Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Aquí y Allá 
Richard Roeper's review
Aquí y Allá  (written and directed by Antonio Méndez Esparza), one of many similar films that I've reviewed here over the years that was initially supported by Robert Redford's remarkable Sundance Institute (website), is a quiet yet poignant family drama (English subtitled) that has received world-wide critical acclaim, winning awards in 2012 from Cannes to Mumbai and a lot of film festivals in between. I saw it recently at Facets Multimedia here in Chicago.
The film is about a humble family living in a mountain village nicknamed "Copa" nestled in the mountains of Guerrero near the larger bustling though still provincial town of Tlapa. (By sheer luck, I actually know something of the region where this film was made as the Mexican Province of my religious Order, the Friar Servants of Mary operates a Mission in the nearby town of Acatepec, a mission that I've visited three times, including once taking a small group of Parishioners from Chicago there. As such, I can attest to the authenticity of the portrayal of the family in the film, its way of life, the sounds and music of the region, and even the modes of transportation shown - sitting or standing in the back of open air pickup trucks or vans converted to serve as part of a regular mountain bus/taxi service to/from the remote mountain villages of the region).
The film begins with Pedro (played by Pedro de los Santos), the father, returning to Copa after having worked for sometime "por allá" (over there) / "por otro lado" (on the other side), that is, in the United States.
The reunion is initially rather tentative. Pedro's wife Tere(sa) (played by Teresa Ramírez Aguirre) is happy to have him home, but his two daughters, 12-13 year old Lore(na) (played by Lorena Guadalupe Pantaleón Vázquez) and 7-8 year old Heidi (played by Heidi Laura Solano Espinoza) are initially standoffish, particularly the older one. After all, dad's been away for some time...
After a somewhat uncomfortable silence, the older daughter, Lore, smiles a smile that most parents wouldn't particularly like ... and asks papí (dad) "What's in the bag?" ("Are you bringing us 'stuff'?"). Somewhat embarrassed, Pedro opens the bag to reveal a somewhat beat-up (working but definitely not new) electric keyboard, promising (rather quickly...) that he'll teach the girls how to play (if they want to learn...). But it's clear that he had bought that keyboard (and brought it down to Mexico) primarily for himself...
But ... Pedro did come back with a fair amount of much needed cash that the family needed to keep itself "areglada" (in order). And it becomes clear that even that keyboard wasn't a completely selfish purchase. Pedro was something of a musician and he did come back to Guerrero with a dream of (finally) putting together a ranchera band with some of his relatives and friends. So Part I of the movie is still entitled "Aquí y Allá" because Pedro was just coming back from the United States and re-entering into the world of his birth and of his family.
Part II of the movie is entitled "Aquí" as he settles in, re-establishes his relationships with his wife and daughters, starts working (as one works in the mountains of Guerrero ... odd jobs). One sees him traveling quite a bit in the back of those open-aired converted pick-up truck-buses working construction here, helping with the (corn) harvest there, "getting the band together" (and buying odd ends ... chords, miscellaneous parts, etc for that) and also having family time with his wife and now more happily/sincerely smiling daughters as well.
Soon Tere(sa)'s pregnant again and viewers get to appreciate what it's like to undergo a delivery that's not altogether "without its problems" out in the mountains of Guerrero and what that means for the family. Both mother and third daughter survive, but Pedro has to find 8 donors of blood or pay the hospital 480 pesos (about $48 US) per donor he could not find plus pay for medications, etc. So a fair amount of the "nest egg" that he came back to Guerrero with goes to pay the medical expenses.
The putting together the band also probably cost somewhat more than he had expected BUT, above all, it proved much harder to find paying "gigs" than he had anticipated...
Finally, his older daughter Lore(na)'s emerging boyfriend (remember, she's now about 14 and he's about 15) asks Pedro for some (monetary) help to get "to the other side."
At this point the film enters Part III - "Mirando al Orizonte" "Looking toward the Horizon." Why should Pedro have helped his oldest daughter's emerging boyfriend? Pedro even tells him: "I honestly don't have a lot of money." But he helps him probably out of a sense of solidarity with those from his region. The boy tells him that he's grown up largely an orphan raised by an elderly aunt. (Pedro even visits the aunt after the boy leaves to head up north). So Pedro makes a few phone calls (using again a public phone, etc) to help him and probably, in the end, gives him some of his left-over money.
In the end, Part IV begins with Pedro himself telling his wife and daughters that he's going to have to up North (go "por Allá") again. His wife tells reminds of what the cost will probably be with regards to his, now three, girls: The youngest one, the baby absolutely adores him (and will miss him terribly when he goes) and the oldest one is probably not going to speak to him for a long time. Finally, Tere adds, in a nice (no anger overt expressed) but clear voice: "And what about me?"
This is a really, really nice (and often heart rending) film about what rural Mexican families go through when their men go "por allá" (here to the States) to find work ...
And the film definitely deserves the praise that it's received.
A number of years ago, I was part of a group of Friars asked by my Provincial leadership to prepare a presentation about the question of Immigration for our Provincial Chapter. As part of the presentation, I subtitled two quite famous Latino songs about the theme. Here are are the links:
Los Tigres del Norte (the Tigers of the North): "Tres Veces Mojado" ("Three times a Wetback" ;-)
José Feliciano: "¿Que Será? (What will be?)"
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