“La Llorona” – Weep no more [MOVIE REVIEW]

María Mercedes Coroy as Alma in “La Llorona.” Photo courtesy of Brigade Publicity.

“La Llorona,” Guatemala’s award-winning film is the second this year, after “The Art of Political Murder”, to tackle the difficult subject of war crimes during the civil war that began in 1960 and ended (in a manner of speaking) in 1996. Here the subject is a war criminal; an aging General who is defiant, arrogant, and unrepentant…until faced with La Llorona, the weeping woman of Mayan mythology.

Beautifully executed by director Jayro Bustamante, working from a script on which he collaborated with Lisandro Sanchez, cruelty, genocide, obsessively deliberate ignorance of facts in evidence are the very backbone of this story.

The General, first seen at home, is unable to sleep. He awakes to the sound of the soft wailing of a woman. Arising from his bed, he goes to the closet and arms himself with a pistol and follows the sounds throughout the house, weapon raised. He has soon aroused others. A noise catches his attention; he turns; he fires. It was his wife, Carmen, come to see what he was doing. Luckily the shot missed and he’s guided back to bed by his daughter, Natalia, a physician. Natalia explains away the incident by pointing out that between his early stage dementia and the stress of the trial he will face the next day, it is understandable that he is disoriented.

Dressed in the military uniform of his rank and position, he and his family must listen to the litany of charges and testimony against him. The testimony of a Mayan woman about the slaughter of her village and the drowning of her children is told straightforwardly, without emotion. Clearly, she was just one of many accusers; the courtroom is packed with people who have suffered as she did. The General has been accused of mass murder against the Mayan population. It was on his orders that the wholesale slaughter of the indigenous people was carried out. To the general, they were all part of the communist guerilla movement. Defiant, he stares straight ahead as the Court reads out their verdict: Guilty of Genocide.

But the elation felt by the abused is soon crushed when the Supreme Court overrules this decision and sets him free. His wife Carmen, incensed at the initial verdict, returns to her comfortable life, arrogant and confident of her place in society, and angry that anyone would give credence to the testimony of women who were nothing but savages and prostitutes offering their services to the army. Fissures that had appeared in Natalia’s faith in her family have now become cracks.

Sabrina de La Hoz as Natalia in “La LLorona.” Photo courtesy of Brigade Publicity.

Life will not be as before. There are huge crowds protesting the General’s release outside the gates of their estate. Signs and banners demanding justice for loved ones who were “disappeared” (a term also associated with the mysterious, politically motivated abductions during the reign of dictators in Chile and Argentina) and/or killed. With the exception of faithful servant Valeriana, the entire staff, all Mayan, quits. Carmen asks that Valeriana reach out to her village for more household help. Like a miracle, Alma soon shows up on their doorstep. With long black hair, bronze-colored skin, and large deep brown eyes, her beauty is otherworldly. She is soon the constant companion of Sara, Natalia’s daughter. They play games in the swimming pool where Sara practices holding her breath under water. Alma is calming to some and deeply disturbing to others. Why, is the unanswerable question.

And still the General has his nightmares. No one else can hear the wailing woman but his determination to eliminate her only increases. Carmen has her own problems. She cocooned herself for all the years her husband was in power. It was her power too and the arrogance of the rich and the dominance of her position allowed her to overlook what was obvious to others. But with the arrival of Alma, she begins having disturbing dreams where she is the woman who is being chased by the army; she is the woman who watches as her children are drowned. And with each passing night, the images become stronger. She is living in an emotional earthquake that becomes stronger and stronger as the veil of her self-contained ignorance is shredded. With each answer, whether for Carmen, Natalia, or even Sara, there are more questions.

Bustamante tells his story through the lens of magical realism, using some of the folktale of La Llorona, the weeping woman who roams the earth mourning for her drowned children.

Alma is flesh and blood but she is the embodiment of a myth; an allegory about retribution, acknowledgment, and vengeance. It is not coincidental that her name in Spanish means “soul.” Carmen, who proclaimed that all the indigenous women were whores and deserved their punishments, becomes inhabited. She, who was cloistered and spoiled and chose not to look at the role played by her husband and the reality of the poverty and violence around her, becomes them. The hyper realism becomes the gauge of their lives. Bustamante has created a Shakespearean moment, best expressed in Hamlet.

“To die, to sleep no more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep. To sleep! Perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.

The acting is superb, all performers with very limited credits and none of whom you will have heard of before. Julio Diaz as the General is frightening, portraying evil in all its forms. It is a tribute to Diaz that he is able to simultaneously appear totally in control and in the midst of disintegration. Sabrina de La Hoz as Natalia melts before our eyes as the reality of what her father has done to the country, to its people, and to her personally begins to grip her. Margarita Kénefic, Carmen, is the very personification of Latin American wealth and arrogance. It is categorically impossible not to hate her and what she represents until the cracks appear and she beings to suffer. She makes it visceral.

But most of all, there is María Mercedes Coroy as Alma. Almost too beautiful for words, she silently controls the narrative with just a glance. She is the heroine of magical realism with her quiet determination and mystical effect on others. You will be mesmerized.

In Spanish, Mayan-Kaqchikel, and Mayan-Ixil with subtitles.

Now playing on Shudder Streaming Service. Shudder specializes in horror, thriller, and suspense, but don’t let this dissuade you. They offer a 7 day free trial and “La Llorona” would be well worth it.

 

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Written by: Neely Swanson

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