‘La Llorona’: The Incredible and Haunting Film From Guatemala

La Llorona (2020) excels to create an interesting new take on the folk tale filled with horror and insightful nuances.

CREDIT: La Casa de Production

Just like many Latinos, I was told the fear inducing story of La Llorona at a very young age. I was about six years old and my abuelita told us the story of this “weeping woman.” Now, the version I was told goes as follows. La Llorona was an indigenous woman who lived by the border. She had two kids, a boy and a girl, who she loved very much but she fell in love with a man who lived in the United States. La Llorona falls for the man but his feelings aren’t as strong as hers. After a rocky relationship he leaves her and she stays in Mexico while he travels up north for work. La Llorona believes that nothing could be wrong with her that could cause this man to leave her. She comes to the conclusion that her kids are at fault and one night she takes her children to the Rio Grande River to drown them. As they lose their life being drowned La Llorona realizes that she has done wrong and proceeds to drown herself. As she meets her creator, her God tells her that she cannot enter their kingdom until she finds her children and truly understands the severity of her acts. La Llorona comes back down to Earth and every night she weeps “mis hijos (my children)” as she searches for them. If you encounter her she may take your children from you especially if they roam the river alone.

I would like to remind you all that I grew up on the border so this kept me far away from the river which was possibly the goal of this story being told to me at such a young age. The story of La Llorona has gone through changes various times that we don’t really know the actual story or where it originated from. One thing is true though, all of its incarnations have been fear inducing. The story of La Llorona has been translated onto the silver screen before but was done terribly at adapting such a terrifying story. On the contrary, what I watched on Shudder was far from being terrible.

La Llorona (2020) is set in Guatemala as General Enrique Monteverde is tried for genocide after him and his army murdered many of the local indigenous population in the 80’s. At first, Monteverde is tried and found guilty of genocide but because the old man is not in the best of condition he is allowed to stay at his home under a form of house arrest. After losing all but one of his helpers at the home he employs a beautiful indigenous woman with long black hair and a white gown. Once Alma the new housekeeper starts to work for them and various protests happening every day, something starts to feel very strange within the home as the effects of isolation start to settle in.

Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona (2020) is exhilarating, nuanced, and downright incredible. First of all, let me talk about the bare minimum, La Llorona is an indigenous woman and the fact that she is played by an indigenous actress is beautiful to see. Not only is she casted appropriately but her and the various indigenous people in the film talk different dialects of the Mayan language. Such important characteristics that seem to be the bare minimum are never represented in Hollywood. The way that this Guatemalan film incorporates the folk story makes for an incredibly interesting retelling. The modern retelling and commentary of Latin American politics within this horror film is vastly nuanced. Instead of focusing entirely on the folklore of La Llorona, the film uses the story more as a backbone to create the bone chilling atmosphere of the picture. Maria Mercedes Coroy as Alma/La Llorona is incredible and goosebumps inducing. Every deep stare from her feels like it is looking deep into your soul. Everything from the performances, cinematography, and fluid direction makes for quite a picture. La Llorona (2020) is truly a masterful effort from Bustamante and their team of creatives.

This film is one of the best of the year, and I highly recommend you all watch it as soon as possible. Watch La Llorona (2020) on Shudder.

‘The Mole Agent’: A Heartbreaking But Unique Documentary

Chile’s official selection for the Best International Feature race at the 2021 Oscars is filled with nuance, heartbreak, and a conversation that needs to be started.

CREDIT: Micromundo Producciones

Why do we put our elders in nursing homes? I hope we start to ask ourselves that more often after 2020. These homes can be a nice spot for some, but it can be a really lonely place for those that stay there. Plus, one cannot ignore the history of elderly abuse that occurs in nursing homes. Maite Alberdi’s documentary urges us to ask ourselves, why would we place such important people in our lives in these institutions?

The Mole Agent (2020) looks at an investigation of possible elderly abuse happening at a nursing home after a daughter brings up her concerns that her mother may be abused at the facility. A private investigator seeks out an old man to go undercover and collect as much information as possible. While our protagonist collects information he starts to make friends and grow close to the people staying at the home. What he learns with this information is just as heartbreaking as possible elderly abuse.

Maite Alberdi directs one of the best films of the year and one of the biggest contenders to win next year’s Best International Feature. The film is tense and reflects one of a spy thriller but the documentarian backbone of the movie keeps it on its toes. The cinematography and naturalistic lighting is just right for this film. It all comes together to create the atmosphere of this unique film. What makes this movie special though and worth all of the hype critics are giving it? It is the writing and the people we meet within the film. Every single moment we spend with our protagonist as we learn more about the people who stay at the home allows us to learn more about what this facility does and how the people staying there feel about it. The stories and people we meet throughout the film are beautiful and carry such heartbreaking weight with them. Some of them have not been visited in years and have adopted a new family in the home with the friends they make there. It’s because of all this that The Mole Agent (2020) is beautiful and touches your heart especially those who have experience with these facilities. I know that once the credits started rolling and a bit of tears traveled down my cheeks I immediately thought of my abuelita. The film is magical yet so simple and because of that it works so well.

It is not as groundbreaking on the level that I thought I’m No Longer Here (2020) was but it is still such an important film to keep an eye out for it throughout this awards season. Watch The Mole Agent (2020) on virtual cinema at The Film at Lincoln Center.

‘I’m No Longer Here’: A Masterpiece of Identity From Mexico

Fernando Frías directs an incredible film full of emotional depth and nuance that exceeds all expectations.

CREDIT: Netflix

The last time I wrote to you all I was stuck inside a home because the world outside was falling apart, and not much has changed since. I am still very active on the podcast and starting season two of The Cinema Condition soon. This year in film has been filled with a lot of movies but a lot of them were not available to the public, so my year in film has been slow for the most part. Throughout the year I have watched some great films like Bacurau (2020), I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020), Sound of Metal (2020), and of course Tenet (2020). I was convinced for the most part that nothing would top my then favorite film of the year, Bacurau (2020). I was incredibly wrong.

I’m No Longer Here (2020) or Ya no estoy aquí (2020) looks at the life of Ulises a 17 year old boy who is part of a gang named “Los Terkos” (“The Stubborn”) as he is exiled from his community after a misunderstanding. Ulises then goes to New York City as he lives in Queens and begins to navigate his new life as a foreigner in a new world. This journey is met with discrimination, self doubt, and an identity crisis. It all blends to create my favorite film of the year.

It is so hard to not approach these films as a Latino but especially a Latino who is a son of immigrants. It is also so hard to not approach this film as someone who very much understands the eternal struggle of a Latino who at times does not really understand their identity. At one point I thought I understood the concept of Latinidad but since then I have lost much grasp of it. Ulises is like a lot of the people I grew up around, we were into different music, from some of the worst neighborhoods you did not want to step in, wore different clothes, did our hair differently from what was expected from us, and because of that we were easy targets to be bullied. When we were not bullied we were used as symbols and for others to use for their own gain. We did not fit a mold and we were never supposed to fit that mold.

I did not have the life that Ulises had completely but I knew a lot of people in México who were living there especially in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon in 2010-2013. They were too exiled from their land but instead of street gangs it was their government who pleaded them to come over to the United States because of the government’s incompetency to handle the situation at hand. Life became harder and the land of opportunity they thought they would be introduced to was just not there for them. Once again they were discriminated in this other part of the world for being them.

What Fernando Frías does with all these aspects is create a beautiful but heartbreaking story that is often too real for others. The cinematography is fluid and beautiful especially with its naturalistic lighting. The Kolombiano music included works so well to create the atmosphere and ambiance of what makes Ulises unique and a free spirit. The sense of community is felt throughout the whole film. The dread of being seen as weird and “the other” is heartbreaking. The pain of coming back to your land but seeing that the landscape of its people has been changed forever and it is not the land you were exiled from. Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño gives us a truly nuanced and beautiful performance as Ulises. The non linear aspect of the film works well with the structure especially if you think about it as Ulises remembering his life back then while in Queens. Everything works and it all creates such a beauty that speaks on so many levels.

Ya no estoy aquí (2020) is the official selection from México for the Best International Film category at next year’s Oscars. Watch Ya no estoy aquí (2020) on Netflix.

Tenet Review: Don’t Try to Understand it, Feel it

Christopher Nolan’s back at it again, a triumphant return to save or at least help keep cinema progressing in these uncertain times we are living.

CREDIT: WarnerBros

What for me might be his best comes after a myriad of delays and issues through some of the most trying months in recent decades, and he still delivers the cinema experience. The film was a welcome and dearly missed feeling for 2 hours and a half (add on up to half an hour depending on your cinema’s add and trailers). I completely forgot about 2020 and everything that has been happening as of late.

From Nolan’s masterful sound design, the way it blends brilliantly crafted gunshots and other audio effects with Ludwig Göransson’s massive and bo bass-driven score to the way these tease Travis Scott’s “The Plan”-written for the film by Göransson, Scott and WondaGurl (Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde). There are multiple times the film is bringing in enough of the intro to the song to notice without feeling overbearing to the point it feels natural when it plays later.

If you weren’t all-in on John David Washington already, I don’t know what your excuse can be post-Tenet. The man leads this film without any hiccups when it comes to action while going toe to toe with Robert Pattinson and Kenneth Branagh dramatically. His performance builds and maintains chemistry with Elizabeth Debicki and forming one formidably charismatic duo with the aforementioned, Pattinson. If this film dragged or had many issues, this duo could probably mask quite a few, given that it doesn’t have any glaring ones of note, they shine all the brighter. These core four are surrounded quite well with some notable smaller roles where Michael Caine, Clémence Poésy, Himesh Patel, Dimple Kapadia, and Aaron Taylor Johnson all do very well with their screentime.

Tenet is a film that plays with palindromes, metaphors, and contrasting ideas while planting enough seeds throughout, for there always to be something in the background to enjoy upon a rewatch or further inspection, and while Nolan plays with the ideas of inversion the actions scenes involving these are sublime. Even the smaller, more mundane aspects have you walking out of the cinema as if you were the one inverted for at least a few steps. And I don’t know in the end, as a viewer I can’t get over the birds.

We may have no friends at dawn, but if you enjoyed Tenet, you have one in this fellow viewer. Tenet is playing in theaters internationally and will be opening limitedly in the United States on September 2nd.

Start With Seconds…

A REVIEW OF “THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY” SEASON 2 (SPOILER FREE)

Creator/Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

I question when I will hit the superhero movie fatigue that is always brought up in conversation when the likes of Marvel and DC throw out their beloved titles that the studios recognize as cash cows or when fanboys in a homicidal rage scream to the interwebz “Release *insert name”‘s Cut!”. All I have to say is, “Not Yet”. Also, I need to recognize the thought and effort put into television shows of the less well-known comic book entities. Of course one must mention “The Walking Dead” (even though that show should have ended around 4 seasons ago), HBO’s “Watchmen”, Amazon’s dark and entertaining superhero show “The Boys”, and of course Netflix and My Chemical Roman….I mean Gerard Way’s “The Umbrella Academy”. (Not to forget the now defunct and gone-too-soon shows of Netflix’s “Daredevil”, “Jessica Jones”, “Iron Fist”, “The Punisher”, and “Luke Cage”). I plan to keep this review as spoiler free as I can, but it is technically “Season 2”, so there will be mentioning of sh*t that occurred in “Season 1”.

Let me first start off by saying that I feel like it’s been ages since we met “The Umbrella Academy” (even though the show premiered in February of 2019) and the Hargreeves children who make the X-Men look like model citizens in comparison. If you don’t want to know the ending of season 1, please stop reading HERE.

Vanya f*cked sh*t up.

To give more detail in an eloquent manner, Vanya murdered the moon in season 1 which caused a giant piece of it to careen into the earth; killing all life as we know it. Luckily for our heroes, Number 5 (does…does he even have a name?) managed to transport them out of there and back to 1960s Texas, which turned out to be not so bad for most of the group (Klaus even got his own cult)…except for Allison, whose vocal chords had been sliced and has now been deposited in a time where racists denied African Americans their rights, including even the right to sit and be served at a diner.

And this is where I think the second season really one-ups the first season.

As the first season was our introduction to this new comic book world with a new family of enhanced beings with abilities, the second season goes full tilt into showing how they are able to cope being stranded in an era that did not take kindly to what was seen as different, be it Luther’s size, Klaus and Vanya’s sexuality, or Allison’s race. Really, the main plot of this season is just like the entire premise of “Quantum Leap” (another fantastic sci-fi show). Just like Dr. Samuel Beckett, they’re hoping their next leap will be the leap home.

In 10 episodes, Netflix is able to make us feel and empathize with what is going on with each and every one of the main characters (including even Ben, whose character arc was one of the best this season) while weaving an intricate narrative that climaxes into quite the spectacle. I wish I could go into quite more detail on the on-goings (seriously, go watch this…like, right now), but you’ll just have to live with me saying there’s blood, psychotic rage, goldfish, Antonio Banderas lookalikes, daddy issues, and of course (as Dominic Toretto quips in every one of his movies) family. – YoungYoda