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‘La Tirisia’: Tracing the Social Causes of Mexico’s Perpetual Sadness

Jorge Perez Solano’s social realist second feature sees its international premieres at Karlovy Vary

It is no coincidence that when Brazil’s president Dirma Rousseff announced early July a $540 million federal financing package for film and TV in Brazil for 2014, one of the first measures she specified was coin for cultural projects in six out-of-way-states in Brazil, such as Acre in the Amazon, where indigenous villages will be put online.

Kick-started by state coin, regional film/TV production — already firmly established in Argentina’s Cordoba, Mexico’s Guadalajara, Brazil’s Minas Gerais, Pernambuco or Porto Alegre – will help drive Latin’s America’s dramatic film-TV build in the second half of this decade.

The same could be said for the sub-continent’s arthouse sector. Enrolling ever more mainstream plays in an attempt to grab market share, big city production across Latin America is focusing ever more on its welling middle classes, its cinemagoers.

While its governments hype progress – some of it real – Latin America’s arthouse filmmakers have found a new raison d’etre by turning to its benighted regions. Such is the case of Mexico’s Jorge Perez Solano, who was born in Oaxaca, Mexico’s third most marginalized state, per a Conapo study, a victim of dirt poverty, immigration, isolation and a lack of education and infrastructure.

Sold by Media Luna New Films, and winner of the best actor (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) award at March’s Guadalajara Festival, and a Karlovy Vary competition contender, “La Tirisia” (Perpetual Sadness) centers on two women, Cheba and Angeles. It now screens at Ventana Sur.

With her husband in the U.S. for three years, Cheba (Adrian Paz, “The Empty Hours”) has a child out of wedlock with neighbor Silvestre (Sanchez Parra), who spends much of his downtime staring wistfully at planes that are bound for the U.S. Silvestre also sires another baby with his teen stepdaughter, Angeles, a relationship his wife allows to avoid losing her husband. Pressured to give up their babies, which one of them does, both women suffer “tirisia,” an alleged sadness of the soul.

Reviewing “La Tirisia,” Variety’s Ronnie Scheib called it a “slow-building, powerful film.”  Variety talked to Perez Solano about “Perpetual Sadness.”

While “tirisia” is a spiritual state, the Oaxaca village-set “Perpetual Sadness” traces its social origins among those whose have been left behind in Mexico, people who haven’t benefited from its modernization, and suffer the brutal effects of immigration, corrupt political cadres, machismo….

My idea was to yoke a spiritual belief in tirisia with social questions. Even before the Conquest, the culture of this region was dominated by religious, political and military powers. Most people I talked to felt abandoned, unprotected. It’s as if everybody from the region suffers tirisia.

“Perpetual Sadness” is your second feature. Your first, with which it forms a diptych, 2009’s “Spiral,” turned on the impact of immigration on families left in Mexico, especially the children.

In “Perpetual Sadness,” I focus on an issue I left out of “Spiral”: women’s need for physical, sexual affection. In most cases, “tirisia” is linked to the absence of a loved one. In our time, migration has made the abandonment of women with children an increasingly frequent occurrence. But these women, without men, also have no power of decision and, according to village thinking, a single mother is a social failure. So they seek out new partners and may even, despite the pain it causes them, leave their children in order to be able to move on. The problem is: No one attains the tranquility or happiness they desire.

While noting the power of the military via an omnipresent army patrol, the weight of religious oppression in a superb vertical shot of Cheba, dwarfed by the local church facade, and the indifference of the local political elite whose election candidate doesn’t even get out of his car to greet villagers, “Perpetual Sadness” also presents a fundamental contrast: the beauty of the region; the decaying, clapped-out nature of buildings and Silvestre’s car.

The film began as a project to photograph the region, its beautiful landscapes which however feel oppressive when you’re there, populated by so many cacti, which are like a metaphor for machismo. But what I wanted to suggest was the contrast with what went on inside the houses there. Terrible things, like when Angeles’ mother tells her daughter she’ll have to leave home because her husband is her man, not Angeles’.

Could you talk about your next feature, which I believe is set on the Chica Coast of Oaxaca?

It’s called “La Negrada” and is set in a black community, peopled by descendants of slaves. I’m currently writing, thanks to a grant from the Imcine Mexican Film Institute. I don’t want to talk too much about it but I think the theme, the setting’s very interesting. Again, these people in it have been forgotten. The state gives grants to indigenous communities but not to Mexico’s blacks, who originally came to Mexico as slaves. As it currently stands, “La Negrada” is set against the tradition of polygamy in this part of Mexico, and focuses on a female character, exploring what these women, whose husband live with several women, really think and feel. I think monogamy, marriage, current families structures are now exhausted. We have to think about other ways of living together.

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