In a small house in the mountains, a mother and her children hide under the table. Two girls and a boy smile as they squat because it all seems like a mysterious game. “We are going to eat in silence,” the woman tells them. Soldiers knock on the door. They scream that they are looking for Salvador Gaytan and they hit again. They look out the window and through any hole that can give them a peek into the private space. By the time the invaders get tired, the smiling faces have already erased their smiles. The mother tries to calm them: “They already left. For today they no longer return ”, he tells them.
The scene belongs to Women of the dawn, the latest film by the Mexican filmmaker Jimena Montemayor (Wind remnants), which explores the events surrounding the assault on the military barracks in Ciudad Madera, in Chihuahua. Tired of the plunder and abuses of the logging companies and the complicity of the authorities, a group of students, teachers and peasant leaders rebelled and took up arms against the installation of the armed forces on September 23, 1965. Although they finally had To retreat, the event was considered the first action of the contemporary Mexican guerrilla. After the assault, the families of the guerrillas were besieged by the army, who were looking for the survivors in the mountains. The director’s third fiction feature film addresses the guerrillas but concentrates on the perspective of women: the mothers, daughters and relatives of the rebels, who had to maintain daily life while fighting from their own fronts.
“The film talks about all this other strength that is needed to keep communities, peoples alive, on a spiritual and practical level,” the director tells us. “All these men who are going to fight have families and belong to communities. They can do that because there is someone who is in charge of supporting everything else and also supporting the cause from other sides, from espionage, to passing information, containing, care ”.
The film presents a choral story, led by the actresses Myriam Bravo, Valeria Torres, Shaula Ponce, Chantal Frías, Catalina López and Berenice Mastretta. Its characters resist the constant questioning of the soldiers, receive the news, pass on information, listen to what is said about their children or parents in the media.
“When men go to conflict, communities survive, when women go, communities are lost. They cease to exist ”, reflects Jimena. “There is this devaluation of the work of containing peoples, which is never seen. They also politicized these small private spaces. Small and at the same time immense, because that is where life happens ”.
Detach from history
For the filmmaker, Dawn women it also represents a promise kept. It is based on the latest novel by his father, the writer Carlos Montemayor, who sought in his lifetime the opportunity to bring several of his books to the big screen; however, the politics in them made it difficult to specify the financing. “When I was graduating and one of his projects fell, I told him: ‘Don’t worry, dad, you have a daughter as a filmmaker. I’m going to do one of your novels. ‘ And until I read this I said: ok, this is one that speaks to me the most and what I can do ”, Jimena shares with us.
The novel Dawn women it represented the second time that the writer addressed the events surrounding the assault on the barracks in Madera. I had previously published Weapons of dawn, which focused on the guerrillas and was adapted into a film in 2013 by the director José Luis Urquieta. “When [mi papá] presents the first novel, this whole group of women came to tell him: what about us? Do you think we weren’t part of it? Where are we in this story? And he said: no, the next book is coming, which is yours. That’s why he writes it, ”says Jimena with a smile.
How to adapt a novel written by a loved one? According to the filmmaker, the film’s writing process required finding a story of her own: letting go of her father’s narrative.
“That moment of losing respect for my father’s writing was very important,” he says. “The approach was to the book first and then I listened to interviews that he had and that he had done with some of these women. Then I had to be able to interview three of the women in the story in life and live and there they told me: this did not happen like that, this fictionalized it. To understand his process was to detach myself from his history. Then it was to know what happened and also to get rid of their history to be able to make it cinematographic. Memory is… sometimes we tend to idealize memories. From a distance we can say something, but what did you feel when you were 14 years old? What I wanted to do was try to find those most vivid moments that memory does not give you ”.
The filmmaker also warns us that there will be no images of women firing rifles. It’s not about that kind of fight. “I feel that, from everything we know or what we see from movies or series of armed conflicts, what we expect is that women behave in the same way as men. See them with the gun, here, like Tomb Raider or the adelitas. That they are just as masculine and violent. Something that can clearly be done and that also exists in the Colombian guerrilla. That is to say, these processes also occur, but I feel that our mind expects that out of the box ”.
The director reflects on the complexity in the way we perceive domestic spaces: on the one hand, they are places to which sexist and paternalistic societies have historically relegated women, on the other, they are also fronts where everything happens, including other types of fighting. Would the answer be to remove women from those places to “empower” them or to revalue those spaces?
“I talked about it with my team, with my photographer, my actors. I told them: imagine that you are a guerrilla, you are outside, you have your weapon, you know that you are in danger, you know who the enemy is and obviously this cannon. Now you are a woman, with five children, who does not know who the enemy is, where they are going to attack her, she has no weapons, she is in hiding and also has to pretend that everything is fine in front of the children. Feed them, change them, make sure they go to school. They can not only kill you, but also them and you have no way to defend yourself. Not that I want to despise the man with his rifle, but what is more difficult? Where do you prefer to be?
Jimena and her team, which included the cinematographer Santiago Sanchez, to the production designer Nohemí González already the editor Ana Castro, they filmed the film in Tlaxcala, Puebla and the State of Mexico. Once they used one location they had to go to another, as if it were some kind of road movie. Filming lasted five and a half weeks and ended before the COVID isolation. In post-production, however, the pandemic did come through.
“It is the most complicated film I have made,” the director confesses, whose aesthetics and atmospheres seek to allow the narrated events to be transferred to other environments in our minds. “We try not to locate him so much. The characters have no accent: he is not from this northern area. It’s not like: ah, sure, what we see is a very traditional saw. As it happened in Wind remnants, I want to give the feeling that this can happen anywhere in the world.
The entry Mujeres del alba talks about the force that keeps peoples alive: Jimena Montemayor was first published in Cine PREMIERE.