directed by Francisco Athié
starring Marco Antonio Arzate and Urara Kusanagi
Arroba Films S.A. de C.V
The art of surreal film is becoming scarce these days. It’s so much easier to write a buddy flick with lots of explosions than to capture the dream induced by the loose end of life. Director Athié interprets the death of Mayan miner Juan (Arzate) through a series of images as he passes from this world into another place — one unknown to the western standards of reward and punishment.
The images start with village life, a close knit community of dignified poverty. Juan doesn’t farm, but works an abandoned mine alone, searching for scraps of ore. A misplaced pickax blow brings the roof in on him, and for the next hour we experience a series of dreamlike landscapes that lead deeper and deeper into the caves, centotes, and afterlife of the Meso-American Catholic animist world. Few creatures inhabit these tunnels, but a mechanical creature spawns a Japanese Butoh dancer (Kusanagi) and a small dancing skeleton that leads him across a river looking suspiciously like the Styx.
Vera contains virtually no dialog, only a few mumbled words which the subtitles and my limited Spanish reveal as common prayers, nothing more. I recommend leaving them off, the sounds as more revealing than the words. Several on-line commenters have compared this to the important “Head movies” such as Eraserhead, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Koyaanisqatsi. Visually this is true, but the lack of an engaging soundtrack means that one might drift off to grab some Cheetos rather than focus on the veiled symbolism and the stunning cave photography if under some sort of illegal influence.
Like with any good art film, I was finding new symbols and interpretations the day after I watched this film, and more have suggested themselves as I write. This film has been a hit on the film fest circuit, but it’s unlikely to get wide distribution, and I hope it never gets chopped to fit any sort of commercial network. You may have to dig this out of the bowels of Netflix or your local cooler-than-hip video store, but it’s a fine film for late night viewing with adventurous friends. Turn off your phone; any interruptions will spoil the mood that Athié has spent so long creating.