OUR MOTHERS (NUESTRAS MADRES) – Review by Diane Carson

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Nuestras Madres/Our Mothers follows a Guatemalan forensic investigator.

Guatemalan writer/director César Díaz sensitively yet powerfully dramatizes the enduring consequences of military action upon surviving citizens in Nuestras Madres/Our Mothers. Díaz reveals that behind statistics of dictatorial victimization is an individual who continues to suffer profound psychological effects. In particularizing the genocide of 200,000 Guatemalan Indians in a war lasting until 1996, Díaz presents a compelling humanitarian appeal.

None of the massacres appear on screen. The story begins in 2018 with thirtyish forensic anthropologist Ernesto reconstructing a skeleton recovered from a nearby mass grave. After interviewing Nicolasa, a woman who has traveled to the city from a small village, Ernesto suspects his guerrillero-fighter father may be buried in a mass grave there. Ernesto and a co-worker drive through the mountainous area to that village against the objections of his mother and the advice of his supervisor, who wants to see an on-going trial of soldiers continue, one that proved difficult to launch with skeptical judges.

In just 78-minutes, the history of thousands of indigenous people takes center stage through one young man and his mother. A documentarian before this feature, Díaz trusts his viewer to elicit the details from conversations, understating rather than sensationalizing what needs no added intensification. One series of shots of village women looking silently, straight into the camera speaks volumes without a word. In fact, their dignity and courage are conveyed quite deafeningly. Díaz and cinematographer Virginie Surdej worked to give every scene a natural appearance in lighting and staging, all enhancing the documentary qualities of what is, in fact, based on verified experiences and presented by some who actually lived the traumas.

A Belgian-French co-production (Díaz holds dual Guatemalan/Belgian citizenship), Our Mothers was Belgium’s submission for last year’s Best International Feature Film. A multi-award winner, in Spanish with English subtitles, Our Mothers/Nuestras Madres is available as part of the Virtual Cinema program being offered by independent theaters in the US, and is available to buy on ROW8.com beginning Friday, May 1.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.