“And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us."
This famous passage from Roger Ebert’s “Life Itself” served as our guide on the jury for the New Directors Program of the Chicago International Film Festival. This year, we were honored to present the first annual Roger Ebert Award to one of the films in this selection of first and second-time directors. Which films transported us into someone else’s shoes? Which films served as a portal to a world underrepresented in cinema? Which director most impressively replicated the empathy machine which Ebert so greatly valued? For us, the choice was clear—Jorge Pérez Solano’s “La Tirisia” from Mexico.
The title translates to “Perpetual Sadness,” a state of melancholy or depression that feels unending, especially in a part of the world and state of socio-economic class that makes breaking free of it feel more like an impossibility. Solano’s film charts the emotional journey of two young women: one is a confident, outspoken mother of two with another child on the way; the other is practically a child herself and is about to bring a new one into this world. Both women are pregnant by the same man. Neither woman is married to him. Both are in situations that should be naturally beautiful and life-affirming—bringing new life into this world—but their circumstances make that kind of joy impossible.
Through stunningly surreal cinematography of a landscape made up of mostly dirt and cactuses, Solano proves to have a strong visual language in his second film. Many of the compositions border on painterly, often casting these women against the striking danger of the world around them without the need for dialogue or traditional narrative. It’s remarkably confident in every decision, particularly for the work of a young filmmaker.
How can we imagine life as a young, pregnant, Mexican woman in Oaxaca without a film like “La Tirisia”? Solano takes us on a journey, allowing, as Roger said, more understanding and more identification with people we don’t encounter in our everyday lives.
The New Directors Program jury, which chose the Roger Ebert Award winner, consisted of Brian Tallerico, Anna Croneman, Izza Génini and Wieland Speck. Click here to see the other winners of the 2014 Chicago International Film Festival.