By Jeffrey Sipe and Nina Rodríguez
Actress and director Angeles Cruz’s debut feature film “Nudo Mixteco” (literal translation: “A Mixtec Knot,” though the film’s original title is used internationally) portrays the travails of three Mixtec women who find themselves chafing in the stranglehold of tradition that dominates their small village in the highlands around Oaxaca. Despite its setting in a small village—part of an indigenous culture seldom, if ever, presented on-screen—the challenges, the hurdles, and the barriers to women realizing themselves in Mixtec society are universally understood and experienced even if Mixtec rituals, beliefs, and lifestyle are unique.
“I made this film mainly for my community,” explained Cruz, a native Mixtec who grew up in a village similar to the one depicted in “Nudo Mixteco.” “I wanted to raise questions in the manner that questions are raised in the cinema…I arrived in the community, and we spoke about the things that concern me and that I felt a need to reflect on. I took all of this into account when I was making ‘Nudo Mixteco.’”
In the film, Maria returns to the village from the city to mourn and attend her mother’s funeral. However, her father rejects her, blaming her and her relationship with another woman in the village for her mother’s death. Chabela, whose husband left to work in the United States and returns to find his wife living with another man, defends herself against his demands to return to him, angrily shouting, “YOU deserted ME!” which leads to a shocking act of violence. And Toña returns from the city to take her young daughter away from an abusive uncle who has molested more than one female family member.
“‘Nudo Mixteco’ recounts specific events, but I think all women have to confront these same issues,” Cruz continued. “It’s fundamental that the first territory to defend is our body and the right to do with it what we want.”
To the outside observer, there appear to be numerous cultural peculiarities to Mixtec life, but Cruz believes that the basics of life are pretty much the same everywhere.
“In a film, when we talk about the specific individuals,” the director said, “we are talking about all of humanity. I treat my personal experience as a means of connecting with humanity, in general, both women and men.”
The film was four years in the making. Cruz credits cinematographer Carlos Correa for understanding exactly what she wanted, providing a play of light and shadows to convey the intimacy of many locations, granting importance to characters as they move in and out of the light. Cruz points to the kitchen in Mixtec homes as a particularly intimate environment where the most personal and profound conversations take place. She praised Correa for visually enhancing that truth.
Prior to arriving in San Miguel de Allende, where she will address the audience at Mezcal Art on October 8, Cruz traveled around Mixtec villages in the Oaxacan Highlands, screening the film for the very people it was made for, about, and with. A collaborative effort with the villagers themselves, the film has six professional actors and counts on the villagers to grant it verisimilitude. “Nudo Mixteco” is a look at a culture that may, at times, seem unfair and old-fashioned but, in the end, is not so unlike the ones in which we all grew up.
Cover Photo: NMFoto