‘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.

75 Films From Asia: PSYCHOKINESIS (2018)

Psychokinesis (2018) is a noble and entertaining directorial effort with its various ups and downs.

CREDIT: Next Entertainment World

All the superhero films I am used to watching are from the United States, which are controlled by the two giant brands, Marvel and DC. These films can get a bit stale over time with not much to say beyond the surface of the film. Now, this is not the first film Yeon Sang-ho having watched, Train To Busan (2016). I am even looking forward to his next directorial effort, Peninsula (2020). As you can tell, I went into Psychokinesis (2018) with some form of expectations seeing what this director can do with all his skills in his arsenal.

The film revolves around a bank security guard who gains telekinetic powers by drinking out of a water fountain that was struck by a meteor. He uses his powers to make money at first but then tries to help his estranged daughter when a company wants to take their family business down. Psychokinesis (2018) is a good movie with an interesting plot involving superpowers and class warfare. The film is not perfect by any means but it has a lot of heart in it. The film’s second act lacks structured pacing to it, and some of the characters feel as if they are just there with no motives. Although it is not great there are a lot of characteristics that make it worth finishing like its wonderful cinematography and fight choreography. Once again, the film shows that Yeon Sang-ho understands completely how to handle the camera and set up the atmosphere of the film. The problem of this film mostly lies within the writing of the film but overall it is not the worst or best movie-watching experience I have had.

Watch Psychokinesis (2018) on Netflix. We also reviewed this film on The Nerd Corps so go and check out what we had to say about it! Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.

75 Films From Asia: PERFECT BLUE (1997)

Satoshi Kon crafts a masterpiece of a film that will not just be remembered in anime but as a piece of cinematic art.

CREDIT: Rex Entertainment

Way back when before the pandemic hit on The Nerd Corps, we covered Millennium Actress (2001) from writer/director, Satoshi Kon. If you listened to the episode you know that I did not find that film anywhere close to being great. I thought it was convoluted and very disorganized in its story structure. Since then I had not watched another film from Kon and I was scared to possibly write this man off after just watching this one film (which you should never do).

Well, Perfect Blue (1997) is incredible from start to finish and never stops gripping at you. The film is constructed through the eyes of our protagonist, Mima Kirigoe, as she retires from her Japanese idol group and pursues her career in acting. We see the good and bad sides of this career as she encounters people obsessed with her and willing to cause her harm. Some of those causing her harm are those exact people within the film industry who are supposed to help her. The nuances of the film are so carefully crafted to create a picture that is so within the style of Kon’s framework.

The film deals with various themes such as obsession, voyeurism, and the harassment of young women within a male-dominated industry. Satoshi Kon perfects the blend of fantasy and reality within the film. Along with excellent writing and direction, the film features an incredible score, exquisite sound design, and profoundly beautiful animation that brings these characters to life. I am sure that this will end up in my top ten at the end of this challenge and in my top five anime films of all time.

Perfect Blue is available to stream on Hoopla through your public library or can be rented on all major movie watching platforms. Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.

75 Films From Asia: SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE (2005)

Park Chan-wook conclude his Vengeance Trilogy with one of the most underrated pieces of cinema ever created.

CREDIT: CJ Entertainment

The final film in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy is another fantastic inclusion in the masterclass of work that he has created. Lady Vengeance (2005) follows a similar pattern to Oldboy (2003) as it follows a woman released from prison for a murder she did not commit. Lee Geum-ja played by Lee Young-ae seeks revenge from the real murderer and this gets bloody fast. Now, even if the story sounds similar to Oldboy (2003), Chan-wook turns the table on you and creates another riveting and nuanced installment in his trilogy. The film not only follows by the beat of its drum but it also manages to include some of the most beautiful imagery I’ve seen yet.

Park Chan-wook is a director of many skills and this movie shows how rough his work can be but also including such tender nuances like the importance of a Mother being there for her daughter, sharing trauma to move past it together, and truly not being able to move on from trauma even if it is “fixed.” The world of this film is grim with a prison system that is so corrupt and unorganized that it allows for sexual assault and power structures to emerge inside. There’s a scene that truly empowers the idea of “teamwork makes the dream work.” I am so happy that I watched these three incredible films, and cannot wait to finish the rest of his filmography. One thing is certain, Park Chan-wook is my favorite Korean director and I am one hundred percent confident of that.

Watch Lady Vengeance (2005) on Shudder. Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.