Mexican cinema has found an adopted home at the Cannes Film Festival. Since 2005, Critics’ Week at Cannes has organized a strand dedicated to Mexican short films by curating and screening in Cannes some of the top shorts from Mexico’s Morelia Intl. Film Festival (FICM), one of the most important film festivals in Latin America.
As it returned to Cannes in 2021 after the 2020 edition was cancelled, Cannes Critics’ Week selected four films from the 18th Morelia Film Festival to showcase the new generation of Mexican film talent. Cannes Critics’ Week is, after all, the event where Guillermo Del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu were first discovered on the international stage through their award-winning first films (“Cronos” in 1993 and “Amores Perros” in 2000, respectively).
Though these four films from Morelia all had their own distinctive voice, they all highlighted, in their own way, the role of women in Mexican society, calling attention to issues of gender violence and femicides particularly – a central problem in today’s Mexico (in early 2020 – when the films were made – there was an average of 10 Mexican women murdered every day).
The founder and artistic director of FICM, Daniela Michel, told Variety that it was “very important that they [the filmmakers] focus on these subjects.”
“In style they’re very different, but also in the age groups [of the characters],” Michel said, referring to the four short films. “There’s a young woman, teenagers, then someone who’s already a teacher, and also someone who’s a prostitute and a mother, so you see different angles. But you also see the different social classes: you see poor people suffering violence, but also people from the bourgeoisie with a girl getting bullied in school, and then a young woman who has a discussion with her boyfriend who was the owner of the house.”
The four short films include “Bisho,” directed Pablo Giles, “La Oscuridad” (“The Darkness”) by Jorge Sistos Moreno, “Pinky Promise” by Indra Villaseñor Amador, and “Un Rostro Cubierto de Besos” (“A Face Full of Kisses”) by Mariano Rentería Garnica.
“Bisho,” which is reminiscent of “Amores Perros,” tells the story of how an incessantly barking dog triggers the slow breakdown of a couple with unequal social statuses. “La Oscuridad” – shot mostly at sundown as its title suggests – follows a school teacher out for revenge against her aggressor, who happens to be the school principal. “Pinky Promise,” which won the Best Short Film prize in Morelia, explores teenage pregnancy and drama among a quarrelling group of middle-class Mexican girls. “Un Rostro Cubierto de Besos,” meanwhile, looks at the hardship faced by sex workers in Mexico, who are confronted with near-constant harassment by men.
Michel said that she receives up to 600 short film submissions a year from across Mexico for Morelia, and can only select around 50. Though she founded the festival in 2003, it’s been since 2005 that a small selection is chosen by Cannes Critics’ Week curators to take part in Cannes. The joint collaboration started when the then head of Critics’ Week Jean-Christophe Berjon attended the Mexican festival and decided to begin to bring a part of it to Cannes.
Even before this partnership started, Michel said that Cannes played a pivotal role in drawing the film industry’s attention toward Mexican cinema. She notably cited the fact that the 1994 animated short film “El Héroe” (“The Hero”) by Carlos Carrera won the Short Film Palme d’Or in Cannes as a source of inspiration for her to create the Mexican film festival.
“It was very inspiring for other short filmmakers that someone in Mexico could win the Palme d’Or,” Michel said. “I come from a time in the 1990s where they were saying that Mexican cinema is dead, so my goal with this festival was to promote Mexican talent, including shorts, feature films, and documentaries.”
Since its inception, FICM has been an important stepping stone for the next generation of Mexican talent. An example of this can be seen in this year’s Cannes edition, as Tatiana Huezo’s first feature film “Noche de Fuego” (“Prayers for the Stolen”) is part of the festival’s official selection in the Un Certain Regard category. Huezo was part of Morelia herself when she was just starting out, with her acclaimed documentary “Tempestad” (“Tempest”) in 2015.
Michel spoke proudly of this new cohort of Mexican filmmakers getting their big break in Cannes, expressing gratitude to Cannes Critics’ Week for this special collaboration as she continues to keep an eye on the past and future talent.
“At Morelia, we like to give continuity to filmmakers,” she said. “Once we know about their work in Morelia’s short films, we keep track of what they’re doing.”