Carlos Reygadas admits that when he first heard the concept behind the new movie "Revolución" — a compilation of 10 short films by 10 different Mexican directors — he felt "a little reluctant" to join in.
Omnibus movies, he knew, often add up to less than the sum of their parts. And the theme of this particular film came spring-loaded with significance: the legacy of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920. Furthermore, the movie's release would be timed to coincide with this year's heavily hyped centennial celebrations taking place on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
But Reygadas, the director of the critically praised "Japon" ("Japan") and "Luz Silenciosa" ("Silent Light"), changed his mind when he realized that, for a Mexican, reflecting on one's revolutionary heritage is a kind of national birthright. "It's something we have heard since we were children."
As for the films themselves, he says, given the variety of directors, "I knew like the styles and everything would be different. But I thought this would be an advantage rather than a disadvantage."
Judging by the compelling and provocative finished product, which will have its North American premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival — playing June 22 and 23 at downtown's Regal Cinemas — his hunch was correct.
Tonally and in subject matter, the vignettes in "Revolución" run the gamut. Some have the rounded coherence of short stories. Others are more like dreams (or nightmares) than narratives, registering as impressionistic snapshots or tone poems. Some bristle with caustic humor and bitterness. Others ache with nostalgia, expressed in images of the country's rugged, sweeping landscapes and its stoic, resilient populace.
Collectively, the films raise many unanswered and perhaps unanswerable questions about where Mexico has been and where its people, politics and culture are headed. They offer a lively cinematic rejoinder to the rhetorical queries posed 60 years ago by the late Nobel laureate Octavio Paz in his landmark study of Mexican character, "The Labyrinth of Solitude."
"One of the things I'm observing in the films, as different as they are stylistically, they all have a pain of what our country is going through right now," says another participating director, Patricia Riggen, best known for her 2007 feature "Under the Same Moon" about a Mexican boy's perilous journey to reunite with his migrant mother in Los Angeles.
For U.S. audiences, the two most recognizable names among the contributors likely will be those of Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, the stars of "Y tu Mamá También" (2001) and other touchstones of Mexico's resurgent national movie industry. "Revolución" was conceived through the two actors' independent film company, Mexico City-based Canana, and spearheaded by their production partner, Pablo Cruz.
Canana is also represented in the L.A. Film Festival with three selections from Ambulante, the traveling documentary festival started by Luna and García Bernal. Last year Canana formed a partnership with LAFF to begin screening Ambulante films here. That relationship helped the festival, which is sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, to secure the U.S. premiere of "Revolución."
"It could've [premiered] in San Francisco, it could've been in Seattle, it could've been in New York, but I think the echoes with L.A. will be stronger," said Hebe Tabachnik, the festival's director of Latin American programming.
Although averaging only 10 minutes apiece, the movie's individual segments linger in the mind.
The opening film by Fernando Eimbcke is a delicate, black-and-white allegory that could've been penned by Samuel Beckett about a small-town band rehearsing and awaiting visiting dignitaries who never arrive.
Gerardo Naranjo's virtually wordless drama (or political parable?), involving two bleeding men stranded on a desolate highway combines beautifully abstracted topography with the grotesque; almost cartoonish violence plays like a shotgun wedding of Sam Peckinpah and a Road Runner cartoon.
In sharp contrast, Riggen's sweet-natured film wrings comic pathos from the compact tale of a cynical Mexican American daughter transporting her dead father across the U.S. border for burial in his native village.
"When I think of what the Mexican Revolution means today, of course I think of 40 million Mexicans in the U.S. trying to work," Riggen says. "I don't think [the revolution was] a complete failure, many things were achieved, but many things weren't. That's why we need a new revolution."
If not urging their audiences to rise up and revolt, the shorts in "Revolución" are decidedly more cautionary than celebratory. The movie offers no monuments, at least of the unambiguously patriotic variety.