Día de Muertos: A Foreign Vision of a Very Mexican Festival

By Denise Roldán

When the Festival Internacional de Cine de Guadalajara chose Día de Muertos(Day of the Dead), an animated film directed by Carlos Gutiérrez, for its opening night, it was impossible not to think of other films that have used the same festivities for their setting.

From the moment of the controversial dispute with the Pixar animation studio to the night of the premiere, the director himself and producer Estefaní Gaona have defended the film with a discourse that leaves no doubt as to its greatest virtue: its thoroughly Mexican vision and quality. This would be cause for celebration, if it were backed up by a unique and cohesive visual and narrative approach, and if the world premiere had not been in English!

Día de Muertos wavers between references to foreign constructions and the piling up of stereotypical Mexican tropes. At neither pole does it feel entirely genuine, owing to a screenplay that never takes the time fully to recreate the world in which the plot unfolds, or to fashion the characters that inhabit it. In spite of the archetypal figures, the decisions of the protagonist and her friends seem random, forced, and even unconnected. Such a flimsy framework can hardly hold up, and makes any extra cladding just seem useless. However difficult and decisive the adventures undergone by Salma, Jorge, and Pedro, they cause no emotion, because they lack credibility, even as conceived on paper. And unrealized though the characters are, the film gives a great deal of weight to their dialogues, requiring them both to provide comic relief and to move the story forward. Juan José Medina, Francisco Rodríguez, and Eduardo Ancer wrote a screenplay that puts into words what in fact should be shown in actions.

Just like filming with one kind of lens or another, using animation (and a specific type of animation) should be an element that contributes something, whether on a dramatic or an esthetic level. In the case of Gutiérrez’s film, the animation format does not contribute on either level. There is no artistic conception in it that distinguishes it from anything we have seen before. And the lack of texture and fluidity in the movements of the figures renders them scarcely believable. These defects of genesis and execution are all the more evident given the lack of a rhythm that orchestrates each one of the sequences with the necessary tone: the gags arrive late and the action scenes seem awkward. Hopefully the obvious changes required to particularize both animation and design will be made for the official premiere in October.

Productions of this kind show that, in contrast to Mexican short films, animated films produced in large studios in this country still need to declare their independence of foreign models, escaping from a faux Mexican spirit and constructing a discourse of their own, under the standard of artistic individuality, rather than simply a made-in-Mexico imprint.

Translation: Gregory Dechant