VERDICT: Eugenio and Mara Polgovsky gently comment on the cycle of life in an observational documentary shot through a window in Mexico City.
Patricia Boero January 30th, 2022
A father and his daughter spend days looking out of their window in this 64-minute documentary premiering in Rotterdam’s Tiger competition. Malintzin 17 was begun by the late Eugenio Polgovsky, who died five years ago at 40 years of age, and completed by his sister Mara Polgovsky with loving attention to detail. Eugenio is known for his socially committed documentaries which have screened at Cannes, Venice, Sundance, Berlin, and Morelia and have won four Ariel Awards in various categories for Mexican cinema (Tropic of Cancer 2004, The Inheritors 2009, Resurrection 2016). Using footage shot during one week in September 2016, Mara began to write the script and structure a narrative arc out of snippets of conversation between her brother and his young daughter Milena, who displays a surprisingly vast vocabulary and a precocious understanding of environmental issues such as water conservation and recycling. They peer from their window onto a pigeon nesting on power lines, enduring rainstorms, traffic, and menacing squirrels. The film’s title is taken from the street address where the filming took place, in the leafy Coyoacán neighborhood where Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Trotsky once lived. We observe daily routines and urban sounds play out below the window: street vendors on foot, bicycles, or carts cry out their wares, be they tamales, ice cream, or fritters; trucks deliver gas canisters or water bottles, garbage collectors announce their arrival by ringing brass bells; municipal workers sweep the streets, and countless pedestrians walk their dogs, as day turns into night, while the patient pigeon protects her eggs, rain or shine. The young Milena frets over the bird. Once the fledgling is born, she leaves food and water on the window sill, watching the young bird stretch its wings before taking flight. Her father’s presence is always outside our view, but we hear his voice, full of affection, as he engages her in thoughtful conversation. One imagines his concern about his daughter, who is as vulnerable as the birds they observe doing their high wire act. The pace is leisurely, and the viewer must either settle into the daily routine of Eugenio, Milena, and the pigeon or become impatient and wish for a swifter rhythm. Music is used selectively and sparingly, enhancing some sequences and adding meaning. As the camera pans along the power and cable lines, a violin and cello awaken connections between everyday dreariness and high art. At other times, a piano echoes the falling raindrops, a flute laments the empty nest left behind. A children’s song brightens up the ending, as three girlish voices joyfully sing a lullaby. It is a quiet, sedate side of Mexico we rarely see. As neighbors go about their daily lives, only a display of military might interrupts the peace, as squadrons of airplanes pierce the sky, and we are reminded of the conflicts the country is involved in, and shudder along with the brooding dove, that eternal symbol of peace and faith, who spreads her winds protectively to shelter her offspring as the airplanes roar above. In this moving tribute to her brother, Mara has extended his work beyond his lifespan, something he surely would have appreciated. The film is likely to appear on the festival circuit and selected art house venues. Director: Eugenio Polgovsky and Mara Polgovsky Screenplay: Mara Polgovsky With: Milena Polgovsky Producers: Mara Polgovsky, Julio Chavezmontes Cinematography: Eugenio Polgovsky Editing: Mara Polgovsky, Pedro Gonzalez Rubio Sound Design: Javier Umpierrez Music: Diego Espinosa, Malakoff Kowalski Production companies: Tecolote Films, Piano (Mexico) World sales: Tecolote Films Venue: International Film Festival of Rotterdam (Tiger Competition) In Spanish 64 minutes
Originally published: January 30th, 2022
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