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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
The Revolution NOW
by Donald Levit

New York Film Festival media screenings, though not the calendar for the public, come nicely full circle this year -- opening with Mexican Fernando de Fuentes’ triptych on his country’s Revolution of a hundred years ago and, due to a fitting glitch, concluding with Revolución.

The former one-man ‘thirties trilogy dealt with events many of his audience had lived through and ran into some trouble at home with its unflattering picture of the military, of corruption and disillusionment. Organized, co-associate produced, and contributed to by Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, the new domestic consideration is not a single person’s vision but an omnibus potpourri of those of ten national directors.

Similar concept September 11/11’9”01 asked eleven directors of diverse origins to consider the Twin Towers attack from whatever angle, in at most eleven minutes, nine seconds and one frame, whereas here the limit was ten minutes “in the present time” for the young Mexican filmmakers, among whom García Bernal, Luna, Carlos Reygadas and Fernando Eimbcke are established names abroad.

At a Q&A, Miriana Chenillo and, via Skype, Patricia Riggen indicated that everyone worked independently, did not compare notes, and only saw the other nine results when the whole was assembled. Final ordering of the vignettes was at the producers’ discretion, and while jokingly concerned that they might all turn out to have done the same take, they noticed new aspects in each of three complete viewings.

As to be expected, the pieces are uneven. Only three bear direct reference to the title event per se, but one way or another most at least hint at an accepted disappointment, a dissatisfaction with the way things have turned out and with the violent and rudderless state of affairs at the centenary.

This uneasiness at the present course of revolutionary slogans is clear in Rodrigo Plá’s “30/30,” in which Pancho Villa’s sole “legitimate” descendant is trundled around and shown off for politicians’ purposes, bewildered by Soldadera 2010 women in bathing suits and crossed cartridge bandoliers, vomits and asks to go home early. The betrayal of Villa, Zapata and crew in the frivolous perversion of ideals and direction, is wordless in the last, most effective sequence, Rodrigo García’s “7th and Alvarado,” where dignified slow-motion revolucionarios astride magnificent horses parade unnoticed, indeed unseen, amongst passersby at a twenty-first-century intersection.

While lamenting the glass ceiling in their country, Riggen and Chenillo did point to their own participation as an advance over the past. The former’s “Beautiful and Beloved” is a soupy sketch of Americanized Elisa -- “I am not Mexican” -- grudgingly (and illegally) bringing her father’s corpse south of the border for burial in his village, where she comes to appreciate her heritage, solidarity among the humble, and the revolver given grandfather Serafino by General Zapata himself. “Talk about society today, as opposed to events one hundred years ago,” the producers told Riggen, “and there is no Zapata in the film.”

Chenillo’s “The Estate Store” concerns Margarita, a department store clerk who is shyly romanced by a floor manager but loses her job, and chance at love, after he chivalrously helps her sue management to pay for a false upper front tooth.

Other contributions deal with unexplained gore, cruelty, drifting lives or mindless stupor. A priest hanged upside-down is freed by a child husband-and-wife whose donkey dies carrying the three, in “The Hanging Priest” by Amat Escalante; a man lugs a bloodied body to a highway where he randomly clobbers a passing motorcyclist in Gerardo Naranjo’s dialogue-less “R-100.” In Reygadas’ cacophonous documentary-style “This Is My Kingdom,” locals and foreigners eat outdoors and swill tequila, police are afraid to enter, children are joined by adults in stoning and torching an automobile, and people party chaotically and pass out far into the night.

What coalesces from the mosaic is a sense of near desperation, a dream gone bad, a need for change. Religion dismissed, the stolid campesino alone and lost, plans and families adrift -- García Bernal’s Lucio,” Eimbcke’s “The Welcome Ceremony,” Luna’s “Pacífico” -- and the social fabric unraveling, such need is enormous and immediate.

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