MOVIE OF THE WEEK January 26, 2024: TOTEM

The warm, realistic chaos at the center of Lila Avilés’ drama Totem is both charming and poignant, drawing viewers into the hustle and bustle of a large Mexican family preparing for a big party while making it clear that the reason for their celebration is a hard one. Watching it all is seven-year-old Sol (impressive newcomer Naíma Sentíes), who knows that something difficult is coming but doesn’t want to believe or accept it.

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TOTEM – Review by Leslie Combemale

In the most unsentimental of ways, the narrative feature Tótem shows a family walking life’s path encumbered by the worst of circumstances. Mexico’s submission for this year’s Academy Awards, Tótem centers one day in the life of 7-year old Sol (the luminous Naíma Senties), as she helps prepare for her dad’s birthday party. This is the most and least ordinary and extraordinary of days. Birthdays are a time for joy, yes? They are a time for looking forward. And yet, we learn early on this one is different early on. When asked to share a wish she’s made out loud, the audience learns the weight Sol carries on her too-young shoulders. She answers matter of factly, “I wished for daddy not to die”.

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Women @ 71st Melbourne International Film Fest – Alexandra Heller-Nicholas reports

In 2023, MIFF, well, felt like MIFF again. Mask sightings were rare, the festival’s long queues wound snake-like around city blocks once again, and if not for the unseasonably warm weather it felt like business as usual. With in-cinema programming running from 3 to 20 August and MIFF Play streaming from 18 to 27 August, MIFF is not just a lengthy festival when compared with other international fests, but also one of the longest running; founded in 1952, its first edition was a year after the first Berlin Film Fest, and it predates both TIFF and Sundance by decades. TIFF is perhaps the most useful point of reference when it comes to trying to capture the tone of MIFF for those in the Northern Hemisphere; while both have a significant industry portion (amongst other things, MIFF hosts the annual 37ºSouth Market), both festivals are marked by a kind of proud, public facing euphoria and share a similar spirit of accessibility when it comes to welcoming audiences from all walks of life, not just industry players going through the motions.

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TÓTEM (Melbourne IFF 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

With the highly anticipated follow-up to her 2018 film The Chambermaid, Mexican filmmaker Lila Avilés returns with an immersive portrait of a family in crisis in Tótem. With a particular focus on seven-year-old Sol (Naíma Sentíes), the little girl readies herself with her mother as she is dropped off at her grandfather’s home as the family prepare a special birthday party for Sol’s father, Tona (Mateo Garcia) who has terminal cancer. Tracking the family across the day of preparations as the celebration moves nearer, tensions rise and the bonds that tether the family to each other are put to the test.

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THE CHAMBERMAID – Review by Roxana Hadadi

High above Mexico City, more than 20 floors above the ground, Eve (Gabriela Cartol) works with her whole body. She dashes across hotel rooms, leaning over to pick up trash. She perches in the bathroom, scrubbing away. She smooths sheets and blankets with her entire upper half, making a 90-degree angle with the bed. Her responsibilities are highly regimented and take an immense physical toll, but you wouldn’t know that from her polite small talk or her demure “Excuse me” when she leaves a room. Eve has been trained to serve and to be ignored.

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