Blu-ray Review: LA LLORONA, The Haunting Cries of the Oppressed

Editor, Canada; Montréal, Canada (@bonnequin)
Blu-ray Review: LA LLORONA, The Haunting Cries of the Oppressed

There are some historical events, ones whoe political and social impact is so devastating, on large and small scales, that realistic depiction is insufficient. This is, often, where folk tales, mythologies, and legends come from: not always from good things, but often from terrible things. For whatever reason, people often understand these devastations, and feel empathy for those who suffered, through these fantastical stories. Which brings us to La Llorona; not only one of the strongest horror/fantastical films of recent years, but also a perfect example of how the horror genre might be the bext way to convey the horrors of war and genocide.

Based on the real trial of a Guatemalan dictator, La Llorona tells the story of General Monteverde (Julio Díaz), found guilty of the genocide of literally thousands of people; his conviction is overturned for suspicious reasons, and he is allowed to return to his large estate with his wife Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic), daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz), and grandaughter Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado). All but one servant has left, and so a young woman Alma (Maria Mercedes Coroy) comes to help. Left alone in this house, the family of four, the two servants, and one bodyguard, are kept under a kind of house arrest due to the large crowds (rghtly) determined to get justice for the General's crimes; but something within the house might have a better, more direct and sinister solution.

The legend of La Llorona (the woman that cries) might have been twisted into a patriarchal condemnation of a woman's crime, but filmmaker Jayro Bustamente finds its a new role for this mythic figure: the one who forces justice, or as much as can be forced on a man who, until his last breath, will deny any wrongdoing. Focusing on those who either perpetrated or orchestrated the genocide, and those who supported them, as opposed to those who suffered (or at least the main focus of the narrative is on the perpetrators) is an interesting but ultimately smart choice. Too many of use might be unaware of how we might be, willingly or not, those protected by the perpetrators, in countries that have benefitted from Guatemala and other Latin American countries' oppression of indigenous and working class people.

Bustamente aims for great depth in this story, taking his time with each moment and shot; often the set-up of the camera is deceptively complex, allowing to feel as if we are spying on intimate moments that reveal the character's terrible prejudice and growing fears. Or a slow zoom out gives us the time to contemplate and understand the deep horror of what we are watching; we must know these faces, know the space that they occupy, so when the terror comes, we know what it will mean to them. And when it comes, it is so much more than we could imagine: as each hears, more and more, the sound or La Llorona throughout the house; as Carmen dreams herself as one of those whose husband anc children were killed by Monteverde's soliders, without care or remorse. This is the power of the horror genre: it lets us find a way into a truly terrifying, true horror story.

As our critic Mel Valentin pointed out in his review of the film, La Llorona is "the virtual, figurative, and literal personification of the "return of the repressed." La Llorona is equal parts terrifying and hopeful; all is not lost despite whatevery bureaucracy still favours the powerful, and the myths a culture creates will ultimately serve those whose voices go unheard in their own time.

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Special Features

Given that this was already a visually stunning film, it was up to Criterion to do justice to its beauty in the transfer, and that is most definitely the case. The 2K digital master, approved by Bustamante, looks as good as it did on the big screen, with the lucious greens, blues, and especially reds, popping out to enhance the richness of the story. The soundtrack and especially sound design also transfer perfectly: it is the sound of La llorona through which we first know her, a sound that will drive the characters mad.

There is a terrific interview with Bustamante - well, more him speaking about where and how he grew up, his experience of the dictatorship(s) that have rocked his country, the stories he heard over the years from people who talked of those who were killed, or disappeared. For those like myself who have scant knowledge of the history of this part of the world, it's a great insight to further understand the film. I love that Bustamante describes La Llorona as a kind of superhero - she is the voice of those who can no longer speak, or that those in power refuse to hear. Bustamante also talks about inspirations for the structure of the film, and how genre can be used to tell very human stories such as The Shining and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!. The making of documentary expands on this, and it was amazing to see the process used for the actors, who were in rehearsals for five months to prepare - a length more akin to theatre, but this was also to really infuse in them the deep understanding necessary for this story, especially as they would be playing people that most of the audience would side against.

There is also a wonderful trailer, or more like a music video, with additional footage of star Coroy, that looks amazing. The essay 'Turning Horror into Light' by Francisco Goldman, like the interview with Bustamante, provides personal insight into the history behind this story, how that helped to craft the film, and what it means to use the figure out La Llorona to give a voice to the oppressed. The disc and its contents are impressive, as always, and it's nice to see Criterion making sure a film not only of this beauty but this importance receives its signature treatment.

La Llorona

  • Jayro Bustamante
  • Jayro Bustamante
  • Lisandro Sanchez
  • María Mercedes Coroy
  • Sabrina De La Hoz
  • Margarita Kenéfic
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Jayro BustamanteLisandro SanchezMaría Mercedes CoroySabrina De La HozMargarita KenéficCrimeDramaHorror

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