Dipping a toe into (early) Errol Morris docu waters, Yulene Olaizola sustains a strange, unsettling mood in her tyro feature, “Intimacies of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo.” Simply taking her vid camera and sound mic into her grandmother’s Mexico City residence at the corners of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo streets, Olaizola unearths a rich, presumably true tale of a lady and the strange, possibly murderous man who lived under (and on top of) her roof for years. Triple award winner at Mexico City will spur further fest, sales and distrib interest, with international tube dates a sure thing.
Doc’s dramatic effectiveness relies on some manipulation, which may rankle purists: The Jack-the-Ripper-like identity of the lodger known as Jorge Rios (whose various noms de plume were “Jorge Riosse,” “Jorge Carino” and “Rossemberg”) is kept from auds until well into pic’s running time, even though it’s the reason Olaizola visits her grandmother, Rosa Elena Carvajal, in the first place. This delayed revelation through editing, increasingly common in Yank docs, is fairly new to Latin American documaking and will be, to some, an unwelcome development.
Carvajal, now elderly but still slightly vain and a terrific raconteur, opens up for her granddaughter’s lens in a way she probably wouldn’t for anyone else. She and her longtime maid Florencia Vega Moctezuma hold court on the months and years spent with Rios. Even though it may have been weird at points, there’s little doubt that it was a highlight of both women’s lives.
Moving into a room at age 25, 30 years her junior, Rios struck Carvajal as well mannered, well dressed and something “like a Protestant preacher,” ranting against smoking and being self-sufficient. Because Rios was gay, Carvajal says, she never feared him, though she now realizes he had all the outward signs (in his stories, music, poems and artwork, much of it still on display in Carvajal’s home) of possibly severe schizophrenia.
A few of Carvajal’s friends and family members admit they found her friendship with Rios “sick,” but the old lady still expresses a fond sympathy for her lodger — such as when she discovered he occasionally wore dresses and cruised for men on the city’s busy Reforma boulevard.
News of a serial killer hunting female hookers and Rios’ absences from home (he had moved to a rooftop shack “to be closer to heaven”) began to click for Moctezuma and Carvajal. Rios ultimately set fire to the shack, leaving behind all sorts of disturbing signs, including interior graffiti.
Olaizola films in a placid, inviting style that encourages interaction, while fostering a sense of domestic tranquility that’s crucial to the mood of potential threat nearby. Carvajal’s feeling that she was “glad … that he never strangled me,” supported by Olaizola and Ruben Imaz’s calm, clear lensing, caps an everyday look into the bizarre.