There’s a lovely, however for me additionally quite placid, unhappiness on the centre of this new film from Mexican actor-turned-director Lila Avilés, whose 2018 debut The Chambermaid I very a lot admired, and which I believe had extra dramatic weight and chunk than this followup, heartfelt as it’s.
The query arises: what’s the “totem” of the title? Is it one of many many objects to which individuals connect significance right here, objects with significance in Mesoamerican historical past? Or extra on a regular basis objects, together with a bonsai tree and an elaborately adorned cake? Or is the “totem” the lead character: Tona (Mateo Garcia), a gifted younger artist dying of most cancers? His prolonged household and buddies are throwing Tona an enormous occasion at his home, defiantly celebrating his life and the love that surrounds him, whereas possibly not acknowledging their apparent distress, and in addition the truth that making this final nice effort to attend a celebration in his honour could merely end Tona off.
Curiously, Tona himself is absent for the primary half of the movie, which is extra concerning the varied family members busying themselves with their preparations, presumably with avoidance techniques and displacement actions which is able to enable them to look away from the terrible reality. Scenes with the kids lengthen with a simple improv-style form. There may be Tona’s sister Nuria (Montserrat Marañon), who’s careworn about cooking her cake and at one second shockingly slaps her daughter for being impolite concerning the zany clown wig that Tona’s daughter Sol (Naíma Sentíes) goes to put on. There may be pressure with Tona’s different sister Alejandra (Marisol Gasé), however Tona’s accomplice and Sol’s mum Lucia (Iazua Larios) is preserving it collectively. Tona’s father Roberto (Alberto Amador) is a psychotherapist with a consulting room within the household residence, a throat most cancers survivor who’s dismayed on the mumbo-jumbo remedies his youngsters have welcomed. This features a girl who dispels the supposed bad-karma energies by waving a burning stick round and burping exorcistically.
It is just within the second half that Tona actually seems: a waif-thin determine who doesn’t discuss his emotions in any method. And there’s his nurse Cruz (Teresita Sánchez), whose wages the household haven’t paid for 2 weeks and whose actual significance in Tona’s life maybe deserved extra display time.
There are tensions and arguments. The siblings can’t resolve if Tona must be given extra morphine, which helps with the ache, however renders him incoherent, and is in any case costly. Nuria and Alejandra argue on the night time about Nuria’s ingesting and Alejandra’s supposed bossiness. A Chinese language-style hot-air balloon symbolically launched from the backyard, chaotically catches hearth … however not severely. Lastly, Sol mimes to a music carrying her wig.
However truly nothing of actual significance occurs: nothing is of significance in comparison with Tona’s imminent demise and the love they’ve for him. And maybe that’s the level. However I discovered one thing bordering on preciousness in Sol’s little one’s-eye-view innocence, within the ambiance of Zen acceptance (flawed and certified although in fact it’s) and within the enigmatic and unforthcoming determine of Tona who has nothing of substance to divulge to us about himself. However that is clearly a really private venture for Avilés, and the heartbreak feels very actual.