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Austin Chronicle Paulina

By Marjorie Baumgarten

MAY 3, 1999: 

D; Vicky Funari; with Paulina Cruz Suárez, Mariám Manzano Durán, Erika Isabel de la Cruz Ramírez, Mathyselene Heredia Castillo. (Not Rated, 88 min.)

As a young girl, filmmaker Vicky Funari grew up in Mexico City. Paulina Suárez was her family's housekeeper. Years later, as an adult fresh out of film school, Funari returned to Mexico and reacquainted herself with Suárez. It was only then that she learned of her former maid's defiant but untold personal history. From a harrowing background and a story that mixes issues of class, sex, and power, Funari weaves a most unusual documentary. Interviews with Paulina, her relatives, and others from her village are intercut with dreamily re-enacted scenes from her past. Rather than a cheesy docudrama, the effect this creates is one of a hazy reappointment with the past. When Paulina was eight years old, she fell while fetching water from her village's well and hurt what she calls her "part." The profuse bleeding convinces everyone that the child was raped by the town boss. Not understanding what is transpiring, Paulina is ostracized by her village and eventually traded to the older man for land rights. By the time she is 13 and living with him she truly is raped and abused on a regular basis, although she resists and fights back until she escapes for the city at the age of 15 and begins life as a maid. The filmmakers go back to the village and the interviews they conduct raise only more questions. Her mother at first claims not to remember the incident and later remembers it completely differently. Various testimonies contradict others. Yet it all contributes to the film's overall questioning tone. Additionally, the film is layered with an invented narrative in which Paulina returns by bus to confront the town boss and reacts violently to the stranger on the bus who tries to molest her. Her voiceover offers these words of advice: Teeth are a weapon given to you by God. Paulina is a remarkably told story (in Spanish with English subtitles), a film whose rough edges match the roughness of its tale of defiance, survival, and self-worth.
3.5 stars

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