Review: ‘1973’

With an eye for cinema and ear for personal stories, Antonino Isordia lays bare the disappointments and tragedies felt by a generation of young Mexicans in his explosively kinetic "1973." By focusing on three case histories, each about someone born in 1973 who eventually spent time behind bars, Isordia delivers a startling tapestry of contempo Mexico City life.

With an eye for cinema and ear for personal stories, Antonino Isordia lays bare the disappointments and tragedies felt by a generation of young Mexicans in his explosively kinetic “1973.” By focusing on three case histories, each about someone born in 1973 who eventually spent time behind bars, Isordia delivers a startling tapestry of contempo Mexico City life. Pic superbly reps a brilliant new wave of Mexican non-fiction (including “Tropic of Cancer”) and is in the midst of a vibrant fest run.

Opening section about student activist Rodolfo Escogido will be difficult to understand for viewers not aware of the complex politics of Mexico’s political parties and school-based student groups. Escogido describes the if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em dilemma experienced by new students encountering the “porros” gangs on every campus.

Not to be confused with the U.S.’s hyper-violent gangs (nor those in Central America), the porros are residues of the old student movement that thrived in Mexico in the 1960s and have ties to the mainstream political parties, such as PRI.

Escogido led a large congress of student groups from over 50 schools and wanted to break free of the lumbering, long-dominant PRI. Jailed on what he claims were trumped-up robbery charges, Escogido appears to be the latest in a long line of youths seeking change who run up against Mexico’s political parties and law enforcement.

Mid section, “Mater,” is briefest and most personalized, examining the downward spiral of Maria Fernanda Ramos, who nearly ended her life by jumping off a freeway bridge. Her mom admits to Isordia’s camera that she neglected Maria for her career, and the girl gets involved with a wild life of round-the-clock drugs and partying with b.f. Roberto. Isordia’s intercutting of Maria, her mother and Roberto recounting her suicidal leap lends a hard, terrifying edge to what could have merely been a sad but overly familiar tale.

Deeply troubling finale, “Alex,” looks at how — and partly why — Alejandro Cota murdered his family in 1992. (Event happened close to where Isordia lived, proving pic’s mainspring.) At first spinning a biography which suggests he was loved and then neglected, Cota admits to Isordia that he’s made up much of the story, and proceeds to tell an even wilder one.

Pic is less interested in the absolute truth of Cota’s life than in how he proceeded to murder his kin with the help of three accomplices. Cota walks around an ironically designed chalk-lined set a la “Dogville” and “Manderlay,” re-creating his actions as each family member was brutally killed. Cota’s darkest aim, for 15 minutes of fame, emerges in a ghastly press conference broadcast after his arrest.

Particularly in opening section, “1973” presents an astonishing, intensely complex visual and audio design that sets a new standard for cinematically-stylish non-fiction and transforms the standard talking-head docu. Some of Oliver Stone’s features with lenser Robert Richardson seem to be precursors for Isordia’s mad soup of various media (super-8, 16mm, video, high-contrast black-and-white, near-psychedelic color), but form is driven in this case by a desire to conjure up these young people’s life-altering memories. Crucially, Isordia mixes up his visual strategies and resourcefully gives his film constant variety and engagement.

Less supporting crew than collaborators, lenser Fernando Acuna, editors Tatiana Ixquic Heuzo and Ana Garcia and sound designer Mario Martinez Cobos team up to create an aggressive, sensory-drenching experience of the sort that only fully delivers on the bigscreen. Unavoidably, viewing “1973” on the tube will be like seeing a shadow of the original work.

1973

Mexico

Production

A Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica/Churubusco Azteca production. (International sales: Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica, Mexico City.) Executive producers, Angeles Castro, Hugo Rodriguez. Directed by Antonino Isordia.

Crew

Camera (Churubusco Azteca color/B&W, 16mm/Super 8/DV), Fernando Acuna; editor, Tatiana Ixquic Huezo, Ana Garcia; music, B4; sound (Dolby Digital), Federico Gonzalez, Olga Cuellar, Garcia; sound designer, Mario Martinez; visual effects supervisor, Alonzo Lopez. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival (Cine Latino), Jan. 10, 2006. Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Rodolfo Escogido, Maria Fernandez Ramos, Alejandro Cota.
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