Natalia Beristain Portrays the Genius and Fragility of Mexican Poet Rosario Castellanos in ‘The Goodbyes’

As has occurred in Argentina and Chile, Mexico’s women directors increasingly energise their national cinema

Natalia Beristain
Courtesy of Natalia Beristain

BUENOS AIRES — “It’s the most singular biopic that I’ve seen in many years,” Woo Films’ Rafael Ley, one of the film’s producers, enthuses about Natalia Beristain’s second feature, “Los Adioses” (“The Goodbyes”) which screens as a work in progress at Ventana Sur’s Primer Corte on Thursday.

Beristain’s second movie, after she won Best Mexican Feature at the 2012 Morelia Festival, Mexico’s premier talent hub, with “She Doesn’t Want To Sleep Alone.” “The Goodbyes” is a portrait of Rosario Castellanos, the mid-last-century Mexican poet, novelist, essayist and early supporter of the fundamental freedoms of Mexican women.

Starring Karina Gidi (“Abel”), Daniel Gimenez Cacho (“Bad Education”) Tessa Ia (“After Lucia”) and Pedro de Tavira (“Cantinflas”), it is also a calling card for a generation of young Mexican women helmers who are beginning to shape their countries’ national cinema, as happened from early last century with Lucrecia Martel and Lucia Puenzo in Argentina, or Alicia Scherson, Dominga Sotomayor, Marialy Rivas, Marcela Said and soon, one senses, Francisca Alegria, in Chile.

There are still not enough women directors rising to prominence in Latin America, their numbers are far greater in documentary than live action or as producers in alternative TV. But at mid-November’s vibrant Los Cabos Festival, five women directors swept most top plaudits, from Andrea Arnold who won the international competition with “American Honey” to three of Mexico’s highest-profile young women helmers: Lucia Carreras, with “Tamara & the Ladybug,” Alejandra Marquez (“Semana Santa”) with new project “Nieve,” and Beristain (pictured) herself with “The Goodbyes,” which won a post-production Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund award.

Just what Ley means by “The Goodbyes” being such a singular biopic remains to be seen. It can be sensed, however, by the film’s opening stretches. Castellanos, by 1958 one of Mexico’s most revered poets, is at a book reading for “Balun Canan,” her faux naif narration from the point of view of an eight-year-old girl which would cement her reputation.

The Mexican head of faculty and philosophy lecturer Ricardo Guerra, the love of her life, joins the audience, tells Castellanos afterwards he has just divorced. In bed with Guerra, Castellanos thinks back to when she first made love with him, how she met him and doted on his every gesture. A portrait of Castellanos’ raptures and ruptures, untiring sensibility, emotional neediness, incessant self scrutiny and facility for writing which fascinates and emasculates Guerra at one and the same time, Beristain’s “The Goodbyes” still has to run the gauntlet of an industry screening at Ventana Sur and critical scrutiny at, surely, festivals in 2017. Its personal portrait of one of Latin America’s greatest women writers of last century and her valiant attempt – in a largely uncomprehending 1960s Mexico – to combine not only motherhood and work but also writing will surely strike chords in the region’s now burgeoning new generation of women filmmakers.