Tamara is a differently abled woman living in a poor neighborhood of Mexico City, who is left to care for herself when her brother and main caretaker leaves her in order to make a life of his own. And so begins Tamara y La Catarina, Mexican filmmaker Lucia Carreras‘ third film, an exploration of loneliness, female solidarity, and vulnerability, which had its Mexican premiere at the Los Cabos International Film Festival.
Tamara is valiantly played by Angeles Cruz, who stepped out of her comfort zone and pulled from her life and family experiences in order to build an adult character with the cognizance of a child. Tamara does manage to take care of herself in her brother’s absence, but not without mishaps: she forgets to turn off the electric stove after making herself breakfast; she arrives late to her job as a coffee shop attendant; she gets lost in the big city. It’s while finding her way home that Tamara stumbles upon a little girl who has been left alone inside a newspaper kiosk, and one that remarkably resembles a creature she’s obsessed with: a ladybug. Tamara takes the toddler home.
Once in Tamara’s home, the child infuses the narrative with sharp dramatic tension as suddenly the fate of these two individuals becomes unpredictable. Even though Tamara is intent on caring for the child she has a limited understanding of the circumstances; she sees the “ladybug” as a pet. This tension is alleviated when Doña Meche, an old woman and street vendor, takes note of the situation and helps Tamara care for the little girl. Veteran Mexican actress Angelina Peláez puts forth a solid performance as Doña Meche, a lonely but principled woman, who takes it upon herself to return the child to her parents and thus resolve an impossible situation.
Though likely inadvertently, the film references Rain Man, where Dustin Hoffman plays Raymond, the autistic older sibling of the charismatic and morally reprobate Tom Cruise. Tamara y la Catarina, however, takes place in the less affluent world of a Mexico City barrio, and is laden with melodrama. Yet, it also has moments of lighthearted humor that capture the nuance and feel of the city. Here’s what Lucia Carreras and her cast had to say about the making of the film during a post-screening discussion at Los Cabos Film Festival.
Read the rest of our coverage of the Los Cabos International Film Festival here.
Director Lucia Carreras on what inspired her to make the film
I was inspired by an image, the image of the little girl in the newspaper kiosk. It was something that I saw, and from there the film was born. I think issues that relate to women, issues around women’s loneliness, women’s conditions in different circumstances is something that is always presents itself in all of my work, and well, it becomes something that is necessary for me to talk about.
Actress Ángeles Cruz on her approach to the role
For me Tamara y la Catarina means many things, and from the moment that I got the screenplay from Lucia it moved me. I felt I had a great responsibility and I had to do it with great respect. In order to develop the character, I tried to take all my own prejudices out of my head, to try not to work from the point of being a formally trained actress, but instead using my intuition and working from the heart. Often times we judge ourselves as actors in trying to represent characters, and that can block us because we’re criticizing ourselves all the time. So in order to understand Tamara, I had to take all of that out of my head, and to start to conceptualize her from how the world sees Tamara. So I worked the character from there.
— Imcine (@Imcine) November 11, 2016
Actress Angelina Peláez on why she said yes to the role
What motivated me to do the work was Lucia’s wonderful script where we tell a story about vulnerable people, of humanity. There are different degrees of vulnerability in each person, men, women in this case being more vulnerable and the extreme of the story; the little girl and Tamara being the most vulnerable of them all. So that makes it very interesting because it is an internal work that you have to do. I think it is a simple story that is being told magnificently by Lucia’s direction, and that was made extraordinary by the team that was assembled. I’m very grateful to all the crew from the camera operators, to the ones who created the set. Absolutely everyone was committed to this project. I’m very proud to be a principal character.
Lucia Carreras on the casting process
In the case of Angeles [Cruz], I did a big casting session for actresses, many actresses. She arrived, and at first I thought, physically she was Tamara. And so I prayed that she would do a great casting, “Please do a good casting.” And she did an amazing casting. So in that moment I decided that it was her. She came in with the character very well worked out, very well constructed. I decided it was her. And I don’t think I was wrong– at all. Destiny played a factor; scripts are very capable of finding one’s actors. It’s the scripts that seek out the actors. In the case of Angelina [Peláez], I was dying to work with Mrs. Pelaez. It was something that I had in my head. But for the sake of efficiency I also did a casting with various actresses, because of discipline and because I felt like I needed to protect myself; Angelina is in the National Theater Company, and in the company sometimes doesn’t let their actors go. So I said, “Well, if they don’t release her then at least I have someone else.” I didn’t have anyone else, and the good thing is that they released her, they lent her to me for the six weeks we needed to make the movie. That’s how it went.
— Imcine (@Imcine) November 10, 2016
Angeles Cruz on playing a differently abled person
I think all of it was difficult. It was the head of the actress that I had to control. It was not judging myself. I was afraid of not doing it right, of not doing it with the respect that it deserves toward differently abled people. I had many fears in that sense. I have a niece of around my age who has these same characteristics. She helped me build the character, so it was doing it with that kind of respect. I feel that Tamara taught me to believe again in humanity, to think with my heart, and to move from there, from that place. I am grateful to Tamara for that. And I am grateful to Lucia for sharing it with me. And I hope I did not betray my niece.
Lucia Carreras on the film as social criticism
It’s not a social criticism film, that wasn’t the original idea. Nevertheless, I do think it talks about being Mexican. If you’re a Mexican filmmaker, you can’t remove yourself from the context in which you are immersed. It’s part of everything. Yes, there is the theme of social visibility in the story. Ultimately, it is a story about friendship, and female solidarity, but it is challenged by a state that fucks with people, and that generates ignorance so that people are left helpless. That’s one part of it. And in terms of the family, well, yes, it becomes pertinent in that the nuclear family is being criticized as we don’t see a father. So that wasn’t the inspiration of the film but well, it turns out to be pertinent. At the end of the day, the three of them make a unique kind of family.
— IMCINE (@imcine) November 13, 2016
Lucia Carreras on working with a toddler
That baby is [like] an animatronic. It was amazing. The baby really was incredible. We had no problems whatsoever with the little girl. She learned and understood that her colleagues were these two ladies, and when “action” was called she turned, worked with them, and when I’d say “cut” she would turn to the camera and ask for her applause.