From French to Tagalog: These Multilingual Mexican Films Defy Borders


A Mexican teenager has left his British boarding school behind and hopes to reconnect with his older brother in Paris. A Swedish-American singer living in Tijuana reminisces about his life and career. A Filipino girl struggles after moving in with her grandma in Montréal. Watching the three films from which these scenes come from required me to read subtitles at one point or another. The characters in Landscapes; William, the New Judo Master; and X500 spoke in Spanish, English, French, Swedish, and Tagalog. These movies may have played in the México Primero section at the Los Cabos International Film Festival but it was clear that they exemplify a new type of borderless cinema.

In Rodrigo Cervantes’ Paisajes (Landscapes), the French setting—first in Paris and later at a country house–lends the film a cosmopolitan air. But its characters are distinctly Mexican. The two brothers clearly come from an upper-class family though their reluctance to discuss their father (who’s about to be released from jail) and what led them both to end up abroad already suggests there’s more to the story than Cervantes leads on. By the time the film heads back to Mexico City and we see where they come from, it’s clear that despite its international setting, this is a story about a privileged slice of contemporary Mexican life. And in a globalized world, that means these stories exceed their own borders.

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More abstract than Landscapes, Ricardo Silva and Omar Guzmán’s William, el nuevo maestro del Judo (William, the New Judo Master) is equally concerned with the way the local and the global interact. Part ethno-fiction, part experimental film, part nature documentary, this fragmented portrait of a man, a place, and a tree begins and ends in Tijuana. It’s there where we meet William Clauson, an aging Swedish-American singer who serves as the anchor of the project, his memories taking the film around the Mexican town he’s made his home as well as to Sweden where we meet the oldest living tree in the world. To explore the specificity of Tijuana, this ambitious project cannot help but look elsewhere in terms of both time and space.

“William, el nuevo maestro del Judo’
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But of these three, it is Juan Andres Arango’s X500 which more forcefully understands how crossing borders and finding parallels across nations can be a powerful use of cinematic images. The film intercuts three different stories that never connect: in addition to the Filipino teenager in Montréal whose rebellion alarms her grandmother, we meet a young Colombian fisherman who returns to his town after having tried to settle in the U.S. only to find it run over with a violent gang, and an indigenous young man leaves his community behind to make a new life for himself in Mexico City. Borrowing from perhaps the most famous Mexican-directed transnational triptych—Alejandro González Iñárritu’s BabelX500 makes the case that there are wholly human experiences that transcend our cultural differences: we all grieve, we all seek comfort in communities that speak to us, we all find outlets for our alienation.

Together, these movies point not only to a new global approach to local storytelling—exploding what it means for a film to be “Mexican,” for example—but they remind us of the increasingly transnational model of financing that defines contemporary global cinema. X500, for example, was jointly produced by a Canadian, a Colombian, and a Mexican company. In that it also spoke to the very spirit of the Los Cabos Film Festival, exemplifying as it does a global film culture that speaks to the diversity of the Americas.

Read the rest of our coverage of the Las Cabos International Film Festival here.