SAN SEBASTIAN — Ángeles Cruz, one of Mexico’s highest-profile indigenous cineasts, screened for the first time a nearly-finished version of her feature debut “Nudo Mixteco” at the San Sebastian Films in Progress sidebar.
Having won two Mexican Academy Ariel Awards for her first two shorts, “Nudo Mixteco” arrived in Spain buzzing. It deftly intertwines three stories which overlap in a small village in Oaxaca’s Mixteca region during the celebrations of San Mateo.
María, a young woman working as a housekeeper in Mexico City, Esteban, a laborer who left three years ago looking for seasonal work in the north, and Toña, who now sells odds and ends in a foot-traffic underpass are all natives of the village, and head home for different reasons.
María, back for her mother’s funeral is shunned by her family for being a lesbian; only her childhood girlfriend Piedad will take her in. Esteban, a violent drunk, is shocked to learn that in his extended absence his wife and children have settled in with a new, gentler man. And Toña must return to save her daughter from sexual assault by an uncle who did the same to Toña when she was just a girl.
The film prepped for one month and shot for another in the village, employing locals as cast and crew. The major roles are played by professional actors, some of whom have worked with Cruz in the past, but all the supporting roles are filled by people from the local community.
Cruz and her producers from Madrecine, Lola Ovando and Lucía Carreras, a distinguished writer-director in her own right (“Leap Year,” “Missing Dad,” “Tamara and the Ladybug,” starring Cruz ), talked with Variety after the screening.
The cast is made up primarily of locals, but were they involved behind the scenes as well?
Ovando: It was important to us to get the community involved and working for the two months we were there [in the village] in preparation and then actually shooting. It was a top priority to provide work for as many people as possible. This was our third time shooting in this particular community; Ángeles’ shorts were shot there previously. Our original idea was to keep as many people working as possible for the duration, but the impact of a production like this alters the economic dynamics of a community of that size, and we had to respect that. As Ángeles says, we left after the shoot, but she lives there. Any problems we created were problems for her.
Being in the audience for this film one feels that’s one’s becoming part of the community. You see some things three times and the same characters in multiple settings.
Carreras: Yes, it’s like a Greek chorus that is always there. Ángeles is speaking from within, from within her own community and her own logic, as well as her internal point of view. I think that helps the audience feel involved.
Sometimes this very religious community is predictably conservative, and at others it surprises in its openness. Were there difficulties filming a progressive story like this in a traditionally conservative community?
Cruz: I think it is more difficult because lesbianism is not acknowledged in our indigenous communities. It seems like it doesn’t exist. In fact, I started writing about it when I was told that only men can be homosexual. I began to explore the idea of how machismo is so strong in this community that it can’t even be believed that female homosexuality exists. The same thing happens within our families. We are very progressive on some subjects and very closed off on others. Talk about politics, religion and sexuality divides families and divide concepts and the same happens in our communities.
The direction is very studied in this film. How much did you plan out ahead of time?
Cruz: I work hard before reaching the set, so the script very clearly indicated those parts where and how I wanted to emphasize a dramatic moment. I have been working with my photographer Carlos Correa for a long time, worked together a lot with the actors. I enjoy that process, giving myself the time to rehearse with the local and professional actors.
And your use of lensing, framing and blocking seems very deliberate…
Cruz: Yes, we wanted to photograph everything the characters were going through, including what they were feeling inside. So, it was very important for me to consider their emotions, what they feel, and transfer their fragility to the camera.