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The odyssey of another Ulises: from the violence of Monterrey to the nostalgia in New York

The actor Juan Daniel García in a frame from the film ‘I’m not here anymore’.NC1

Ulises puts on his headphones. His body begins to move smoothly, the lowered cumbia takes him away from everything, from that horizon cut out by skyscrapers that mark a border of inequality; of the houses built on the mountain, adrift, made by improvisation and necessity. He is as if suspended on a concrete platform, over those alleys that are his, violent, but his. Close your eyes. A gentle breeze moves her ocher hair. I want to tell you today / that I no longer love you / that I no longer miss you. She hunches over, then opens her arms, dances in a circle. The music stops and from its silence nervous voices emerge, screams, the sinister sound of the sirens of the patrols, the scandal of violence imposed by the State during the government of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and his war against crime organized. The scene is overwhelming, like most of I’m not here anymore, the film by Fernando Frías that Mexico has received with long applause, critics have praised and the Mexican Academy of Cinema has placed in its Olympus, by awarding him 10 Ariel Awards on Sunday. A visual gift in the midst of the pandemic and the cuts to culture, which threaten to affect the good health of Mexican cinema.

From New York, where he lives, Frías enjoys this moment of glory. “Go figure! I’m touched. There has been a lot of warmth. I am satisfied, not only for my film, but for what is to come and for the great message that means that the Mexican public is ready for this content. Here’s a great lesson, which also comes from a platform [Netflix]: that the Mexican public can see these movies and like them. Because I know that it is a film with a static rhythm and when you see yourself on the platform you compete with the telephone, the doorbell, with the people who live in your house. It is different from the experience of being in a movie theater and yet the people in Mexico embraced it in an impressive way. This transcends the film itself and I am left with the experience of this large audience, that if something done with love and respect is shown to them, they respond. It’s a great message for producers and distributors, for the people who decide what to finance, to pay attention to this. “

At the Morelia Film Festival, where the film was presented last year, the audience reacted with a long standing ovation. It was a great take-off for the film, which, however, has had to face an unexpected enemy: the covid-19 pandemic and the contingency measures taken by the authorities, which included the closure of movie theaters. That is why for Frías, the producers and the cast it has been so important that the film was presented in the Netflix catalog, where it has been among the most watched by the Mexican public. The success has been such that directors like Guillermo del Toro or actors like Gael García Bernal surrendered to I’m not here anymore. “With the world where it is, this splendid film echoed me, moved me, shook me, made me think, and provoked deep admiration and respect. She’s on Netflix and she speaks loud and powerful. Fuck it, bluntly and with plenty of balls, “wrote Del Toro on his Twitter profile.

The film follows Ulises (played by young actor Juan Daniel García) and his friends (Black, Pekesillo, Chaparra Y Sweatshirt) through the narrow streets of a neighborhood located on the outskirts of Monterrey, an industrial city in northeastern Mexico. The group, The Terkos, loves the cumbia rebajada, a genre characterized by the slower sound of the traditional Colombian cumbia. In fact, the urban culture that was born around this music was known as Kolombia. Ulises and her friends participate in dances with their typical outfits cholo: Shaved heads, but with long sideburns, wearing very baggy shorts and oversized shirts. The boys from time to time commit a small theft to get money for their music, but far from the violence that eats away at their neighborhood: the confrontation between cartels and the state’s all-out war against drug trafficking in the times of former President Calderón. One of the gangs that is fighting for control of the neighborhood commits a massacre against members of another group and Ulises is a witness, for which they threaten him and his family. Then his odyssey begins, a flight to New York, where uprooting, not knowing English, lack of opportunities and nostalgia corner the boy, 17 years old. García won the Ariel Award for Acting Revelation for his portrayal of Ulises.

The importance of identity, of belonging, is one of the great themes that the film covers. “Identity has a very specific, important role. I approached history at first through music, when I listened to a discounted cumbia album, back in 2005. I found it very interesting. The cultural shock, the syncretisms, the cultural movements seem to me to respond to something, they are inherently rebellious. And the more I investigated, the more I got into it, the more I understood what was behind these outfits, images, even this nostalgia in Monterrey. It is an industrial city founded by 12 families, but which was built with migrant labor, who connected with cumbia and vallenato, particularly with the music that has an accordion, because this is the voice of lament. The lyrics spoke of missing the little ranch, of coming home, all very nostalgic, ”explains director Frías.

It took six long years of work to finish the project. Frías read research by anthropologists such as Darío Blanco Arboleda – who had studied the movement Kolombia—To better understand this social phenomenon. He didn’t want to see it as it had been seen from the media: as something extravagant, a flashy fashion. “I had been very interested in the issue of the Monterrey gangs because of the mystique that it entails, because of the symbols, alliances, where drug trafficking is involved, so I did a very extensive investigation,” says Frías. He assures that the approach to these communities and the young people was a pleasant experience. “There was a very good reception. When they ask me how I managed to enter these neighborhoods, I feel like they expect me to tell a dark story and I don’t like that, because there wasn’t one. We must start to stop seeing others as a freak. It is true that sometimes it is a bit complicated, because the situations of some boys are affected by family instability, by a division. But in the end it is about human communication and if you show that you have a genuine interest in knowing about their lives for a possible representation, with openness, respect, the vast majority respond positively ”, explains the director.

Yes there were some drawbacks when choosing the cast. This is how she remembers it: “There were a couple of disappointments, because when I found someone who seemed to me to be interesting, they suddenly disappeared, but I understood that it was not a personal matter, of disinterest, but that she had. a complicated life. ” When Juan Daniel García participated in the auditions, the young man’s main problem was that he did not know how to dance the cumbia lowered, because he was no longer such an active part of that culture due to his youth. He had to prepare very well, with the help of his older brother who did experience the high points of the movement Kolombia, to achieve the interpretation of Ulysses. “Is something [este movimiento urbano] that I saw slip through my fingers while I was investigating it, every day there was less of this, because the war on drugs ended life on the street as it was happening. Now it’s something else, ”says Frías.

Both the direct and the cast enjoy the enormous success of the film and are involved in new projects. Frías is preparing the adaptation of a novel by the Mexican writer Juan Pablo Villalobos: I will not ask anyone to believe me. He is excited, passionate. Although he knows that these are difficult times for Mexican cinema, with Congress discussing an adjustment plan that threatens the death of public funds and trusts that will affect Culture and specifically the cinema. On Sunday, during the Ariel awards ceremony, directors, producers and actors expressed their fear at these cuts and raised a cry for help. “Culture is not the territory of a few, it is a right that must be guaranteed by the State,” said Mónica Lozano, president of the Mexican Film Academy. “Culture should not be thought of as an expense, it is not an adornment, it is not an expendable good. We are not the enemies, ”he added. Although sparing, Frías also speaks on the subject: “It’s very sad. Trusts shouldn’t disappear. They have been working very well, the models can be improved, but it is a shame that culture is punished ”, he says. “It is difficult for there to be a transformation without culture,” he adds. The success of I’m not here anymore seems to agree.