danza de la mente

an exploration of Latin America through food, film, music and literature

Coco_(2017_film)_posterCoco is an animated film that was made in the U.S. about Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). I live in Texas where many people celebrate Día de Muertos, and I even had a very cute children’s book I read to my kids at Halloween every year. Even so, it has always seemed like a a strange celebration. Coco has made sense of it for me. It’s such a beautiful film! My daughter and I saw it when it was in theaters last November. We watched it again, with my husband, last week. (It’s currently streaming on Netflix.) It’s fantastic!!

The film premiered at the Morelia International Film Festival in Morelia, Mexico and then released theatrically in Mexico the weekend before Día de Muertos last year. It won two Academy Awards this year: Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. It was also was chosen by the National Board of Review as the Best Animated Film of 2017 and won the Best Animated Film at the BAFTA Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Critic’s Choice Movie Awards, and Annie Awards. It is the 15th highest grossing animated film, ever!

It was based on an original idea by Lee Unkrich who is a long time creative team member of Pixar. (He also worked on Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Monsters, Inc…). He and Adrian Molina directed the film. The story was originally going to be about an American boy who is dealing with the death of his mother and learns about his Mexican heritage. Neither Molina or Unkrich is from Mexico and they later decided that a different story would better reflect the real culture with which they were using for the story.

Unkrich said his intent was not to bring diversity and representation through the film. It was simply about telling a story. The diversity and representation just kind of happened. His goal was to create a film that was free of clichés and stereotypes and he wanted it to be as culturally authentic as possible. He and Molina wanted to tell an honest story about a very real culture. He traveled throughout Mexico in October to discover how different areas and families celebrate Día de Muertes. He discovered that the more he learned about Día de Muertes, the more personally the depth of the celebration affected him.

One of the most important things for Unkrich was paying attention to how the families interacted with one another. (Many families in Mexico are like Coco’s family, with 3 or 4 generations all living in one home.) He chose the city of Guanajuato as the city to base Coco on because there is no place else like it anywhere in the world. Buildings and homes are built into the hillside and all are painted very bright colors. He said it was easy to envision the city having buildings on top of one towering up to the sky, which is how the Land of the Dead is portrayed in Coco. (It grows up out of the water.)

Unkrich didn’t want Coco to be a musical, but wanted music to be a big part of it. A model for the music in the film is the Cohen brothers O’ Brother Where Art Thou. Other inspirations for the film were Hayao Miyazaki’s anime films Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle.

Unkrich says the story line was very difficult to create because of the “universe rules”. They had difficulty finding a way to bring Miguel back from the dead in a way that felt authentic. In the end, every part of the completed version works. It’s a wonderful, wonderful film!

 

The_Distinguished_CitizenEl ciudadano ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen) is another very fun film from Argentina. It was directed by Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn, both from Argentina. They met in Buenos Aires during an experimental video festival. They began their career together in 1999 with a television show they created called Televisión Abierta which was an interactive TV show where the viewers created the content by requesting a cameraman to visit them to film a 1 minute clip. Sounds interesting!

The Distinguished Citizen was selected as the Argentine entry for the 89th Academy Awards, but it wasn’t nominated. It’s an interesting concept. An eccentric Nobel Prize Laureate named Daniel is from a small town in Argentina called Salas. His novels all revolve around Salas, but he has been living in Europe for years because he felt the need to “escape” his life in Argentina. For some inexplicable reason, he accepts an invitation from his hometown to receive a “Distinguished Citizen” award so returns home.

The film opens with his acceptance of the Nobel Prize where he offers a speech about how he is honored, but is also worried that the honor proves he has become mainstream and has lost his creative edge. The film immediately forwards five years where this has turned out to be true because Daniel now has writer’s block. This potentially explains why he returns home.

His return home is incredibly stressful. Daniel almost immediately reunites with his best friend who has married the girl he was in love with when he was a young man in Salas. The friend treats her terribly and they do not seem to be particularly happy. Daniel sleeps with a “groupie” who throws herself at him. This turns out to be the daughter of his best friend and ex-love. He is asked to judge an art contest which gets him in trouble with a self-proclaimed leader in the town who sends his thugs after him. It’s one thing after another for Daniel.

What I like about the movie is that, as an observer, it is difficult to say if Daniel is truly better off than the crazy inhabitants of his hometown. Their life seems mediocre, but Daniel’s life seems inauthentic and artificial. His art is based on characters with whom he doesn’t personally connect. He’s grown old, is unmarried, and doesn’t seem to be particularly happy. The crazy town people have each other and a shared way of life that Daniel perhaps sometimes yearns for, but no longer fits within, anyway. Those of us who have left home know you can never truly go home again. You aren’t the same after you leave. But perhaps you can go back to get re-inspired?

Oscar Martínez plays Daniel. It’s a wonderful performance! He has a long list of movies and television programs he’s been in, but I think this is the only film I’ve seen him in.

SandraCisnerosSandra Cisneros was born in 1954 to a Mexican-American mother and Mexican father in Chicago, Illinois. When she was growing up, her family was constantly moving between Chicago and Mexico City because of her father’s job as an upholsterer

She has a bachelors degree from Loyola University in Chicago and an MFA from the University of Iowa. It was during her MFA studies that she was struck by the differences between her and her classmates, and realized that her social position gave her a unique writing voice.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t know who I was. I knew I was a Mexican woman. But I didn’t think it had anything to do with why I felt so much imbalance in my life, whereas it had everything to do with it! My race, my gender, and my class! And it didn’t make sense until that moment, sitting in that seminar. That’s when I decided I would write about something my classmates couldn’t write about.

The House on Mango Street was a coming of age novel written by Cisneros in 1984. The book was critically acclaimed, made the New York Times Best seller list, and was turned into a stage play by Tanya Saracho. It is also included in The Skeptic’s Guide to the Great Books with Professor Grant Voth through the Learning Company that my husband and I have been slowly making our way through.

The House on Mango Street is the first literary selection provided on The Prentice Hall Anthology of Literature, which I am also intend to make my way through. There are discussion questions after the except, so here goes…

Esperanza, the main character of the book, was named for her great-grandmother. She says she doesn’t want to inherit her great-grandmother’s “place by the window” because she wants to have a life of her own. Her great-grandmother was essentially abducted by her great-grandfather as though she were “a fancy chandelier” and her great-grandmother never forgave him. She would “sit with her sadness on her elbow”, presumably by the window. Esperanza wonders if her great-grandmother was able to make the best of what she got, or was she sorry that she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be?

Not only has Esperanza been named for her great-grandmother, her name gets butchered at school. In Spanish, her name is very soft, like silver, but her classmates say her name as if the syllables “are tin and hurt the roof of your mouth”.  Her sister’s name, Magdalena, is uglier than Esperanza, but there are nicknames that can be made out of Magdalena, like Nenny. There is no nickname for Esperanza. Esperanza wants to change her name to Zeze the X because she wants to baptize herself under a new name that better reflects who she truly is.

She also wants a house of her own. Not a flat. Not an apartment Not a man’s house. Not her daddy’s house. She doesn’t want someone else’s garbage to pick up after. She wants her own identity. Her own life.

As a female, I can relate to wanting a house of my own. But I imagine it must be a feeling that is even more exaggerated when you grow up within a culture that can’t even pronounce your name correctly.

Esperanza means hope. And Esperanza hopes to one day be free of Mango Street. Her friends and neighbors will not know that she went away to come back, but she will come back for the ones “who cannot out”. She won’t literally come back, but will come back through her writing.

Cisneros spent many years in San Antonio. She lived on Guenther Street, overlooking the Riverwalk, in a house she painted periwinkle. She said she moved to San Antonio because she wasn’t a minority there, but Guenther Street is in a neighborhood with code restrictions having to do with the history of the area. When she painted her house Tejano colors, she was asked to prove the colors had historical relevance. What she discovered was that Mexican-Americans don’t exist according to the architectural history records of San Antonio, despite having such a large population of Mexican-Americans…

…what I found is this: We don’t exist. My history is made up of a community whose homes were so poor and unimportant as to be considered unworthy of historic preservation. No famous architect designed the houses of the tejanos, and there are no books in the San Antonio Conservation Society library about houses of the working-class community, no photos romanticizing their poverty, no ladies’ auxiliary working toward preserving their presence. Their homes are gone; their history is invisible. The few historic homes that survived have access cut off by freeways because city planners did not judge them important.

Concessions were made and she was allowed to keep the house periwinkle with a few changes. She later painted it pink. She sold her lovely, colorful house on Guenther Street in 2015 and I think she moved to Mexico. (Wikipedia says she currently resides in San Antonio, but I think that’s incorrect. I think she is living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.) The house on Guenther St. is back on the market for a mere $1,150,000 if you are interested.

I wonder if you ever truly can have a home of your own? I suppose what is most important is to have the freedom and sense-of-self necessary to at least try.

Neruda_(film)Neruda is a biographical film about Pablo Neruda, although only about a very specific time in his life. It takes place when Neruda is a senator and the President of Chili has won the 1946 election with the help of Communists. In 1948, that same President turned against Neruda and his fellow communists. Brutal suppression followed.

Pablo Neruda speaks out against the oppression, but eventually is forced to leave Chile because his life is in danger. He has to escape over the Andes to get out of the country.

Gael García Bernal plays Óscar Peluchonneau, a policeman who is more a figment of Pablo Neruda’s poetic, literary imagination than an actual human being. The film is about Neruda’s attempts at escape and Peluchonneau’s attempts to catch him.

It’s a wonderful story and very well done. Pablo Larraín, from Chile, directed the film. He has directed several films but this is the only one I’ve seen so far. (Most recently, Larraín directed  Jackie which starred Natalie Portman and had 3 nominations at the Academy Awards in 2017. I intended to see that when it came out but still haven’t seen it, either.)

I wrote a fairly lengthy paper on Neruda for my Spanish class so I’ll post that after my class is over. Very interesting guy!

1024px-Vicente_Fernández_-_Pepsi_Center_-_06.11.11My Spanish professor introduced Vicente Fernández’ “Estos Celos” video to our class, last night. He wanted us to pick out all of the words we heard that were in the preterite tense. I caught three, which is pretty pathetic. But to be fair, I was distracted by the video.

The professor asked, after explaining that the song was about jealousy, that “it was a nice little love song, no?” Maybe for a man, but all the women in the class laughed after he asked the question. I’m sure they felt, as I did, that it is incredibly disturbing to see an old man singing a passionate love song about someone who looks like she could be his great-granddaughter. Granted, he has an absolutely gorgeous voice, but seriously?

Vincent Fernández is from Guadalajara, Mexico. He’s also known as El Rey de la Música Ranchera. (The King of Ranchera Music). He is one of the best selling regional artists in Mexico of all time. (He dresses like a mariachi and sings with mariachi bands, but isn’t technically mariachi because he doesn’t play an instrument on stage.)

He has recorded almost 80 albums. His songs have been used in over 30 films. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 3 Grammy Awards and 8 Latin Grammy Awards. He even has buildings and streets named in his honor.

“Estos Celos” was written by Mexican singer-songwriter Joan Sebastian and was released as the lead single on Fernandez’ 79th studio album, Para Siempre (79th!!!!), which was released in 2007.  The album won a Latin Grammy for Best Ranchera Album. (Ranchera preceded Mariachi, but is closely related to it.)

Estos Celos

Te miré,
Estabas tan bonita…
Tan sensual

Te imaginé ajena
Y me hizo mal,
Ay ay amor
¡Ay ay que dolor!

Que tarde comprendí,
Contigo tenia todo
Y lo perdí.

Te miré,
Con tu melena al viento…
Y tu mirar

Y al raz de tu escote tu lunar,
Ay ay amor
¡Ay ay que dolor!

Hoy muero de pensar,
Que no voy a ser yo
El que vas amar.

Estos celos me hacen dado
Me enloquecen
Jamas aprenderé a vivir
Sin ti

Lo peor es que
Muy tarde comprendí, sí, sí
Contigo tenia todo
Y lo perdí
Contigo tenia todo
Y lo perdí

Te miré,
Me confundió el llanto…
Que rodó.
Surgió una esperanza.

Pero no.
No ya no hay amor
¡No y fue mi error!

Y hoy muero de pensar,
Que no voy a ser yo
El que vas amar.

Estos celos me hacen dado
Ne enloquecen
Jamas aprenderé a vivir
Sin ti

Lo peor es que
Muy tarde comprendí, sí, sí
Contigo tenia todo
Y lo perdí
Contigo tenia todo
Y lo perdí

This Jealousy

I looked at you,
You were looking so beautiful…
So sensual

I imagened you with others
And I felt bad,
Oh oh love
Oh oh what pain!

So late I understood,
That with you I had everything
And I lost it.

I looked at you,
With your hair in the wind…
And your look

And the mole on your neckline,
Oh, oh love
Oh, oh what pain!

Today I die of thinking,
That it isn’t going to be me
That you are going to love

This jealousy hurts me
It makes my crazy
I can never learn to live
Without you

The bad thing is that
I understood it too late, yes
With you I had everything
And I lost it
With you I had everything
And I lost it

I looked at you,
The crying confused me…
That rolled (made/shot?)
A serge of hope (hope arose)

But no.
There isn’t love anymore
No, and it was my fault!

And today I die of thinking,
That it isn’t going to be me
That you are going to love

This jealousy hurts me
It makes my crazy
I can never learn to live
Without you

The bad thing is that
I understood it too late, yes
With you I had everything
And I lost it
With you I had everything
And I lost it

Dog_FoodI can’t believe I watched all of Los más sencillo es complicarlo todo (The Simplest Thing is to Complicate Everything?). It seemed promising at first. A potentially cute film about adolescence with a nod to some great films of the past. But it was AWFUL!!

It was actually kind of shockingly awful. Besides the lead character being shameless, there was also shameless product placement. The family dog is fed Pedigree dog food out of a dog bowl labeled Pedigree. (The camera zooms in on the label and leaves it there for a bizarre amount of time.) If your father has been named Entrepreneur of the Year, would your family be feeding the family pet a sub-standard pet food that lists corn as it’s primary ingredient? Well, possibly. Especially if they are as shallow and self-centered as the lead character of the film.

Unfortunately, unlike most of the “not so great films” I’ve seen so far, the teenagers spoke so rapidly I could barely keep up with the English subtitles. Not that it was necessary to keep up with the dialogue…

This is by far the worst Spanish-language film I’ve seen yet! I’m not sure how it ended up on my queue.

qHxDMJ4779bKjXtfdLuT8DL6PqOI’m not exactly sure how to translate Acapulco La Vida Va. My guess is “Acapulco: The Life is Going”? Three men in their late 60s take off for Acapulco where they are simultaneously reminded of their youth and their old age.

The man who has organized the trip is suicidal, but we don’t understand why until later in the film. Not only does he want to spend time with his old friends, he wants to see an old girlfriend he hasn’t stopped thinking about for 50 years.

His purpose for the trip seems adolescently selfish to me.  At the very least, it’s incredibly insensitive toward those who care about him. So there’s that. And it bothers me that it so heavily sentimentalizes old age. One man is dying and wants to kill himself, the other is having serious heart problems, and the other doesn’t want to give up his youth and has serious prostrate issues. That’s absolutely heartbreaking! Even their nostalgia is heartbreaking. Getting old sucks. And, as they say, it’s not for sissies! When you sentimentalize old age, you belittle the strength of those dealing with it.

There were a few pros, however. Based on the film Semana Santa, which I watched many films ago, Acapulco is in serious decline, just like the old men in Acapulco La Vida Va. But most of Acapulco in Acapulco La Vida Va looks absolutely beautiful. The old men had very nice rooms with gorgeous beachfont views. I want to go!

Also, like a lot of  the “not so great” Spanish language films I’ve seen, I was able to understand the Spanish much better than usual. Acapulco La Vida Va almost seemed like it was meant to be an instructional film. That I could understand so much of it without having to read the subtitles made me very happy.