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Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival: The Mole Agent

Step aside James Bond. There’s a new spy in town.

Sergio Chamy can’t believe his luck. While reading the morning newspaper he finds a job listing calling for a man between the ages of 80 and 90. Out of curiosity he goes to interview for the position. A private investigator is looking for an elderly man to pose as a resident the San Francisco Retirement Home in Chile to find out if the staff there is abusing the residents. In particular he has to keep an eye on one patient on behalf of her daughter.

Armed with a smartphone, camera glasses, a notebook, an inquisitive nature and a good dose of charm, Sergio infiltrates the retirement home. There he makes friends, becomes part of the social atmosphere, checks in on residents who are going through a difficult time and reports everything back to the private investigator. But Sergio gets more than he bargained for. He learns where the true neglect is coming from and its not from the staff.

Directed by Maite Alberdi, The Mole Agent is an incredibly endearing if not heartbreaking film. It’s a hybrid-like documentary that tells a true story in real time but has all the elements of a quiet feature film. It requires some love and some patience. If you have both you’ll be handsomely rewarded. The Mole Agent is very effective in its messaging. One can help but be charmed by Sergio Chamy who is stylish, debonair and has a heart of gold. I can’t recommend this film enough and I’m counting down the minutes before I can watch it again.

The Mole Agent recently screened as part of the 2020 virtual Double Exposure Film Festival.

Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival: The Art of Political Murder

The brutal Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996) resulted in the deaths of many civilians, especially those of the indigenous Mayan population. In the days after the war, Bishop Juan Gerardi became an outspoken activist for the Mayan people, seeking justice for the crimes against humanity and giving a voice to the voiceless. He was a truly remarkable individual and one of the key members of REMHI, an organization that sought to bring to light the many human rights violations enacted by the military and government. This unfortunately made him a target and on April 26th, 1998 Bishop Gerardi was brutally murdered.

Directed by Paul Taylor, The Art of Political Murder investigates Bishop Gerardi’s state ordered assassination, the mishandling of the crime scene, the theories behind what exactly happened and the arrest and trial of the three assassins. George Clooney served as one of the film’s executive producers and the documentary is based on Francisco Goldman’s book of the same name. It features interviews with journalists, experts and those who knew Bishop Gerardi both personally and professionally. There isn’t much by way of background on either the Guatemalan Civil War or how Bishop Gerardi came to be involved with his activism. Instead the focus here is on the crime itself. In essence one could call this a biography of a crime as it dissects all the details of the murder, investigation, media coverage, trial, etc. I would have preferred more background on Bishop Gerardi but this was an interesting approach.

The Art of Political Murder is well worth the watch for anyone interested in true crime in general or Guatemalan history in particular.

The Art of the Political Murder recently screened at the 2020 virtual Double Exposure Film Festival.

Fantasia Festival: Diabla

When 17-year-old Nayeli (Ruth Ramos) is raped by the neighborhood gringo Rayan (Cesar Mijangos), she seeks help from her brother Uri (Daniel Fuentes Lobo). Uri sides with his friend rather than his sister calling her a whore. Spurned by her brother, she visits the local coven of witches to enact her revenge. Not only is Rayan about to pay the price for his violent act against Nayeli but Uri will have to watch it all go down.

Directed by  Ashley George and set in present day Mexico, Diabla packs a punch in a mere 17 minutes and will linger in your mind long after the film is over.  For female viewers especially, Diabla will serve as a visual representation of all of the revenge fantasies that we have for the men in our lives who have hurt us in one form or another. In this way, Diabla is highly gratifying even when it shocks and disturbs.

Ashley George’s impressive short horror film speaks directly to women who have been hurt physically and emotionally by men.

Diabla is part of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival.

La Llorona

A motherland that weeps for her sacrificed, lost, drowned, dead children.

Director Jayro Bustamante offers a compelling and terrifying twist on the popular legend of La Llorona. The original myth tells the story of a woman who, as punishment for drowning her children, must wander the world as a ghost. The living are haunted by her cries. (La Llorona is translated into English as The Crier). In Bustamante’s film, simply titled La Llorona, the ghost was a victim of the brutal Guatemalan Civil War and has come back to haunt Enrique (Julio Diaz), the former general turned dictator.

Enrique, his wife Carmen (Margarita Kenefic), daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz), and granddaughter Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado) all live a cushy life within the walls of their mansion. Their world is turned upside down when Enrique is put on trial and convicted for his role in the 1980s genocide of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans. Now the Mayans who lost family members during the worst days of the Guatemalan Civil War want justice. After Enrique’s bizarre and dangerous behavior, elicited by the cries of a mysterious woman, drives away their staff, they hire a new maid, an Ixil woman named Alma (Maria Mercedes Coroy). The infiltration has begun and Enrique is about to face his reckoning.

“Creating a new version of La Llorona is the perfect opportunity to try to change those stigmas that are etched into our cultural inheritance. At the same time, the psychological suspense that goes along with the character allows me to recount Guatemala’s recent, dark history to a national audience that is generally more interested in purely commercial entertainment movies.”

Director Jayro Bustamante

A Shudder original film, La Llorona is a fascinating drama that tells the story of Guatemala’s deep injustices through magical realism. The true horror of La Llorona is income inequality and how it drives those on both sides to do drastic things.  The basis of which comes from deep-seated racism against indigenous groups and rampant corruption and greed. In the film, the dictator (inspired by real life Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt) and his family depend on the extension of his impunity and his conviction shakes up their world and they can’t quite process the ire of the victims of the civil war.

Anyone who enjoyed Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and want to explore about the inequalities between white Latino and indigenous communities, will want to check this one out. I much prefer La Llorona‘s approach as it demonstrates an uprising of the disenfranchised rather than keeping things status quo. 

The climax of La Llorona was a bit too predictable for my tastes. However, the film offers plenty of atmosphere, context and haunting visual imagery that will keep viewers enthralled throughout.

“Guatemala is one of the richest and most diverse countries in Central America, but levels of inequality remain high. The historical exclusion of indigenous people, especially women, means they lack access to education, health services, political participation and land.”

Oxfam America

La Llorona is available to watch on Shudder.

Please note that this film is not to be confused with The Curse of La Llorona (2019) or La Llorona (2020).

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