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New Mexican cinema: Quemar las Naves

img  Claudia Lindner

"Quemar las Naves" has been an unexpected success in its country, though – or maybe just because it addresses topics like homosexuality, which still is a difficult public issue in the Mexican society. Moreover, it deals with taboo issues like dying or incest, which is why the movie was given few chances to be a box-office success in the Latinamerican country, but contrary to expectations, it was! The movie theme "Mi Principio", composed by Alejandro Giacomán and José Alfredo Rangel and sung by Julieta Venegas was a hit song in radio stations all over the country.

The movie brings the spirit of a bygone and lost era through its locations alone, intensified through its beautiful colours. There is this old and slightly sordid villa with a big atrium and dozens of rooms like salons going off around it in every direction. This is where the siblings live with their sick mother and this place adds to the impression of a secluded world in which Helena (Irene Azuela) and Sebastián (Angel Onésimo Nevares) move around indulging in the past and gone like in the singing career of their mother (Claudette Maillé) whose songs are caused to sound in the whole house over and over again. They are living in their own, rather lonesome world, only having one another for a long time.

Meanwhile it's their mother's very faded fame which grants the family's upper-class status and the admiration by the people around them. There is Efrain for instance, a rich and influential man who protects and cares for the siblings and Eugenia. What's more, his son Ismael secretly fancies Sebastián who is totally unaware and ignorant of this fact while falling in love with lower-class kid and outsider Juan.

Another Almodóvar-like stage, reminding of the Spanish director's movies like „La Mala Educación“ or earlier works like „Entre Tinieblas“ from the Movida times, is the catholic school which Sebastián, Ismael and Juan attend. Like the house, this school with its religious values, priests and nuns as teachers, represents something traditional, an unworldly place in its seclusiveness. Sebastián is part of both worlds and he can travel between these and other worlds outside the two constants.

It's Helena, who only has the house as world of her own, to which she is restricted while caring for her mother. After her mother's death, her „life task“ is gone. Though Helena feels that her world will also perish after this, she desperately fights for its survival and tries to protect it from all changes, ignoring that they have already happened. When Sebastián spends more and more time with Juan, trying to elude the possessive and mothering care and control, she reacts with fierce fits of jealousy and rage. She is even willing to keep him by force if necessary when Sebastián plans to leave town with Juan who injured a schoolmate in a fight. So every confrontation between the two becomes worse than the last one. All this isn't expressed so much with dialogue, but, as it is so often the case in the Latinamerican cinema, with gestures, looks or silence, expressing strong emotions with reduced means.

Fear of loneliness and of being left is expressed in the character of Helena, performed with great intensity by young actress Irene Azuela who won the Mexican movie award "Ariel" as Best Actress for her performance. But whole young cast in general offers remarkable acting performances. Director Francisco Franco manages to show the emotional contrariness and instability of the main characters against the background of the unusual life situation of the siblings.

In the end, Helena start to realize that change is not only necessary, but also is possible both in her life out of the house and in her relationship with Sebastián. The two of them burn the bridges behind them; they break relationships with friends and acquaintances of the family as well as Sebastián does with Juan who leaves town without him. But at the same time, Sebastián frees himself from Helena and their collective home. When Helena tells Sebastián about the selling of the house, the way is cleared for a new beginning in their relationship. Everyone goes one's own way, the incestous relationship is a thing of the past, while their mutual affection hasn't quite disappeared after all, so that a new understanding between them is still possible.

Francisco Franco's movie conveys a feeling of decay and radical destruction of everything established, of a total turning away of constraints and conventions. It's the radicality of emotions and of change which reminds one of the Spanish „Movida“, the cultural golden age after the end of the Franco-dictatorship, which was a Madrilenian phenomenon only at first, but soon became a cultural movement throughout whole Spain. In the aftermath of the dictatorship and the early days of Spanish democracy, social taboes were broken, the tightness and fustiness of a society under authoritarian rule were overcome, an escape to life with all its new ways, aberrations and contradictions. While „Quemar las Naves“ definitely presents several cinematic echoes in the  tradition of the Movida's most famous representative, Pedro Almodóvar, it's the cultural spirit of this Spanish era itself which finds a repercussion in this noticeable Mexican movie.Whereas reviving the Movida, the movie at the same time is a representative of new kind of Latinamerican cinema relying on excellent acting performances and exceptional stories which often deal with neglected issues, or just those which had no room in the mainstream cinema until now. In so far, „Quemar las Naves“ represents a promising trend in Latinamerican cinema which definitely allows hope for more.


Original title: Quemar las Naves

Mexico, 2008

Director: Francisco Franco

Cast: Irene Azuela, Angel Onésimo Nevares, Claudette Maillé, Bernardo Benítez, Ramón Valdez, Juan  Carlos Barreto

Production: Las Naves Producciones, Foprocine, Estudios Churubusco Azteca

Distribution: Imcine


Official website: 


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