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Mexican Dream (Sueno Mexicano)

A Mexican woman elects to take fertility treatment in the hope of producing a child, boasting a fire and courage as she does so - from Hot Docs

Mailena is desperate. She’s desperate to get pregnant, she’s desperate to rekindle with her first batch of children, and she’s desperate to make things work with a partner who might dump her if she doesn’t produce an heir. Electing to take on IVF treatment, she meets women who are desperate to carry children of their own. A theme emerges from the conversations: men. Whatever they do, these women never seem to satisfy their men.

“Plain and simple, they want the perfect woman,” one person observes. “A trophy wife, a hard worker, with a sculpted body, a smart woman, right?” But in the process of conversing with aspiring mothers, Mailena’s convictions only grow stronger, until she realises that the decisions she makes are hers to carry through. Authentically written – there’s hardly a directorial flourish onscreen – and produced with commitment to the actors onscreen, Laura Plancarte’s feature immerses itself almost entirely from the perspectives of the female class. It doesn’t hurt that María Magdalena (lead actress and co-writer) bases many of the scenes on her personal life; the story stemming from real-life discussions between director and star.

Mexican Dream is a tactile film that shows family can be malleable, depending on the perspectives of the central characters. It is is concerned with the ideal of family, which is why every scene carries an added punch to it. Small children entertain locals with their attempts at street-sweeping, while elderly pensioners sit out in the sunshine, surrounded by road and reverie. Plancarte melds family, fun and frisson into the screens, and the finished results – intimate, but never invasive – allows audiences a chance to witness a more contemporary look at Mexico to the more folkloric stylings found in Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) and Roma (2018).

It would be reductive to describe this film as a “woman’s work”, but there’s no denying that the conversations have an authenticity that rarely makes mainstream Hollywood fodder. We hear women discussing their difficulties: Casting off the shackles of middle age in order to produce children, despite the limitations of biology, marriage or expectation. One woman speaks of her resilience to motherhood, a philosophy she would have carried on if it wasn’t for the overwhelming loneliness she experienced in her home life.

This is the film’s key strength, and Magdalena – her face a mix of sadness, loneliness and age – is phenomenal in the part. She carries a burden on her shoulders, her worries etched behind her eyes, a sadness born out of necessity and survival. It’s established that Mailena’s desire to escape from an abusive marriage had consequences on her person, as she spends much of the film reconciling her role as a mother with that of her role as a caring girlfriend to the man she’s desperate to please. Moreover, the surrounding setpieces – internal and intimate – shows how difficult it is for her to escape for the future she has planned for herself.\

Whether by accident or by design, there’s a motif of fire throughout the film. It’s the device by which the characters cook their food, but there’s something more to it. Mailena’s predicament burns like a fire, and it’s almost as difficult to extinguish. She carries this flame as far as it can. “I was in mourning, I had depression,” she admits in one of the film’s more revealing moments; “I thought that was it for me.” But like all burning embers, it takes more than the passage of time to defeat her spirit, and the fire – perhaps smaller than it once was – lingers on and on and on.

Mexican Dream premiered at Hot Docs.

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