In the place of la Mixteca in Oaxaca, Mexico—the setting for director Jorge Perez Solano’s newest movie, Spiral—a peculiar severity, like some sort of subtle, invisible maelstrom, hangs in each scene as much as a recurring character. Sometimes this presence looks like poverty, sometimes it seems to be misogyny but really, it’s the effect of trying to live while waiting for a loved one to return. Such tension becomes even richer when juxtaposed against the more well-known story of waiting: waiting for the return of Christ, a chronic anticipation Solano reminds us over and over again with seemingly constant, eerily elaborate celebration. What results is the type of storytelling capturing all at once elaborate complexity by the most meager means possible.
Beginning with the middle of the story, we are introduced to a village gearing up for Easter celebrations without any men. This allows for a laugh out loud moment involving a fake mustache on a fake Jesus played by the very real and wonderful Iazua Larios in the character of Magdalena. The scene also plays out as a sort of slight of hand as we learn in these first moments the curious state of the village and its men.
In most stories involving the men leaving the village, we are used to hearing about war. Not so in Spiral. At least not really. Instead, we learn that all the men go up north. Never once in the movie do we hear it uttered, but “up north” might as well be a euphemism for crossing the border into the US as much as a literal direction. Very little else is spoken concerning such a journey save for its lucrative nature. At the same time, much of the movie is about the heavy costs.
The distraction of the mustache also detracts from the literal metaphor of Magdalena being crucified. Whether this happens in one form or another, the visual clue creates a undeniably possible foreshadowing that helps situate—even if it’s not realized—the rest of the movie. Just as strong, however, is the humor. This dynamic is the work of the best type of storytelling. It allows the audience to wonder ever so about the symbolism.
From these first few moments, what unfolds is technically the story of two men and their love—however healthy or unhealthy—for two women. Solano takes us back in time to give us a glimpse of just how things ended up as they currently are. When we finally arrive on the other side of the story, we also arrive at the ruins of love lost in a place that’s terminally in suspension, terminally in wait. Truly, this is not a feel-good story.
At the same time, something in the storytelling bristles with a type of humor and quiet strength that deserves a one-word reference like the Inuit have for a particular type of snow. The village actually looks cleaner and prettier. The women, who are always strong and funny, don’t look so haggard. And the fireworks burn just as bright during the festivals. These brighter moments can only be subtle insomuch as they can be respectful for the misery is still shared by both the men and the women and the children in between.
One can’t watch this movie and not think about the current state of immigration in this country. More that that, Spiral is the story that’s not being told, an intellectually chewy movie approaching very heavy themes with a grace for those thoughtful enough to care.
On Tuesday, October 25, 2011, 6:00pm at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema
Address: 2828 North Clark St, Chicago
Use code “Gozamos” for 2 for 1 discount when ordering at 312-431-1330