La Llorona (2019)

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Image via miff.com.au

Mixing just the right notes of folklore, social realism, tragedy and horror, Jayro Bustamante deftly weaves a compelling and emotional story about the genocide of the indigenous Mayan-Ixil people in 1980s Guatemala.

From the gripping opening scene, where the camera slows draws back from the female family members of the ageing former General Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz), whispering prayers in a tableau akin to a séance, we feel the undercurrent of uncanny forces. Enrique is a crotchety patriarch, about to hear the verdict of a trial into his culpability for genocide. His wife Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic) is haughtily stoic, his adult daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz) is dutiful but doubtful. When he wakes one night, he hears the sound of a woman weeping, and trying to trace the sound, he ends up almost shooting his wife.

The family’s many indigenous servants know that things aren’t looking good and promptly quit, all except Valeriana (María Telón). At the court, we listen to the testimony of a woman, heavily veiled in intricately embroidered lace, and the fact that she is Witness 82 shows the weight of evidence against Enrique. As the family return home, their house is besieged by an increasingly angry populace. With the servants gone, Valeriana calls her village for reinforcements but the only one to arrive is Alma (María Mercedes Coroy).

A fluid camera and cool, sombre tones create an unsettling mood that enhances the mysteries caught up in the story. We begin to suspect what is going on well before the family realises. Natalie’s daughter Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado) is the first to understand, her youth making her the most likely to see and listen. Moments are woven through that are echoed later on as we find out who the mysterious Alma is and what exactly Enrique has done.

Bustamante cleverly juxtaposes the characters and events so that we see ourselves in the tragedy. What might it be, to run for your life clutching your two small children to you, hunted by government-sanctioned killers? Do we feel immune because we are white and well-fed, because our fathers had jobs and houses and servants, our mothers never had to compromise themselves to feed us?

The fable of the weeping woman (la llorona) is of a woman who drowns her children because she is abandoned by her lover. Her weeping is heard by the men in this story, and you feel that she is Guatemala, crying for her dead children. The Monteverde household is a microcosm of the nation and we see that is is patriarchy as well as capitalism and colonialism that is to blame.


Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

One thought on “La Llorona (2019)

  1. Pingback: Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021) | fillums

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