(director/writer: Cesar Diaz; cinematographer: Virginie Surdej; editor: Damien Maestraggi; music: Remi Boubal; cast: Emma Dib (Cristina), Armando Espitia (Ernesto), Aurelia Caal (Nicolasa), Julio Serrano Echeverria (Forensic Boss); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Geraldine Sprimont, Delphine Schmit; Need Productions/Outsider Pictures; 2019-Guatemala/Belgium/France-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“Would have been better served as a documentary.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The narrative feature debut of the Guatemalan filmmaker Cesar Diaz  (“Why Do Humans Burn?”) would have been better served as a documentary. It offers a grim look at the results of Guatemala’s long civil war which caused a genocide and the estimated loss or disappearance of some two hundred thousand lives. Most victims were Mayans. The civil war which lasted 36 years from 1960, was started by leftist guerilla rebels trying to remove their right-wing despot leaders (all backed by the U.S. government). The trouble in the country was initiated by America’s call for a military coup in 1954 against a properly elected democratic leader, and what followed was a series of despots in office.

Though it covers an important tragic historical event that needs to be covered, it does so in an uninspired and didactic way except on a few occasions does it become touching.

The 30-year-old Guatemalan Ernesto Gonzalez (Armando Espitia), a fictional character, is a forensic anthropologist, working for the Forensic Foundation, whose job is to locate, exhume, identify and create an inventory of the thousands of anonymous who “disappeared” during this genocide and were buried in unmarked mass graves and other places known only by the rural residents who might have noted where the missing persons were buried.

When Ernesto interviews the Mayan woman Nicolasa (Aurelia Caal), whose husband was tortured and killed in 1982 for giving food to rebels, and she was raped by the same soldiers who murdered her husband, she hopes the forensics expert will be able to recover her husband’s bones in a mass grave in the mountains. When Nicolasa identifies a rebel leader in a photograph with her husband as his father, a guerilla fighters who has been missing, locating his bones becomes very urgent for Ernesto given that his mother, Cristina (Emma Dib), is about to testify at the 2018 trial being held by the current Guatemalan government to find out who are the war criminal charged former soldiers involved in the atrocities of the civil war. It comes at a time when the government is presenting a bill to pardon the war criminals.

Everything is heavy-handed and the acting is stiff. Though the government-sponsored massacres are obvious and depressing, but the procedural measures taken to discover who are the dead leave the viewer to take in this ordeal without feeling any relief by what they are seeing. It’s a film that I wanted to gravitate to and openly rooted against the bad guys, but just wish it was better made and didn’t have artificial resolutions.

For all it’s worth, Our Mothers won the Camera d’Or win at the 72nd festival at Cannes.

our mothers review