Hola Mexico! In an Australian city near you now…..
Running into its fifth year, the Hola Mexico Film Festival is lighting up Melbourne’s Federation Square this week with a vibrant ensemble of hard-hitting, and unsettling cinematic contributions. The Festival Director, Samuel Dourke, quips that this year’s festival opened with “Bitten Bullet” (Bala Mordida) in Los Angeles in front of a 400-strong enthusiastic crowd and before the rather-less enthusiastic Mexican Ambassador. There are few politicians who would be prepared to admit publicly to endemic, violent corruption within its police force, and according to Douerk, “Bitten Bullet”, a somber reality check on the police force of Mexico City with Damian Alcazar playing a terrific lead as the bombastic, bent police commander, hit some arterial veins along the celluloid way.
Bitten Bullet and Mexican politicians
Although Bitten Bullet was knocked off the opening spot in Melbourne by the much anticipated “Revolucion”, also screening at the London Film Festival this month, it will be a relief to Dourak that Victoria’s capital is somewhat short on Mexican politicians because the Festival tackles some extremely thorny subjects with the colourfully raw vision for which Mexican cinema has become well-known. Despite the country “going through a rough patch”, as Dourek refers to the dark drug-related violence currently gripping the Latin nation, Mexico deserves a worldwide audience for its daring, unflinching and fascinating cinema. The Festival is proving to be an excellent showcase.
Controversy in the Leap Year
Last night’s offering, “Leap Year” (Año Bisestial) is a graphic Australian-Mexican crossover. Australian-born Michael Rowe portrays the loneliness of a young Oaxacan journalist in Mexico City with startling brusqueness, unsettling audiences with a terrifying vision of the potential pressures of urban living. The film, which controversially won the Camera d’Or at Cannes this year, is brilliant in its refusal to airbrush either the reality of Laura’s solitude or her body so that the camera appears to pry on her most private moments without any of the body beautification which Hollywood has left us expecting. The result of this intrusion is to provoke the audience with an unnerving grittiness, ugliness and sado-masochistic violence which leaves viewers shifting uncomfortably in their seats, unsure whether to stay or go. If you can stomach it – and the strong sexual scenes will not to be everyone’s taste – stay shifting in you seat and wait until the last moment. It is actually worth it.
Eating the Neighbours
Still higher on the squeam list is likely to be “We Are What We Are” (Somos Lo Que Hay), presented in Cannes 2010, and due to screen in Melbourne on Friday night in time for dinner, perhaps unsuitably appropriate, given that the film’s controversial theme centres around a modern day Mexican cannibal family. The film promises to be sold out and already has made waves around the world.
Although the Festival is clearly not all sombreros and Sol beer, neither is it all bleak and mordant. The Festival opened with great panache, introducing ‘Revolucion”, a mosaic composition of ten shorts directed by the great and good of Mexican cinema, including Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and Patricia Ryggen. Climbing into the minds of young Mexicans, the shorts explore through comedy, dialogue and neat vision the meaning of revolution in Mexico today, some one hundred years after Mexico gained independence. Some of the pieces work better than others, and arguably they don’t fit together as well as the directors might have hoped, but then none of them knew what the others were working on and the fragments nevertheless present a more distinctive whole that speaks of lingering disappointment. What the film lacks in cohesion is made up by different voices of hope and fear for the Mexico that exists and wants to exist. Although both Bernal and Luna’s contributions to the opener were the most eagerly anticipated, hot off the back of films such as Luna’s Abel, a quirky and personal look at childhood which also appears at the Festival and Bernal’s upcoming Mammoth, other contributions stood out more for their originality. Ryggen’s clever and witty composition, ‘Beautiful and Beloved’ explored the meaning of being Mexican to a second generation American immigrant who never knew she cared for her motherland until her father made her promise to bury him there with tragic-comic consequences. Also a frontrunner amongst the shorts was Carlos Reygados’ ‘This is My Kingdom” depicting a street-shot tequila-fuelled slice of the chaotic anarchy of life in modern Mexico.
And a few extra…
The Festival’s highlights include some five year specials like “Only God Knows” (Solo Dios Sabe) starring Luna, as well as the comic piece “Calling an Angel (Llamando un Angel). The treat for Australian cinema-goers, though, is yet to come in the form of Carlos Carrera, the great Mexican Director who will be there to answer Q&As after a screening of the much-lauded “The Crime of Father Amaro” (El Crimen de Padre Amaro) which was Oscar-nominated, Benjamin’s Woman (La Mujer de Benjamin) and “From Childhood” (De La Infancia”).
Throw in a few skeletons, some chocolate and a Day of the Dead Fiesta for Closing Night, and Melburnians are not going to be wanting to say Adios to Hola Mexico this Sunday!
Hola Mexico is running in Melbourne until tonight, Sydney from 4-14 November, Adelaide from 12-21 November and Perth from 18-24 November. All films are in Spanish with English subtitles.
31st October 2010