About the Living review

:. Director: Jorge Aquilera
:. Starring: Rafael Sanchez, Clarissa Malheiros
:. Running Time: 1:20
:. Year: 2002
:. Country: Mexico


In About the Living the web of grief and denial is eloquently explored after the death of the young daughter of a wealthy family. The mother (Clarissa Malheiros), father (Rafael Sánchez Navarro) and son (Osvaldo Benavides) find ways to deal with the loss and use the same coping mechanisms for years. Dulce throws herself into her exploitative talk show with her sycophant producer, her husband literally digs a grave for himself and then slowly sinks into madness, and their son tries to drown himself and everything else around him.

11 years pass and we see that not much has changed and that the family has created such thick walls that their sleek, modern home resembles more of a tomb than a hearth. The father has taken to filming scenes of what he believes to be his living daughter throughout the city. Dulce's show exploits anyone and anything while their son falls for an expressive ballerina.

Jorge Aguilera creates a hypnotic mood, where the colors are cool and distant to better focus on the intense suffering of each character. The musical score is hypnotic and doesn't interfere with the silence, which plays a crucial character. It's what's not said and what we don't see that makes this picture so powerful.

The film does suffer from a bit of film school pretension at times and borrows a little here and there from Pedro Almódovar's outrageousness with the TV scenes. The acting is good overall. Though Benavides's performance is a bit over the top at moments, it is earnest. Maleheiros's stage training serves her well in this role as a mother and talk show host. Navarro's character is the most melancholy and sympathetic. He's impossible to reach.

Filmed in Mexico and in Spanish, you won't find any traces of "typical" Mexican culture here. The look is deliberately more urban Ikea than Oaxaca. The film shows the grieving of an upper class family, one that looks and lives pretty much the same way anywhere in the world. The film could have been made in any large metropolis. At the AFI screening Aguilera opined that class or wealth has nothing to do with the film. But it does. The mother of a poor family probably wouldn't have the luxury of dealing with her pain through her very own talk show, nor could the father wander around the city filming imaginary scenes with his daughter. The scenes of the son leaving his room to jump into the indoor pool, or Dulce throwing a big party and finding that someone has shit on the floor probably wouldn't happen. Though they are able to unconsciously shield themselves with their wealth, it doesn't mean that they suffer any less for it.

Aguilera also said that his film is nothing like Amores Perros or Y Tu Mamá También. Very true. However, the theme of death and grief is also present in those films, though here it is manifested differently. All three films feature a strong female lead who is not Mexican and somehow apart from the culture. The Spanish supermodel in Amores Perros (who loses her leg in an accident) and the Spanish actress Maribel Verdú of Y Tu Mamá También, (who goes to find her own death) share something with Dulce. She's a Brazilian woman who exploits death on her show (like the scene where she interviews a woman who dug up her dead husband to say goodbye) but cannot deal with her own very fragile reality. Oddly enough a film about a strong Mexican woman, Frida, was done in English.

While the extreme representations in About the Living are not for everyone, the poetry that Aguilera has managed to create in silence deserves an audience.

  Anji Milanovic

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