San Diego Latino Film Festival closing night film 'Huesera' now streaming
The 30th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival has ended but one of my favorite films, "Huesera: The Bone Woman" is now available streaming.
Film festivals are an invitation to adventure and to step out of your comfort zone to see films you might not find anywhere else. One of the things I love about the San Diego Latino Film Festival is that in addition to screening crowd-pleasers, it also dedicates a space for films that push the creative envelope. That showcase is called Un Mundo Extraño, which literally translates as "a strange world."
Moises Esparza, the festival's exhibitions director, is excited to show films made after the height of the pandemic that are fueled by ambitious themes. Filmmakers are no longer stuck in their homes, but the lockdown experience has colored their movies.
"I guess a common theme that I saw this year is this play on domesticity," Esparza said. "We were all locked away in our house. We were all thinking about house roles, the domestic sphere. So a lot of films this year, I think are playing with what that means post-COVID, which I think is a pretty fascinating thing to contemplate."
That theme of domesticity reimagined comes up in "Huesera: The Bone Woman." Valeria is a young pregnant woman who has a loving husband and a good life. But that’s just how it appears on the surface.
"We built a character that has everything apparently perfect to build a great domestic life," director Michelle Garza Cervera said. "And that was constructed deliberately. We wanted the problem and the entity and the horror to be born out of her internal emotional conflict. And that means we also didn't want it to be focused on the process of what happens to a female body literally, throughout pregnancy. We've seen that a lot. It was more about the symbolic thing of something that is breaking you down, and it's literally making you feel like your bones are fracturing. We really wanted it to be about portraying what feels inside, to go through a sacrifice process that can be domesticity or building a family."
For actress Natalia Solián, the horror comes from the conflict Valeria feels trying to reconcile what society wants her to be with what she imagines herself to be.
"The horror for me was this specific feeling of guilt that in the Latin culture we are always feeling a lot," Solián said. "We have this education to not speak, to be silent. We are not able to (con)front the things that are not good for the society."
In Cervera's case, she grew up with an image of the rebellious women in her family as somehow "evil" because they did not conform to the traditional role of submissive housewife.
"I had a fear while growing up as a little girl to be one of those women because they would make fun of them or they would just be in these kind of boxes, canceled boxes," Cervera said.
But then Cervera discovered punk and began to question everything. Now she uses her art and specifically the horror genre to challenge stereotypes and question cultural expectations in a symbolic way.
"I really want to be rooted in the reality, but then I feel like horror allows me, through one image, through one sound, to say something very complex that maybe takes you 10 pages of essay," Cervera said. "I feel like horror is really so generous. In one sound, you're like, that's how it feels when your family is asking you something very uncomfortable, or social expectations are horrible and how do you express such a complex thing? And I feel like horror really allows you to do it in very fun ways and entertaining ways."
As a young Mexican woman in a society deeply influenced by the Catholic church, Valeria has convinced herself that happiness lies in what society has defined as a traditional, heteronormative relationship with a husband and baby. But this dream life turns into a nightmare as Valeria feels her identity splitting. That feeling is reflected in the imagery of the film as well, with Valeria reflected and fragmented in mirrors, windows and water.
The film taps into a legend about an old woman digging out bones in a desert and very slowly constructing a skeleton.
"And then when she has it ready, she creates a ritual with fire that gives life to this entity and sets it free," Cervera explained. "The legend is far away from what the film is, but what I really wanted to keep is the heart of it, speaking about going through a difficult process, of finding pieces deep down in yourself that sometimes we don't want to look at. And I feel like once we do it, it's going to be painful, but then you're going to be free in many other ways. So I thought it was great legend to kind of build from for a horror film."
That legend also provides motivation for the creepy imagery and sounds that drive the film. Valeria imagines and feels her bones cracking and breaking, and she is haunted by images of broken bodies. All this gives the film a unique and effectively disturbing style that is asking us to look at how society can try to force people into confining roles.
"Huesera: The Bone Woman" screens on Sunday, the closing day of the festival, and Cervera and three of the actresses will be on hand to introduce the film and take questions from the audience.
"I like to program a lot of amazing films on the last day," Esparza said. "I want to leave people feeling like they left the festival watching some amazing content."
"Huesera" closed the festival with a near full house with attendees asking questions of the filmmaker and actresses for more than a half hour. You can watch the film on streaming channels such as Amazon, Apple TV, and YouTube.