High Museum of Art: Films

Insignificant Things by Linda Dubler
September 21, 2009, 11:23 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Insignificant Things screens at 8 p.m. on September 25 in the Rich Theatre as the opening film of the Latin American Film Festival.

“There are eight million stories in the naked city.”

Director Andrea Martinez

Director Andrea Martinez

Today’s generation of Latin American directors was  too young to have watched The Naked City, the  1950s TV show that made that motto famous, but  somehow it  seems to echo through their movies just the same. It popped into my head  when I sat down to write about Insignficant Things, the pensive, lyrical directorial debut of Mexican filmmaker Andrea Martinez.

To be accurate, there are 8.8 million stories in Mexico City, a lifetime’s worth and more for any screenwriter. Martinez imagines up a handful, and strings them together in a cat’s cradle of a movie. The children’s game played with a loop of twine asks its participants to create a series of different designs from a simple circle,  and that’s what Martinez seems to do as she traces the patterns of her characters’ overlapping lives.  Structured around criss-crossing paths and filled with things and people that have been lost, hidden, or forgotten, Insignificant Things doesn’t move smoothly forward or fit neatly together like a jigsaw puzzle; it’s prismatic, like the faceted crystal that Esmeralda, the young woman at the film’s center, looks through in its opening scene.

The film is full of  secrets that shouldn’t be revealed in a review, and talking in depth about the people who come alive on screen means giving away their confidences. So instead, I’ll offer  a shorthand guide to some of the players: two healers (a child psychiatrist and a pediatrician); four children (including kids who seem to be abandoned, cherished, wise and pampered);  a young woman who treasures found objects and another who finds herself by capturing the world around her in photos; a pair of parakeets who are the movie’s happiest duo;  and finally those  MIA — the wife, girlfriend, daughter, brother — who are missing,  rejected or beyond reach.

Insignificant Things

Insignificant Things

Martinez draws upon a language of powerful symbols:  the mighty falls at Niagra, captured in a snow globe, and the volcano named Popocatepeti outside Mexico City,  serve as reminders of  forces that can’t be contained. Similarly, Esmeralda’s migraine and the cancers that afflict several children in the film are conditions that test our understanding and influence. Counterbalancing the director’s tenderness, these elements deepen Martinez’s meditation on the things we can and can’t control. The result, rich in the details of daily life, captures beautifully the tenor of these uncertain times.

Linda Dubler

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