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Nudo Mixteco ★★★★



Director: Ángeles Cruz

Starring: Noé Hernández, Aida López, Eileen Yáñez, Sonia Couoh, Myriam Bravo and Jorge Doal

Released: San Francisco Film Festival 2021

A sense of turbulence is anticipated within the narrative of Nudo Mixteco, given that its title is the nickname for the Cerro Nudo Mixteco mountainous region between Puebla and Oaxaca in Mexico. Nudo Mixteco’s literal translation is ‘Mixtecan knot’ which aptly sets the tone for a grand, complex story and the film, with its interweaving character arc, satisfies all expectations. Nudo Mixteco is an authentic, compelling narrative of the interconnecting tales of three disparate individuals that left village life in search of more favourable conditions in the city. Unwittingly drawn back to the village of San Mateo during its annual patron saint’s festival, the film unveils a fascinating portrait of a village unable to escape patriarchy and its overreaching customs and rituals.

Nudo Mixteco’s changing narrative unveils an intriguing perspective as the stories of María, Esteban and Toña are presented consecutively. Each tale is presented in a linear manner, with an omnipresent community announcement present in all three accounts alongside events such as the patron saint’s celebrations and funerals being the device for the subtle interweaving of the three protagonist’s lives. María arrives to bury her mother and is ostracised as a result of her sexual orientation, Esteban returns to the village after a three-year absence to find that his family’s lives have moved on without him, and Toña has to face childhood trauma and the choice to prevent a repetition of such damaging behaviours.

Each story has sufficient content for an entire film of its merit. Ángeles Cruz’s powerful direction ensures that the right amount of information is exposed to keep audiences invested without heavy-handed exposition. It is a remarkably ambitious feature debut from Cruz, which is deftly portrayed without judgement of the characters, thereby giving the audience the breathing space to form its own opinion based on the heavy topics. Nudo Mixteco is certainly an uncompromising film in its delivery and has been compared to Amores Perros by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Nudo Mixteco convincingly conveys that conflict between the rights of the community, in a patriarchal society, compared to the needs of the individuals. That sense of a powerful community is examined by the use of a village council, which pervades the film. In two of the tales, this council is relied upon to make judgements concerning family matters. It is an informative immersion into indigenous Mexican life to deduce whether a female’s voice is even considered during proceedings decided by the village council in a domestic situation. The ensuing explosive gendered dynamics are fascinating to behold as the camera pans between the female voices within the community and the traditional male outlook. Such scenes provide that insight into some villages’ continuing customs, and for Cruz, it was essential for an authentic portrait to be depicted of the indigenous life for women within the film to create a platform for their voices to be heard.

The film is an expressive medium capturing those underrepresented voices with an emotional, personal and empathetic response. Nudo Mixteco uses naturalistic colour grading, naturalistic sounds and maintains an even tone with the threat of simmering tension throughout. As such, the film is gripping from the outset, with particular close-ups on the actors’ expressive faces to convey the emotions. The cinematography itself further assists to create emotional resonance. The sweeping landscape shots on the aesthetically pleasing mountain range evoke that sense of remoteness and isolation for some of the characters that had eagerly left the claustrophobic village life behind.

Nudo Mixteco tackles dense subjects but does not fail to emphasise the importance of music within the community for contending with some of these matters. There is joyful diegetic music played during a funeral procession, and music is an outlet to reduce escalating violent tensions. Music is the glue cementing the community and cleverly provides that segue way into the emotional impact on the individuals. The peals of music are a moment of beauty within an otherwise sombre film and, combined with the beautiful, natural cinematography, permits the film to embrace some tender moments.

Nudo Mixteco’s celebration of community life extends to the employment of villagers as actors with only six professional actors amongst them, adding to the authenticity of the film. Whilst Nudo Mixteco is a slow-burning film overall. It is a compassionate and empathetic debut from Cruz. The film has depth given the subjects that it tackles and impressively conveys its messages without being heavy-handed or judgemental.  Equally, the film offers that rarely seen perspective of indigenous women in Mexico, which is welcomed and accentuates their voice in a riveting tale that will whet its audience’s appetite to discover more of their stories.

Nudo Mixteco firmly establishes Cruz as an emerging voice whose talent should be welcomed on the international cinema stage. The film has been awarded the Critics Jury Award at the 2021 San Francisco Film Festival, and Cruz’s future projects are therefore eagerly awaited.

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