BFI LFF 2019: La Llorona (2019)

La Llorona by Jayro Bustamente is a dark, powerful political and psychological horror, grounded in Guatemala’s history and folklore.

Cry the Beloved Country

by Alexa Dalby

La Llorona

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Thirty years ago, General Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) was a military dictator presiding over a reign of terror in Guatemala. Thousands of indigenous people were massacred by the army on suspicion of being guerillas. The history is filled in with clips from news broadcasts.

Now he’s an old man with incipient Alzheimer’s, living in a gated mansion with his family, patrician wife Carmen (Margarita Kenefic), doctor daughter Natalia (Sabrina de la Hoz) and her young daughter Sara. He still has guns and he wakes in the night to shoot at the weeping voice he thinks he hears.

The general is being tried for genocide. We see the testimony of a veiled indigenous woman about the atrocities she suffered. The family are effectively imprisoned in their house by crowds of noisy protestors. All their servants bar one leave. They are indigenous Mayans but there is no close, warm relationship with the family as there is in Roma. To replace them comes Alma (María Mercedes Coroy), a mysterious young woman from the far mountains with dreamlike long black hair and sad eyes, dressed in traditional white. Both she and Natalia have disappeared husbands and she becomes friends with young Sara, teaching her to hold her breath under water.

La Llorona weaves the well-known Latin American legend of La Llorona, the inconsolable weeping woman whose two children were drowned, with the tragedy of Alma and the tragedies of Guatemala’s recent history. The film is dark, visually and metaphorically. And the miasma of past events starts to invade the psychology of the characters trapped in the house. Water and drowning are used as a weapon and a symbol as the past and the spirit world invade the present and no one – even the most unlikely person – is unaffected by terror, guilt, violence and death.

La Llorona premiered at the Venice Film Festival and screens in Official Competition at the BFI London Film Festival on 8 and 9 October 2019.

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