A film about the impact of drug trafficking and violence on the residents of a rural Mexican community has won an important prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Written and directed by Bolivian-Mexican filmmaker Natalia López Gallardo, Manto de Gemas – Robe of Gems, in English – was awarded the Silver Bear Jury Prize at the festival commonly known as the Berlinale, one of the “big three” European film festivals along with Cannes and Venice. The Silver Bear is second only to the Golden Bear, the prize awarded to the festival winner.
In a glowing review, The Guardian described Robe of Gems as “the film that everyone is talking about this year in Berlin” and a “dazzlingly accomplished and confident debut feature.”
“It is a disturbing and unsettling piece of work, a psycho-pathological moodboard of a film, in which guilt, horror and shame poison the atmosphere,” the review said. “… This is a story of crime, class and corruption in modern Mexico.”
The film follows the story of Isabel, a wealthy woman in the process of getting divorced who moves with her two children to a mansion in the countryside. She soon learns that the sister of her housekeeper, María, is missing and offers to help find her.
The Robe of Gems trailer, with English subtitles.
Their paths cross with local police chief Roberta, who is leading the search while attempting to rescue her son from his involvement in organized crime.
Only two professional actors, Nailea Norvind and Daniel García Treviño, appear in the film.
A synopsis on the Berlinale website said that Robe of Gems is “perfectly rendered in wide-framed images and unobtrusively fluid camerawork,” and describes the violence depicted as “muted and more social and psychological than physical.”
“Her ensemble film mixes realism, dreams and metaphors in which all the characters experience varying degrees of loss and abandonment. Every day, family members are disappearing through the cracks in society. But those who are most damaged are the ones who have lost a sense of what it means to have a home,” it said.
In an interview with the newspaper Milenio, López, who has previously worked as a film editor, said the excitement of receiving the Silver Bear prize hasn’t passed.
“I’m still very nervous but also grateful. … You have to be aware that in life there aren’t always rewards for the work you do, but this time there was,” she said.
“Getting a reward is important because [making] a film is work that takes many years and dedication to the details,” López said.
Based on a conversation she had with international jury president M. Night Shyamalan, the director said she believed the jury considered her film both “risky and accomplished.”
The idea for Robe of Gems came from conversations López had with residents of Morelos, the central Mexico state where she has lived for the past 13 years.
“People were extremely generous with me in those chats and … I realized that I didn’t want to make a film about ‘the narco’ or violence but rather about the invisible experience and psychology of people [who have been affected by violence]. … Experiences close to violence were in their words,” she said.
“What they told me [in Berlin] is that they hadn’t seen a portrait of Mexico that got so far away from stereotypes and which gave a glimpse of the Mexican reality,” López added.
Robe of Gems will be shown at other film festivals before reaching Mexican cinemas later this year.