“We have a lot of problems in Mexico,” a well-known Mexican filmmaker said somberly, frustrated and shaking his head earlier this week during a party at the Berlinale.
At the Mexican Embassy shortly after the first screening of “Revolución,” I ran into a director of one of the ten short films that make up the new omnibus movie marking the centennial of the Mexican Revolution.
“I have a hole in my heart,” the filmmaker told me, looking a bit shell-shocked and explaining that seeing the ten films on the big screen for the first time earlier that night was a “very heavy” experience.
“I need to go get drunk,” he half-smiled, excusing himself for a moment and making his way to the crowded tequila bar inside the Embassy.
Indeed, watching “Revolución” is an emotional experience, especially for those with links to Mexico. Laughter and tears as some of the brightest voices in Mexican cinema provoke a conversation one hundred years after the tumult of the 1910 Mexican Revolution that deposed the Latin American country’s autocratic leader, Porfirio Diaz.
“Now we need another revolution,” says a character in one of the films, a bold statement for a film that was not funded by a tequila company but is backed by the Mexican government.
“The idea came about naturally,” explained producer Pablo Cruz, a partner with Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna in Canana, the increasingly active company that produced the films. For the project, he relied mainly on a new generation of Mexican filmmakers who have made their name behind the camera over the past decade.
“It was a good opportunity to reflect on the state of the country and where the revolution had really brought about anything and what there was to be celebrated,” Cruz said during a press conference in Berlin.
“We all had freedom to do what we wanted to do,” offered Garcia-Bernal whose cousin, Omar, highlights the country’s contradictory national symbols in his piece, “Lucio.” It couldn’t be longer then ten minutes, and each [part of “Revolucion”] looked at how they could convey the story.” He sat alongside “Revolución” collaborators Mariana Chenillo, Fernando Eimbcke, Amat Escalante, Rodrigo Garcia, Diego Luna, Gerardo Naranjo, Rodrigo Pla, Carlos Reygadas, and Patricia Riggen, as well as producer Cruz, to discuss Mexico and their movies.
Fernando Eimbcke’s opening entry in “Revolución” — one of the strongest of the short films, launches the omnibus with an anticipation that is fueling his own characters on screen. A small Mexican village is expecting a well-known visitor and a band of locals rehearse for the big day, including one young musician who works extra hard to master his instrument for the VIP. The pains taken to prepare for the visit are even more striking and sad when the guest never arrives and the townspeople give up hope and quietly return to their lives. The tone is set for what will be a tough look at Mexican life.
Next up in “Revolución,” Riggen’s “Lindo y Querido” (Beautiful & Beloved) humorously and then poignantly sets an even more dramatic tone, depicting a daughter trying to return her transplanted dead father from California to his native home, using a well-known Mexican folk song to underscore the emotion of her story.
“Pretty and beloved Mexico, if I die far from your soil say that I am asleep, and bring me back to thee,” wails the singer of “Mexico Lindo y Querido,” a Spanish language song about the bond between a person and their country.
“It’s part of the Mexican identity that we laugh about serious stuff like this,” Riggen said earlier this week, during a press conference about their films, “So I wanted to combine those elements.”
Among the other stand out shorts are new work by Mariana Chenillo, Gerardo Naranjo, and even a chaotic new piece by acclaimed Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas, whose film captures an intense outdoor party that gets a bit crazy.
“I invited a number of friends to a barbeque and just [turned on] a lot of cameras,” Reygadas said about his offering, entitled, “Este es mi reino” (This Is My Kingdom). The short, one of the most-provocative — and not surprisingly the most divisive — follows Mexicans celebrating during a country fiesta. It eventually turns violent.
“I didn’t want to have something that would be too didactic or ideological,” Reygadas said this week, “I just wanted to film people in the countryside.”
Also quite striking and well done, Gerardo Naranjo’s “R-100” features a rather gruesome scenario that plays out on a nearly empty highway.
“I wanted to talk about a feeling and convey a sensation of a certain anguish I had,” Naranjo explained this week in Berlin, “A kind of nightmarish vision.”
In Rodrigo Garcia’s “LA 7th Y Alvarado,” wrapping the collection, ghosts from the revolution visit Los Angeles, an extension of Mexico into Southern California that is a sort of Northern capital for many from South of the Border.
“It’s all part and parcel of the same problems – gross inequality and a lack of social justice,” Garcia explained this week, “The country continues to be a country of very rich and poor.”
Brian Brooks contributed to this article.