Mexico’s Contreras brothers – that’s director Ernesto and writer Carlos – bring their award winning film I Dream in Another Language to the Inside Out fest. The Sundance winner has components of magic realism, a problematic sub genre but one I’m willing to give a pass.
Elderly Isauro (José Manuel Poncelis) and Jacinta (Monica Miguel) are two of three native speakers of Zikril. It’s a language that, by legend, humans can use to speak with animals. Martin (Fernando Álvarez Rebeil), a linguist eager to learn Zikril, arrives in town. His methodology involves studying how language works in conversation.
But Jacinta’s sudden death has Martin scrambling for a plan B. The only qualified candidate for Isauro’s only conversation partner is the cranky Evaristo (Eligio Meléndez). They haven’t spoken to each other in over half a century. And they react differently for having to preserve an ancient, endangered language.
As problematic as it is, the Contrerases depict Jacinta’s death with an otherworldly elegance. The Mexican village and jungle are inherently cinematic locations. But they also let us listen to the voices of the souls Jacinta joins. They remind us that cinema is equally sonic as it is visual.
These voices are like the past, coming like flashbacks to show young Isauro (Hoze Meléndez) and Evarsto (Juan Pablo de Santiago). The two become lovers, but they meet a young mestizo woman named Maria (Nicolasa Ortíz Monasterio). And Evaristo’s choice of Maria over ISaure set the two men apart.
Martin is a mestizo just like Maria. The latter a part of a wave to veer people like Evaristo from his native language. Ironically, Martin’s return is an attempt to correct the wrongs of the previous generation. Flaws aside, the Contreras still touch on topics like endangered languages that are inherently interesting to see in film.