Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Guatemala's "disappeared" have their day in Cesar Diaz's quietly moving OUR MOTHERS

The more we learn about the various countries of Latin America, the more we discover that each one appears to have it own version of "the disappeared," that multitude of citizens murdered (often tortured first) by the military -- think Chile or Argentina -- and then buried in unmmarked graves so that any identification would be difficult to prove.

Sometimes (as in Brazil), they were simply murdered by the police, with no need for justification.

Recently, we've been seeing more movies from the Central American country of Guatemala, though the two previous that TrustMovies has seen -- Temblores and José -- were concerned with present-day GLBT issues, rather than the crimes of past dictators.

OUR MOTHERS (Nuestras Madres), the new film written and directed by Cesar Diaz (shown at right), addresses these crimes head-on, yet in a style told simply, slowly and honestly -- with enough skill to more than pass muster.

Senor Diaz's dialog is serviceable, if somewhat obviously expository, but his visuals -- especially when he is simply surveying the faces of the relatives, in particular the mothers of the disappeared -- are generally expert: revelatory and moving.

The film begins with a pair of delicate hands piecing together skeletal remains and finally presenting these to the widow of the man to whom the skeleton belonged. Later, in a bar over drinks with a friend, our hero, this "remains" gatherer named Ernesto (Amando Espiritia, above, center left) who works for the government, listens sadly as his friend remarks, "To live in this shitty city, you need to go mad or get drunk."

Fortunately Ernesto does neither but simply soldiers on in his quest to uncover history. During another investigation, a photo of townspeople with guerrillas, shown him by a still-grieivng mother, comes a little too close to home for our hero, and an entirely new investigation begins. This one has more to do with "our fathers" than it does our mothers.

Along the way, we're faced with some difficult ideas, as when Ernesto contrasts the philosophies of the soldiers with that of the guerrillas, and the widow reduces them both to mere military uniforms. We also see more of Guatemalan life as lived by these mostly indigenous widows and by Ernesto and his mother. It all seems seedy, if not downright ugly, with too many supporting players in the story either wanting to forget about the past or simply remain money-hungry in the present.

By the time the movie concludes, daddy issues are in full swing, a major surprise is on offer, and the film's final spoken line proves almost unbearably moving. Our Mothers is a movie that needed to be made. How good it is that it was made this well.

From Outsider Pictures, in Spanish with English subtitles and running just 77 minutes, the film was to have opened theatrically this past April but will now have its virtual premiere this Friday, May 1, in over 15 cinemas nationwide. Wherever you live across the country, click here to learn if there is one of these virtual theaters near you.

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