Discover Latin America Film Festival – Orphans (Huerfanos) Review ★★★

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The new film by Guita Schyfter is an epic 2 hour and 35 minute biopic about Melchor Ocampo, a liberal politician that fought to give Mexico back to the Mexicans. Not knowing the details of the historical facts, we have no idea how embellished (if at all) they are, but Ocampo’s public and personal story are indeed fascinating and worth some international attention.

We start with the death of Ana Maria Escobar and the kidnapping of Ocampo by the conservatives, and go back and forth through flashbacks to learn about his strange origin (very Moses like), his disillusion with the Church, his forbidden (?) affair with his Nana Ana and his dwellings through the world of politics. All this while he travels with his kidnappers, not sure of what’s going to happen to him when he reaches their leaders.

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The cinematography is impeccable. The Ariel Award nominations only confirm the beauty and detail of costume and the perfect musical score. Ocampo’s greatest life moments are all played on the screen with the grandeur required. But the oomph is missing. Rafael Sánchez Navarro, who plays the old(er) Ocampo, gives a great performance, maybe only shadowed by Alan Alarcón who plays the passionate younger Ocampo. Dolores Heredia, as Ana Maria Escobar, deserved a film of her own. It’s just… too superficial. The facts are given a presentation and a surface, but we never get an insight into Ocampo the Man. The reasons why he decided never to publicly assume his relationship with Escobar are, at their best, weak and risible. We’re not saying the relationship should not be presented as it was in the film – we do think it is in fact the only warmth we get from a man mostly presented as a cold political machine – but it is lacking context. And the structure… oh the structure. There should be a flashback fee for biopics – every time we “travel in time”, there goes the fee up. With so much back and forth, we just can’t feel close enough to either of the time lines. It feels lazy, and it’s a pity as the cinematic language and storytelling that Schyfter shows are incredibly smart and economic, only to be let down by a script that could have done with a few more rewrites.

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Still, despite the duration, Orphans remains good historical film eye candy about a time and a country so much ignored by mainstream cinema. It’s not the best, but as an unusual genre for Latin-American cinema, it’s a promising start.

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.