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BERLIN — A magnificent crash course in the who’s who of contemporary Mexican directors — and they’re mostly all there, with a few notable exceptions — “Revolucion” celebrates the centenary of the Mexican revolution in 10 short tales ranging from the mousy to the rousing. Most of them well describe one small part of the elephant, and all together they add up to a fairly satisfying portrait of the spirit of the times.
Even if this omnibus film makes more sense than most, thematically, it still demands viewers refocus their attention 10 times in less than two hours, a formula that will limit audience appeal to festival showcases and Spanish-language TV, with very scattered theatrical.
The revolution that overthrew Porfirio Diaz, the country’s dictatorial president, resulted in violent upheaval and dramatic change. Directors like Fernando Eimbcke (“Lake Tahoe”), however, opt for the quiet, uneventful side of life in depicting a small-town tuba player who practices and waits for a celebratory delegation that never arrives. This graceful episode contrasts with Carlos Reygadas’ (“Japan,” “Stellet Licht”) wild, chaotic view of his countrymen as they celebrate with an noisy picnic full of nearly unobserved violence.
Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”) hits the heartstrings in a straighter story about a young American women who reluctantly drives her dead Mexican father across the border to honor his last wish to be buried in his hometown. We find out why during a loving burial full of human solidarity. Mariana Chenillo’s (“Five Days Without Nora”) sensitively observed story about a young woman clerk exploited by the store she works for directly relates the dirty business practices of today to pre-revolutionary times.
Amat Escalante (“Sangre,” “The Bastards”) turns in the most haunting, enigmatic short, a black and white effort set in the desert in which a small boy and girl rescue a priest who has been left hanging upside down from a tree. He leads then to the modern world and MacDonald’s, in a tight piece of filmmaking that inevitably recalls Bunuel’s “Simon in the Desert”.
What would happen if the grandson of Pancho Villa were to be used for political ends in the celebrations, asks Rodrigo Pla (“The Desert Within”) in a suitably cynical tale. But much more stirring is the final mood piece from Rodrigo Garcia (“Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her”) in which costumed revolutionaries ride silently and grimly through a modern Mexican street, unseen by the people of today.
Less focused are the contributions of well-known thesps (and the film’s associate producers) Gael Garcia Bernal, who reflects on symbols like the flag and the cross through the eyes of a small boy, and Diego Luna, whose story about a man chasing dreams instead of focusing on his family bears little relationship to the theme of revolution. The same can be said of Gerardo Naranjo’s (“I’m Gonna Explode”) muscularly directed tale of a highway marauder who seeds death from an overpass.
Each episode was produced by a different film company with separate crews, offering viewers a panorama not only on directorial styles but on the range of production approaches in new Mexican cinema. All in all, a worthwhile effort produced with care.
Venue: Berlin International Film Festival — Berlinale Special
Production: Canana, Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografia, Tequila Tres Generaciones
Directors: Mariana Chenillo, Fernando Eimbcke, Amat Escalante Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo Garcia, Diego Luna, Gerardo Naranjo, Rodrigo Pla, Carlos Reygadas, Patricia Riggen
Screenwriters: Laura Santullo, Amat Escalante, Carlos Reygadas, Mariana Chenillo, Patricia Riggen, Jorge Riggen, Diego Luna, Gabriel Nuncio, Mauricio Katz, Fernando Eimbcke.
Producer: Pablo Cruz
Executive producers: Geminiano Pineda, Jaime B. Ramos
Associate producers: Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna
Directors of photography: Emiliano Villanueva, Lorenzo Hagerman, Geraro Barroso, Andrea Borbolla, Amat Escalante, Pau Esteve, Pedro Gonzalez Rubio, Sebastian Hoffman, Pablo Nunez, Emiliano Villanueva, Patrick Murguia, Alexis Zabe, Geronimo Denti, Miguel Lopez, Serguei Saldivar Tanaka, Checco Varese, Lula Carvalho, Jaime Romandi, Gerardo Naranjo, Sean Coles, Alejandro Cantu
Production designers: Ivonne Fuentes, Lizette Ponce
Music: Les Heiblum, Eduardo Gamboa
Editors: Agustin Banchero, Lucas Cilintano, Amat Escalante, Carlos Reygadas, Mario Sandoval, Miguel Schverdfinger, Josh Morrisroe, Mariana Rodriguez
Sales agent: Celluloid Dreams
No rating, running time105 minutes
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