Dana (Noëlle Schönwald) is a prostitute living in Quito, Ecuador. She’s beautiful and smart and a favorite of her clients. But Dana harbors dark secrets. She sells her body to make enough money to support her terminally ill daughter and her own addiction to pharmaceutical drugs. And most of her funds go to her pimp, mob boss and human trafficker Nelson (Jaime Tamariz). On one visit to Nelson’s secret compound, Dana witnesses a child being transported from room to room. The young girl was kidnapped and about to be sold into sexual slavery. With the help of Dana’s client Julian (Cristian Mercado), a handsome young doctor who is in love with Dana, they concoct a plan to save the child.
“She is the perfect woman until she decides to be free.”
La Mala Noche is Ecuadorian director Gabriela Calvache’s narrative feature-length debut. Calvache is known for her narrative shorts and her documentaries. She and her producer Geminiano Pineda decided to make this as a fictional film to have the freedom to explore the subject without inciting the potential retaliation of the mob and to protect the survivors.
Calvache’s film is a heart-pounding thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat. It’s brilliantly directed with some terrific cinematography and excellent story telling. Lead actress Noëlle Schönwald delivers a powerful performance. The child trafficking scenes are difficult to watch but also mercifully brief. While sexual slavery is grim topic to cover in a feature film, Calvache delivers the story in a way that is captivating but doesn’t diminish the gravity of the situations depicted.
Beyond having a female director and producer and focusing on a female character, 80% of the filmmaking crew were also women. I appreciate the fact that they didn’t translate the Spanish title for the English-language market.
La Mala Noche had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Global series. Stay tuned as I’ll have a follow-up piece on La Mala Noche on Cine Suffragette.
Cookbook author and chef Diana Kennedy is the leading expert on traditional Mexican cooking. For over 60 years, Kennedy has immersed herself in Mexican culture and food, learning and respecting the traditions of one of the most celebrated cuisines. This feisty and unapologetic British woman may be an outsider looking in but because she has lived in rural Mexico, in Zitácuaro, Michoacán, for most of her life and sticks to the tried and true approaches to different dishes and recipes, she’s become what one of her friends calls an “adoptive daughter of Mexico.”
Director Elizabeth Carroll, in her debut documentary Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy explores the life and work of this outspoken advocate for preserving Mexico’s culinary history. Nothing Fancy is a reference to one of Kennedy’s cookbooks but also speaks to Kennedy’s approach to cooking and to life. There are no variations, twists or updates. She sticks to the old ways. Kennedy is a fascinating subject. She’s scrappy, resourceful, and is a champion for organic gardening and sustainable living. She’s always on the road exploring different parts of her adopted country. Kennedy isn’t afraid to tell you what she thinks in her abrupt and frank manner.
In the film we mostly hear from Kennedy herself but Mexican chefs, including one of my favorites Pati Jinich, and other experts also chime in on Kennedy’s legacy. My favorite scene shows present day Kennedy making guacamole with spliced in archival footage from decades earlier of her making the exact same recipe. Kennedy is a free spirit who does not change and is true to what she believes in.
Perhaps the only flaw of the film, which the director hinted at during a screening of this documentary at SXSW, is that the relationships Kennedy has with people in the film isn’t explained. In one case, she is very close to another chef and there is a lovely scene where they have their portrait taken together. But we really don’t find out much about who she is and how they bonded.
Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy is a charming documentary that allows its subject’s vibrant personality shine through. It also serves as one way we can ensure Kennedy’s contributions to preserving Mexican food culture is appreciated for decades to come.
Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Feature Competition.