé García
    Mexico, 2015, 83 min

    The Mexican village of San Marcos, half submerged thanks to the construction of a nearby dam, was once home to three hundred families. The ghostly ruins of abandoned houses are silhouetted against the sky like solemn shrines to a joyful past. Here only a handful of courageous inhabitants remain, refusing to be driven out by rising water levels or swayed by the fear emanating from the surrounding wilderness.

  • The Pleasure Is Mine Potěšení na mé straně / El placer es mío
    Directed by: Elisa Miller
    Mexico, 2015, 93 min

    Lovers Mateo and Rita move to the country where their romantic relationship is unexpectedly put to the test – with less than stellar results. The filmmaker’s style is defined by explicit sex scenes reflecting the attitudes and feelings of her somewhat unbalanced generation.

  • Semana Santa Svatý týden / Semana Santa
    Directed by: Alejandra Márquez Abella
    Mexico, 2015, 87 min

    A family arrives at a seaside resort and, at first glance, they don’t seem any different from all the other cheerful holidaymakers. The relationships between the inquisitive son, his widowed mother and her new boyfriend are extremely fragile, however, as they always are in such cases. The promise of endless lazy days soon becomes a test of mutual solidarity.

  • Tempestad Bouře / Tempestad
    Directed by: Tatiana Huezo
    Mexico, 2016, 105 min

    A contemplative documentary road movie which unfolds along a 2,000 km journey across Mexico. The film interweaves the dark testimonies of two women who describe the appalling methods used by powerful cartels to control defenceless individuals, while the state authorities turn a blind eye. An alarming account of injustice in a country whose inhabitants are imprisoned by fear.

  • Through the Eyes Do očí / A los ojos
    Directed by: Victoria Franco, Michel Franco
    Mexico, 2014, 71 min

    Mónica is a social worker trying to help victims of alcohol and drug abuse living on the streets of a deprived neighbourhood in Mexico City and, to a certain extent, she is succeeding. The health condition suffered by her son Omar, however, places her in a serious moral dilemma. How will the young woman deal with her situation?

  • You'll Know What to Do with Me Co se mnou uděláš / Sabrás qué hacer conmigo
    Directed by: Katina Medina Mora
    Mexico, 2015, 96 min

    A story told in three chapters tracing the development of a relationship that began out of the blue. This unconventionally structured romantic drama examines the significance of love and the fact that men and women often look at life situations from completely different perspectives.


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