Dir/scr: Ruben Imaz Castro. Mex. 2006. 130mins.
Turtle Family heralds Ruben Imaz Castro as the next voice from theMexican counter-current, as unconventional and challenging in his own way aspredecessors like Carlos Reygadas or Amat Escalante, if not as brazenly outrageous. His operaprima lasts 130 minutes, during which very little actually happens - and such afilm needs to be a masterpiece or a scandal if its audience is to stay thecourse. Turtle Family is neither.
It may have ashot at the artier slots of fashionably intellectual festivals, although anytype of commercial distribution looks pretty remote at this point unless givena heavy helping hand from very astute promoters.
Using an HDVhandheld camera which never rest in one place for more than a few seconds, Imaz Castro follows the proceedings of an impoverishedmiddle-class Mexican family during the course of a day - with a brief epiloguethe morning after - as it drags itself from one moment of indecision to thenext.
The familyconsists of one unemployed father, Jose (Dagoberto Gama); his two adolescent kids, Omar (Jose Angel Bichir) and Ana (Luisa Pardo),both of them struggling with the usual problems for their age group; and UncleManuel (Manuel Plata Lopez), their mother’s brother, who suffers slightly from cerebralpalsy. There are also two turtles, the uncle’s pets.
The entire familylives under the grieving absence of the mother, who died some time ago, and thepicture opens on the morning before they are all supposed to go and visit her grave.
Castro’s cameradedicates an approximately equal amount of time to each family member, bringingthem all together into one frame only in the final sequences. Otherwise each iskept in their own private cocoon, which they rarely try - and even more rarelysucceed - in escaping.
Omar is shy andintrovert, a passive observer who would rather indulge in fantasises in hishead than take part in real life; that he is really gay but afraid to come outdoes not come as a surprise. His sister, Ana, is more outspoken, smoking potand skipping school to visit her boyfriend, Lalo (Gabino Rodriguez), with who she’d like to move in.
Jose roams aroundthe city in his car all day, making desperate calls that he is about to bescrewed out of some deal, which it finally transpires is his severance pay.Intent on starting his own business, he wants to sell the family house, which belongedto his late wife and for which he will need the agreement of his kids and brother-in-law.
Uncle Manuelstays at home. Aside from hunting for his absent turtle Rosita he mumbles toplants, to pictures, to objects and most of all to himself,as he cleans, cooks, washes or lights up yet another cigarette. For him, thehouse is a sanctuary dedicated to the memory of his late sister - and there isno way that he will leave it.
Shot for lessthan a shoestring budget, and only after additional support from the En Construccion event at Toulouse,this graduate film is a purposely unattractive, determinedly downbeat familyportrait. Imaz Castromixes blunt reality and pathos, wrapping it all up in an ending which leaveseveryone slightly worse for the wear - and that goes for the audience as wellas the characters.
For if Turtle Family remains inaccessible toany but the most dedicated audiences, it is because of the director’sinsistence at dealing with unexceptional events at exceptional length, losinghimself in details that, seemingly intentionally, refuse to tell the wholestory. It is almost as if his film would lose its overall existential premiseif it were more explicit.
Matters are nothelped by the excessively nervous camerawork (and the uneasy framing itimposes) and the over-indulgent cutting which tries to create mood by allowingsequences to go one way beyond their natural limits. A good half hour, if notmore, could be excised without any pain.
The cast consistsmainly of professionals trying to create an immediate authenticity by actinglike amateurs. But it’s a tricky task to pull off; noticeably the bestperformance is from Manuel Plata Lopez - the only true amateur and in real lifethe uncle of the director - who steals the show.
Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica
Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografia
Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica
Gerardo Barroso Alcala
Leon Felipe Gonzalez Sanchez
Yulene Olaizola Leon
Jose Angel Bichir