Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna's offer almost seemed too good to be true. The Mexican actors/directors/producers approached 8 other celebrated and/or emerging filmmakers to participate in their 10-film project Revolución, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution.
Two of the participants, Mariana Chenillo (Nora's Will) and Patricia Riggen (Under the Moon), told press at the film's recent New York Festival screening that they and their fellow filmmakers were given free reign by Bernal and Luna's company (Canana Productions), with the only stipulation being that their sub-10-minute films have a contemporary setting.
“The Canana producers asked the filmmakers, 'What does the idea, the concept, the event, the consequences of the Revolution mean to you now?',”Chenillo said. Riggen added: “That was it! We all kept asking what else? We all tried to find out what everyone else was doing but we never did. It was all secret.” She applauded the fact that the government funded a film that is “essentially a critique of society. [There was] no intervention on behalf of the government, none by the producers,” she says. The filmmakers only saw the completed anthology at its world premiere in Berlin.
The Mexican Revolution is a venerated event in the nation's history. Celebrations of its anniversary are reverential and traditionally, not interrogated from a critical perspective. This is particularly the case in the centenary year. “So far, with 100 years of history of the Mexican Revolution, we've always talked about the event,” Riggen told reporters. “The fact that the films are set in the present really helps talk about society today. There's no Zapata in the film,” she laughs, referring to Emiliano Zapata Salazar a leading figure in the Revolution. Riggen conceded the film falls short in fully redressing the lack of female representation in images of the Revolution, musing that only 10 years ago women in Mexican films were predominantly cast in the role of prostitutes. She offered that this is a reflection on the male directors, before she stopped herself from saying more.
Chenillo and Riggen are the only two female directors whose work appears in Revolución. Chenillo's film is La Tienda de Reya (The Estate Store) in which she explores the uncanny similarities in wage policies in contemporary Mexico with the system of vouchers used to pay employees before the Revolution. The lead character, Yolanda, works in a supermarket and is paid in a partial mix of cash and company vouchers.. The film is full of pathos for Yolanda's powerlessness as she seeks legal counsel to redress her situation.
Riggen's film is a humourous and moving celebration of life and death for the migrant community of Mexican nationals in the United States. Lindo Y Querido (Beautiful & Beloved) is the story of Elisa, whose father's dying wish is to be buried in Mexico.
According to Riggen the films in Revolución all share “a little bit of desperation”. “Each one of them has a message for the need of change, for things to be different. Of course that reflects the extremely hard situation that our country is going through.”
Other notable contributions are: Fernando Eimbcke's La Bienvenida (The Welcome Ceremony), which features non-professionals native to San Felipe Otlaltepec; and Rodrigo Garcia's closing piece, La 7th Y Alvarado (7th and Alvarado, pictured), which was inspired by Mexican muralists. In Garcia's film, ghosts of revolutionaries march the streets of downtown Los Angeles on horseback, unnoticed by the immigrants of Mexican decent.
Revolución screens at this month's Hola Mexico Film Festival.
Watch co-creator Diego Luna's Revolución interview here.