Made to mark the centenary of the Mexican revolution, the surprisingly cohesive omnibus pic “Revolucion,” initiated by production company Canana’s founders Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and Pablo Cruz, features shorts by 10 helmers (including Bernal and Luna) that generally augurs well for the future of Mexican filmmaking. Although inevitably some chapters shine brighter than others, a subversive streak throughout obliquely questions what the Revolution achieved and what its legacy is today. With good reviews and strong PR wind at its back, “Revolucion” stands a better chance than most compilation films of rallying huddled arthouse masses.
Feature kicks off with one of its strongest contenders, the humorous but poignant fable “The Welcoming,” from Fernando Eimbcke (“Duck Season”). Lushly lensed on what looks like proper film stock in monochrome (a contrast to the often cheap if cheerful digital work of many of the other chapters), this study in soft, pencilly grays follows a poor rural tuba player (Ansberto Flores Lopez), struggling to find time to practice for an important ceremony to welcome a dignitary who never arrives.
The arduous journeys the tuba player has to make to home and back to the ceremony find an echo in the next, schmaltzy but well-intentioned segment, Patricia Riggen’s “Beautiful & Beloved,” an account of an American-reared femme (Adriana Barraza) finding an inventive way to get her father’s corpse (Ramon Duran) across the border so he can be buried in his hometown. Story offers another spin on themes of family and migration at play in Riggen’s feature debut, “Under the Same Moon.”
Contrasting with the stilted line deliveries in “Beautiful,” thesp-turned-helmer Gael Garcia Bernal’s “Lucio” appears to be improvised (segment has no screenplay credit) given the naturalistic spontaneity of its child cast. Vignette presents a trio of young cousins who are exposed to the notion of rebellion for the first time when the slightly older Omarcito (Isaac Figueroa Borquez) pronounces atheistic sentiments, horrifying the kids’ devout grandmother (Samantha Mayer). Accessible tale is let down by patchy digital lensing.
It’s back to black-and-white film stock in “The Hanging Priest,” a suggestive and disturbing account of a pair of orphaned tots (Hector Cortes Barrientons and Ambar Sixto Marroquin), whose whole village has been wiped out, and their ill-fated donkey as they rescue a priest hanging upside down from a tree in a desert. Written, helmed and edited by Amat Escalante (“The Bastards”), the pic carries themes of violence and despair that resonate with and set the stage for the next entry, the enigmatic but strangely compelling “This Is My Kingdom,” directed by Escalante’s mentor, Carlos Reygadas.
A kind of quasi-docu, “Kingdom” records a wild rural fiesta at which Mexicans and the odd Anglophone first get smashed, and then smash stuff up (mostly cars), while in one disturbing cutaway, a family of peasants looks on impassively from outside the party. Arguably the most internationally prominent of all “Revolucion’s” helmers, Reygadas takes a swerve here away from the more contemplative tone of his last, “Silent Light,” back toward the antic energy of his notorious sophomore outing, “Battle in Heaven,” to comment on class differences and the tendency toward violence and excess within the nation’s soul.
With “The Estate Store,” helmer Mariana Chenillo (who made local hit “Nora’s Will”) imagines what it would be like if workers in a contempo, Walmart-like megastore were paid partly in vouchers redeemable only at the store itself, a policy in practice before the real revolution. Chapter’s screenplay lacks subtlety but features a solid perf by lead Monica Bejarano as a cash-strapped store employee.
A man (Noe Hernandez) resorts to desperate measures on a remote desert highway to get help for his wounded friend (Manuel Jimenez) in “R-100,” a taut but fragmentary mini-action film from Gerardo Naranjo, who drew raves for his third feature, “I’m Gonna Explode.”
Suggesting with pointed irony that the Revolution’s legacy is often used as a meaningless vehicle for empty rhetoric by politicians, strong chapter “30/30” by Rodrigo Pla (“La Zona,” “The Desert Within”) observes Francisco (Justo Martinez), the elderly grandson of Revolutionary legend Pancho Villa, arriving in a town for the centennial parade and party. The local honchos want him there only as a figurehead and never give him a chance to read his carefully prepared speech.
Helmed by thesp Luna (“Y tu mama tambien,” “Milk”), whose feature directorial debut, “Abel,” found favor in Sundance this year, “Pacifico” reps one of the compilation’s weaker contributions. It tells the schematic story of a would-be property developer (Ari Brickman) arriving at a coastal town to find he’s been conned, prompting a re-evaluation of what’s really important in life. Subpar tech credits don’t help.
“Revolucion” saves its strongest, most purely cinematic segment, “7th Street and Alvarado,” for last. Unspooling without dialogue but backed with a swelling, plangent musical score by the Newton Brothers, this chapter’s super-slow-motion tableau vivant (shot on luscious color stock) finds a troupe of exhausted, sad-eyed revolutionaries in period dress, riding on horseback down the colorful streets of the titular Los Angeles intersection, unnoticed by the residents walking by. The horsemen’s disappointed expressions mutely speak volumes. Pic cements the reputation of north-of-the-border-based helmer Rodrigo Garcia, who plies his trade between television (“Six Feet Under,” “In Treatment”) and features (“Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her,” the recent “Mother and Child”), and ends “Revolucion” on a poignant note.