Selva trágica [Tragic Jungle] (2020)

Selva trágica
Director: Yulene Olaizola
Writer: Rubén Imaz, Yulene Olaizola
Cast: Indira Rubie Andrewin, Gilberto Barraza, Mariano Tun Xool, Eligio Meléndez, Gabino Rodríguez, Shantai Obispo, Cornelius McLaren, Gildon Roland, Dale Carley, Ian Flowers, José Alfredo González Dzul, Antonio Tun Xool, Eliseo Mancilla, Marcelino Cobá Flota, Mario Canché
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 1.11.2020

Content Note: sexualized violence

1920. The Hondo River separates the jungle into Mexico and Belize. On the English-Belizean side, Agnes (Indira Rubie Andrewin) is unwillingly led to her wedding with Cacique (Dale Carley), accompanied only by nurse Florence (Shantai Obispo). When the two women make a run for it, they manage to cross over to the Spanish-Mexican side, but Cacique catches up with them there, killing Florence. Agnes dons her nurses uniform and gets out of there. She stumbles on a group of Mexican gum workers, led by Auscencio (Gilberto Barraza). Calculating that Agnes might be of use somehow, they take her captive, making a bad situation even worse for Agnes.

Selva trágica chose an interesting background for its story and kept me engaged throughout. It does have a few lengths, though, and didn’t quite convince, despite many good things. Still, overall I liked it.

THe film poster showing drawings of the main characters in a forest that is entirely painted in red.

Selva trágica definitely made sure that I was empathizing with Agnes all the time. I was really hoping for a better fate for her, but she really is caught between a rock and a hard place, with a stone avalanche coming her way. At least, as things really aren’t going well for her, it makes the ending a little better.

Much of what is coming at her is as predictable as it is horrible. I found it rather interesting how Agnes chooses attack as her best defense against the constant threat of rape and sexual violence. I was also very glad that this film was shot by a woman because of this.

Agnes (Indira Rubie Andrewin) walking through the jungle.

I also found the background to the story really interesting – the British colonies on one side of the river, the Spanish on the other, and the way this informs the power differential between the characters as well. The film certainly suggests that if you try to play the white man’s game, you will lose (unless you’re a white man). Admittedly though that interpretation is rather far from the actual film text.

Unfortunately the film did have some lengths and was a little too predictable at times. And, as I said, I would have liked a different ending for Agnes. That meant that I didn’t fall entirely in love with the film – but I did enjoy watching it.

Agnes (Indira Rubie Andrewin) in the river.

Summarizing: not bad.

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