Sunday, November 08, 2009

Silent Mennonites and Squealing Pigs

Liz Vega

This has not been a good week. I am fighting the throbbing pressure of the sinus headache that is a sweet reminder of the flu that struck me down this week. I believe in immunizations and so for the past five years have gotten the flu shot every year. Just two weeks ago I waited in line for five hours with my daughters and my 81-year old dad to get the H1N1 flu shot. The stories I could tell you from waiting in line alone are enough to take up this column but I will spare you and save that for my Facebook posse. My consolation is knowing that it could have been worse if I had not gotten the shot. Anyway, don't feel too sorry for me because I di
d get around to watching a movie I had been jonesin to see. I was about to put it on my netflix queue when I realized that it was available to watch instantly and so I brought out my box of kleenex, my warm blanket and streamed it.

Luz Silenciosa by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas did not disappoint and I can see why it received the 2007 Jury Award in Cannes. The story is set in northern Mexico, in a Mennonite community. What little dialogue there is, isn't even in Spanish, it's in a low-german dialect spoken by Mennonites called Plautdietsch. The movie conveys a simple story about a man's struggle to reconcile his love for wife, family, religion and his adulterous relationship and love for another woman. While the story is simple, the director through cinematics feats manages to capture all the emotion, angst, and beauty that fills this love triangle.

Luz Silenciosa/Stellet Licht/Silent Light/Lumière Silencieuse or what ever you title it is an extremely slow movie. It is shot in 200 frames, the average movie has about 2000 frames. The first shot is completely dark, then slowly the stars begin emerging, then the colors start changing, a faint sound of a donkey, cows, animals awaking, but it's relatively silent, three or four minutes pass and the screen is filled with more color, I am watching a sunrise and am utterly possesed by its beauty. After about five more minutes, the sunrise gives way to a Mennonite family having breakfast to a clock's tic-toc, tic-toc. At this point, I start getting antsy, I feel bothered. I am afterall the same person that screamed at the top of her lungs while watching La Belle Noiseuse, a 1991 french arty film that had these long frames of an artist's hands bringing a painting to life. Don't get me wrong, I do love foreign art house films, and all those a la Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard directors but I was raised on MTV and so I don't have the attention-span of, say, a Mennonite.

Perhaps I was delirious from the fever but I decided to stick with it and persevered, two hours and sixteen minutes later I transcended. The movie physically changed me. I had initially felt my heart racing but as my breathing became deeper, my pulse relaxed, and my state of mind changed altogether. I was transfixed by the facial expressions, the sounds that footsteps made in the snow, the way a tractor navigated through corn stalks, a moth fluttering its wings. I pondered on the director's use of light, the sparse surroundings, the brilliant use of time in the movie. The cast was superb. Carlos Reygadas does not use actors, he uses regular people and so the cast is entirely of real Mennonites. I was disappointed to read that at times the subtitles didn't match what was being said but I guess the director has taken some poetic license.

I recommend this movie wholeheartedly. It's hard to put into words or to describe it properly. It is about so much more than meets the eye. It stays with you. It has been four days since I have seen it and I keep thinking about it and finding more meaning as I replay it in my head. If you see it I hope you will agree with me that Carlos Reygadas is one Mexican director who is here to stay as an all-time greatest but if you don't and you find yourself on the camp of those who think "this movie is crap," as some eloquently put it then at least be grateful that I didn't recommend La Belle Noiseuse which at 237 minutes is 101 minutes longer! At the very least you will be fascinated by the Mennonites, then later you can read Sam Quinones' Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration and learn how Mennonites have been trafficking drugs for the Mexican cartels.

And now foFont sizer something completely different, but still related to me in that I am still sick and very much thinking it's the Swine flu, I want to share with you a story about pigs. This story is by a very talented writer and also good friend of mine, Jose Enrique Medina. I have always admired and love his work and would like to encourage him to do more writing. I hope you enjoy his story.


The House of the Pigs

By Jose Enrique Medina

The chicken was running towards me. It looked super big. It was white with yellow legs, and it didn’t have a head. It was running really fast, and it knew how to run in a straight line. When my uncle tried to catch it, it flapped its wings, turned around and went running exactly in the opposite direction. It was taking huge spread-apart strides on the tips of its toes in a really straight line. I thought, “How the fuck does it know where we are, and how can it run so perfectly?”

In my home when we were children, they killed a lot of animals there. For example the chicken was going to be for a mole that my mom was going to make, which she made really rich with chocolate and a little bit of chile to give it a really delicious flavor.

I remember also a dark night. We were going to celebrate the baptism of my little sister. We didn’t have a lot of money, but for this fiesta my Tio Arturo was going to help us with money. My father looked real happy and proud. A shit load of people came to the house. We lived on a lot with two houses or rather three. The house in the front belonged to the landlady, she rented the back house to us, and on the side the garage had been converted into an apartment where lived the eldest son of the landlady. It had a big yard in the front, and all that property was super packed with people. Never had I seen it so full of people and so much happiness. It seemed strange to me. Because we were poor and not that many people came to visit us, it was like a really strange energy. Yes, I liked it, but I knew that things like that cost lots of money. There was lots of beer and food and birria.

And speaking of birria that’s how I got to meet a male goat that arrived. He was colored black and brown with his tippy-toes white. He had his ears real big and falling to the sides. And the eyes, I don’t know how to describe the eyes. They left you with an emotion, I don’t know how to describe the emotion, but you remembered his eyes.

The interesting thing is that there was a part of house, but I never remembered that this part of the house existed. It’s because the house of the landlady at the bottom had a basement or cellar, and there were stairs to descend down there. It was like a hole in the cement with four or five steps leading down there. On its sides was cement, and then a door. So it was like a hole of cement and with a door to enter the basement apartment. And there is where they killed the goat.

I was only a kid, like five years old, so it scared me to see that. I squatted down with my hands between my legs and watched while they were lowering the goat there into the hole of cement to kill it. I thought I was going to be able to see that, but then appeared a mallet, a huge hammer used to bust up cement, and I couldn’t watch. I didn’t have the heart to see, so I ran further away. The way the hole was, I could see the heads of the men, but I couldn’t see the goat down there in the hole of cement. I only saw that the hammer went up above the heads of the men, and then it went down. Something snapped into various pieces, like a piece of wood that broke into four pieces.

I didn’t have again the heart to see how that thing there looked dead, but yes the birria did taste delicious and strange and fresh. I confused myself, not knowing whether I should enjoy the taste or not.

Days later, after the party, I went back to the hole where they had killed the goat, and I only saw on the floor a cloud of half erased blood.

But I lived in East Los Angeles. Many people were recently arrived from Mexico, so they killed a lot of animals there. I remember some neighbors who lived six or five houses away from us on a little hill, and they there killed many pigs. And it seemed to me or I thought that they had a lot of money because every little while they were killing the big animals. Many pigs they killed there especially. The House of the Pigs, I called it. I never looked when they killed them, but I heard the pigs screaming and screaming. The noise sounded really ugly as if they were putting a knife of sound into your ear. And it lasted a long time the sound.

One time, I had grown more, already I was like seven years old, so I got the courage to see death, but I didn’t want to be too close. So I saw death, but from a distance of about four or five houses away. That was the size of my courage. I didn’t have the courage to see everything real close in detail. There were like three or four people trying to hold the pig down. A big-ass knife appeared. Even from my distance the knife looked humongous and reflected the light like a mirror. I thought, “I didn’t know that a knife like that could exist.”

The knife entered the armpit, and then started those sounds I already described which are so difficult to forget. I thought that already the terror had ended, but then they got a water hose and put it into the armpit of the pig. I didn’t know why they were doing that, but when they removed the water hose, then like a fountain the blood of the pig came out, making an arc in the air.


msedano said...

i hope you fee mejor now, getting into the last stages of that cold, gripa, flu, sinuses, whatever ails you.

you've given me an idea for a new business. set up an itinerant matanza. i'll cruise the streets and alleys banging my big blade on the side of the door, calling out, bring me your pigs, your rabbits, your huddled hens. i lift my cuchillo beside the golden door. that's the color of my truck and the company. ¿como lo vés?

Andrew J. Peters said...

OMG LiZ!! So glad I found your blog (finally). Amazingly well-written stuff. I can see this leading to big things.

So where's Junot Diaz on your list of authors??

I also enjoy Latin films. My favorite is City of God (Brazilian). And did you see Quinceniara, set in your very own hometown? (Well Echo Park, but closeby).