La Llorona

The men smoking and drinking spirits, they counsel each other to wear dark suits, not black, and hold their heads high during the trial of General Enrique Monteverde, accused of genocide against the native Mayan population of Guatemala; they are, after all, heroes, not victims. Elsewhere, his wife Carmen prays alongside the family, aware that pride and medals will not protect him from the bitter testimony of the survivors.

The General found guilty, he collapses and is taken to hospital, but with the verdict overturned by the high court he is released and returns to a home besieged by protestors, his household staff, many of them of them native Kaqchikel, have left and his housekeeper has only been able to find a single replacement maid, Alma, an almost silent presence in the house who quickly forms a bond with granddaughter Sara.

Inspired by the brief but bloody rule of Efraín Ríos Montt during which tens of thousands were killed, director Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona takes the myth of the “weeping woman” who haunts the waters where children drowned and channels her through the constant cries and chanting of the crowd holding the vigil for their lost families, “the disappeared,” a siege in which those held inside piously see themselves as unjustly imprisoned.

The trial scenes using dialogue lifted from actual testimony of the veiled women of the Mayan-Ixil people, the General (Julio Diaz) claims all in the villages which were burned were guerrillas and insurgents; his daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz) hears their pleas, but Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic) dismisses the widows as whores and Natalia as a communist for siding with them, the anger of her words hiding the shame of her own intimate knowledge of the monster with whom she shares a bedroom.

The arrival of Alma (María Mercedes Coroy) bringing dreams of water even as she teaches Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado) to hold her breath in the pool, the General woken from his sleep to locate the distant source of the inconsolable wailing which haunts him, the walls of his bedroom blackening with mould from the permeating dampness, there are insufficient tears to wash away the pain of what he has done.

A tale of the burden of generations for what their elders have done, of how it is women and children and the poor and disenfranchised who are the victims in every war in which they have no stake, La Llorona is a dark blending of the supernatural and the horrors of the real which knows that there is no act of atonement which can bring justice, but though it be incremental, every step towards recognition is a step towards closure.

Its Scottish premiere having taken place at the Edinburgh Filmhouse as part of the Take One Action festival, La Llorona is available on Shudder



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