The power of language is well documented: it can unite, separate or even isolate. If the human experience cannot be truly universal, it is because we do not have a universal medium to share it – except, perhaps, the visual arts. Well crafted and presented, Ernesto Contreras’s I DREAM IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE (SUEÑO EN OTRO IDIOMA) – from his brother Carlos’s script – is a perfect example of this universal language of filmmaking.
Fernando Álvarez Rebeil plays Martín, a young linguistics researcher who travels to meet the last two remaining speakers of Zikril in remote rural Mexico. Here he finds Isauro (José Manuel Poncelis), who doesn’t speak Spanish, and Evaristo (Eligio Meléndez). Decades ago, when the friends fell out over a love affair, their ensuing separation almost caused the language to die out. However, the depths of Evaristo’s bitterness suggests that there is more to the feud than resentment over an ex partner. Martin must navigate a reconciliation between the old men, with the help of the local people and Lluvia (Fátima Molina), Evaristo’s granddaughter.
The photography throughout is superb, particularly at the climax as the sun soaks through the rain-sodden jungle.
The film plays with the idea of language quite pointedly, notably not subtitling the fictional Zikril. Although this might have fleshed out the characters of Isauro and Evaristo a bit more thoroughly, the privacy this affords them goes a long way to both emphasising their neglected bond from days gone by and the fact that – within the story – nobody truly understands the two aging men. Although the revelations that play out through flashback are perhaps predictable enough, it is kept engaging by the actors’ performances, Ernesto Contreras’s direction and the excellent cinematography of Tonatiuh Martínez. The photography throughout is superb, particularly at the climax as the sun soaks through the rain-sodden jungle. Ernesto Contreras also isn’t afraid to inject the odd moment of levity into the edit from his brother Carlos’s script.
A richly layered script deals chiefly with the pressures laid on by religion in society, and the resulting pain and hurt the two inflict upon each other.
A richly layered script deals chiefly with the pressures laid on by religion in society, and the resulting pain and hurt the two inflict upon each other. The magical elements introduced feel a little superfluous, with the core human story more than strong enough to draw the viewer in, but does add some opportunity to extend the visuals and cultural context. As a wider backdrop we are encouraged to reflect on the interference of modern societies in ancient cultures and peoples, either as a pull away from these communities or as meddling outsider. The root of the whole story, and the cause of the main characters’ pain, is Martín’s insistence on ‘saving’ Zikril. And had the locals not dwindled in search of more prosperous modern horizons, more than two native speakers would remain.
SUEÑO EN OTRA IDIOMA, driven by excellent visual and acting work, delivers on most of the themes in a beautiful and heartbreaking script. Whatever language the Contreras brothers were dreaming in when putting this film together, they are fluent in it.
SUEÑO EN OTRA IDIOMA received its European premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.