The new wave of female filmmakers confronting Mexico’s violence against women | Movies

WYoung Anna was forced to cut her hair in Tatiana Hizu’s “Prayers for the Loot”, and her tears indicate the grief of lost youth. It is a precautionary measure taken by her desperate mother to prevent Anna, like many other young girls in their town, from being kidnapped by drug gangs who patrol the surrounding area. A Prayer for the Stolen, Mexican-Salvadoran documentary filmmaker Huezo’s first feature film, captures the brutality and fear of growing up in such conditions.

The facts are grim. An Amnesty International report released in September 2021 concluded that 10 women and girls are killed every day in Mexico. More broadly, the Congressional Research Service estimates that since 2006, 150,000 people have been killed in Mexico due to organized criminal violence. Driven by drug wars and battles between cartels for new territory since the 1980s, how can art or culture reflect this terrifying threat? Now a group of female filmmakers, both emerging and established, are addressing violence in their work, creating urgent and disturbing cinema that highlights the horrors of the country. A Prayer for the Stolen sits alongside feature selections for 2020 and the upcoming Robe of Gems, which recently won the Silver Bear Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival.

Jewel robe.
Sailing in the danger of escalating danger.. Robe of gems. Photo: © Visit Films

Profiling, directed by Fernanda Valades and co-written by Valadez and Astrid Rondero, has been critically acclaimed. It comes on the heels of a mother’s search for her son, who has disappeared while trying to cross the border into the United States. Ignored by the authorities, Magdalena (Mercedes Hernandez) sets out on a journey of her own to discover what has become of him. Robe of Gems, written and directed by Natalia López Gallardo, is a similarly violent portrait of women on the move under the threat of mounting danger, weaving together the stories of a police officer, a wealthy homeowner, and her Indigenous maid to paint a picture of violence across class divisions and social situations. All three films focus on women in their exploration of a country in shambles and set their stories against a backdrop of visual wonders, the vast expanses of Mexico and the subtle details of its land adding texture and intimacy to the action.

This focus is important and welcome. Mexico’s successes for years have been led by the likes of Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and the experimental Carlos Regadas. In the past decade, gender balance in Mexican filmmaking has only been found in documentaries, but now Huezo, Valadez, Rondero, and Gallardo are leading a movement for female-focused cinema. “I think in the next few years we will see more and more stories told from a female perspective coming from Mexico,” says Huezo, citing increased funding opportunities, crew roles, and admissions to film schools for women as key factors. The way, she adds, was paved by the likes of Maria Novaro, Dana Rutberg and Marisa Sestach, filmmakers who emerged in Mexico in the 1980s and were among the first women to graduate from Mexican film schools.

A focus on telling stories about women and girls as well is vital to Huezo. “There are many girls in Mexico who grow up having to hide their femininity to avoid being attacked or assaulted, while that identity should be celebrated and nurtured,” she says. “I thought it was a very interesting and urgent topic that needed to be addressed.” She adds, “When we’re little girls, we’re still bold enough to ask very strange and direct questions like, ‘Why don’t we help my teacher who has been assaulted or kidnapped?'” “It was really important to me to show them wondering about this violent world.”

Define features
Explorations of a country in disarray… Define features

This recent surge is reflected in women-led work on violence in Mexico, in literary circles as well, most notably in the work of writer Fernanda Melkor. Hurricane Season, published in 2017 and translated into English in 2020, is harsh in its sinister depiction of a small town’s descent into hell. Melkor’s latest study, Paradais, is a chilling study of sadistic masculinity. With the rise of a growing feminist movement in Mexico in response to the country’s alarming rates of femicide, Melkor and this group of contemporary filmmakers are emerging as key voices in driving the cultural response.

While Melkor’s work is shocking in its depiction of violence, “A Prayer for the Stolen” takes a more sensual approach. “It’s a movie that has a really strong sense of the awe of violence that underpins the story, and it was so important to me to build on that fear that girls and their mothers feel, and how it destroys a person from the inside out,” Huezo says. But I chose the path of lack of clarity because violence is something we see every day in Mexico. We see pictures of murdered women and mutilated bodies. I believe the overconsumption of this spectacle of violence has distanced ourselves from its reality.” Besides defining features and robe with gems, Huezo’s film finds its strength in the tension and menace of the unseen, and often unspoken, traumas that hang over these societies, offering new perspectives and new voices about a decades-old problem.

‘Prayer for the Stolen’ is now available in UK cinemas.

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